I was absolutely blown away by how creative and productive the hackers were at this weekend's cleanweb hackathon here in Boston.
As a recap: Around 15 teams of programmers and other hackers came together at Greentown Labs to spend 30 or so hours creating new cleantech-related web and mobile apps from scratch. Most came in with ideas in mind, of course, but they had to write fresh code to compete. Many worked through the night Saturday, and then, bleary-eyed and over-caffeinated, they presented their work on Sunday afternoon to a panel of entrepreneur and investor judges. They were all scored on the categories of Impact, Originality, User Experience, and Completeness.
I frankly wasn't expecting much, given such a short amount of time available to the teams. And yes, some were necessarily just a mock-up and some teams got a bit tongue-tied in their presentations. But overall, it was an amazing showing by all these teams -- one of those events where you can only have three winners and you wish prizes could be awarded to a lot more teams than that.
The competitors included:
- A mapping program tied to available wind turbine sound data and wind level data to help smaller developers estimate the sound levels over ambient from a wind turbine at a particular site
- A mobile app to allow green-minded travelers to easily find green-rated hotels and restaurants
- A site where registered viewers can review political ads (and this year, energy will play a big role in that) and vote on whether a claim is a lie or the truth
- A cool presentation of available data on fracking activity matched with water data
- A remote diagnostic and energy optimization tool for greenhouses
- A couple of tools for helping homeowners identify energy-saving appliances
- A tool for helping energy auditors more easily look up the energy consumption of devices they inventory in a building
There was also a host of other entries. As you can see, there was a wide range of topics, speaking to the breadth of clean IT opportunities.
For me, what was striking was how far these teams were able to push their ideas in only a short amount of time. Yes, this is totally an apples-to-oranges comparison, but some of these teams were able to push their ideas to more customer-ready results in 30 hours than many more science-based cleantech startups are able to tangibly demonstrate in 30 months. That's not to diminish the more hardcore scientific efforts out there at all, but it does speak to how powerful the combination of cleantech and IT can be in some ways.
In any case, the winners came up with some fun stuff:
Third place went to a team from Divya Energy that is developing an online comparison shopping calculator for residential solar customers.
Second place went to a car-sharing app ("Ride With Me") that creatively included a customer loyalty program to entice repeat users.
First place went to a team from WegoWise for their very fun, very clever way of bringing better visualization and competitiveness to get homeowners to focus on energy usage. Using Green Button data, your house's stats are randomly matched up against another user's house, and then you duke it out -- with awesome 1990s-esque video game graphics. "Michael Tyson's Punch House" was also voted the crowd favorite. You can see the happy team, plus a couple of the volunteers who made the whole event happen, in the obligatory "giant check" picture below.
Speaking of which, many thanks to the great team of volunteers for making this terrific event happen, mostly from scratch. I can't name them all (but will list some of their Twitter handles below; please follow them), but want to particularly call out Matt Liebhold (currently independent) and Jason Hanna (Coincident). Based on the scrappy execution they demonstrated in pulling this off and bringing the community together like this, you could do worse than to get to know them and work with them in some way. Yes, consider this a recommendation.
Others to thank / follow: @blakestar, @greentownlabs, @tallmatt, @matthewnordan, @markvasu, @fyietc, @dkarmano, @emilylreichert, and @CleanSuchi (if I missed any of you, ping me and I'll gladly add you in).
These cleanweb hackathons are getting rolled out all over, apparently, so find one near you and check it out. Not only was it a lot of fun to watch, it inspired a lot of ideas for directions I'd like to take with my Lightzy.com experiment, if I can enlist some more expert help. Here's to the next one in Boston!