Tucson tech: Hacking apps in 24 hours

2012-08-14T00:00:00Z 2014-07-02T12:33:14Z Tucson tech: Hacking apps in 24 hoursDavid Wichner Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Over the weekend, about 35 programmers and assorted computer nerds got together in Tucson to compete for bragging rights and prizes in the Old Pueblo's first "hackathon."

The object of the 24-hour event at the Spoke6 co-working space was to complete a new mobile application, game or other software project from start to finish.

But there was more to the exercise than just throwing together some computer code for grins.

The hackathon was a preliminary event for the upcoming second annual Startup Weekend Tucson, a 54-hour event set for Sept. 7-9 that helps entrepreneurs refine their business startup ideas into viable launch candidates.

And it's part of a broader effort to spur innovation and entrepreneurship by tapping the talents of Tucson's creative class of artists, scientists and professionals.

"We wanted to bring out from within our community, the software development community, the innovators - we needed an event that pulled them to the table," said Justin Williams, founder of Startup Tucson.

And the timing is good for such efforts, as Tucson economic-development leaders shift more of their focus from attracting big corporate employers to fostering an entrepreneurial economy.

Aided by four mentors, nine teams of at least two people participated in the Hackathon ("hacking" here is used in the sense of computer programming, not illegally accessing computer networks).

Two teams were honored with awards, one winner picked by a panel of judges including three members of the local Desert Angels investment group, and one picked by participants for a "people's choice" award.

The judges' winning hack: a Web-based program called Neighborhood Chef that allows local chefs to manage their own dining or food clubs, created by Brennan Washburn.

The program uses geographical coding to map participating clubs so hungry folks could find a neighborhood chef anywhere, said Washburn, information-technology project director at Bookmans Entertainment Exchange.

Washburn said he began developing the program for a neighbor who is a chef and joined the hackathon partly to help support local tech-development efforts.

"Now, I'm a lot more interested in developing this into a marketable app," he said.

The hackers' choice was an interactive game app using satellite-based GPS (Global Positioning System) navigation, tentatively dubbed "The Global Game."

The game, developed by two University of Arizona students, allows players to build their own custom games by downloading GPS maps where the program randomly hides waypoints that players race to find.

Shane Gianelli, who built the app with fellow UA computer-science student Timmy Garrabrant, said other participants provided valuable feedback on the game, which was demonstrated for iPhone but was designed as a platform that can be adapted to other devices.

"They all had ideas of their own, but that really validated our original concept," said Gianelli, a 19-year-old UA sophomore who participated in a mobile-app hackathon in San Jose, Calif., last year.

Other apps produced by the hackathoners included a program to help students sign up for classes with friends; an app to import GPS trail data to a smartphone and attach it to a route; a dating website called Not Match that matches users with traits "most people would find intolerable"; a "Zombie Early Warning System"; and a chameleon climbing game called Spleegle.

Emre Toker, mentor-in-residence at the UA Eller College of Management's Maguire Center for Entrepreneurship and a Hackathon judge, said the judges were very impressed with the talent they saw. They felt the Neighborhood Chef idea has some real legs, Toker said.

"We thought that could fold in nicely with some of the other projects that we're involved with that look at the supply side of local food," he said.

Williams said Startup Tucson, co-work spaces like Spoke6 at 439 N. Sixth Ave. and similar efforts dovetail nicely with recent efforts by the area's local economic-development agency to focus on entrepreneurship.

Long aimed at attracting and retaining major employers, Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities Inc. is developing an "entrepreneurial blueprint" to help foster high-value small business development.

Harry George, a local venture capitalist who is heading TREO's entrepreneurial task force, said the timing couldn't be better. TREO began studying entrepreneurship nearly two years ago, as Startup Weekend Tucson was forming.

"We became aware of all this grass-roots stuff, and brought Justin onto the task force," George said. "Basically the grass-roots stuff and the institutional stuff met, and like Lego blocks snapped together."

George said one of the first fruits of the entrepreneurial blueprint effort will be a new website designed to be a one-stop shop for local startup firms - a concept Williams already had been working on. Other collaborations are in the works.

"We want to bring all the dimensions of Tucson's high-tech, creative economic development to the table, and all of that is emerging as a new economic-development strategy," Williams said.

Besides Williams, Hackathon organizers included Chris Hill, Tim Colson, Cameron Green and Mark Grimes.

Learn more

For more information about the Hackathon and Startup Weekend Tucson, go to www.startuptucson.com

Contact Assistant Business Editor David Wichner at dwichner@azstarnet.com or 573-4181.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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