Student Spotlight: Inside the Husky AI Hackathon

The first-ever Husky AI Hackathon organized by students in the UW Foster School of Business' Technology Club took place in early May.Shobhit Gupta (MBA ’20) and Jessica Hatz (MBA ’21) of the Foster School of Business Technology Club authored the following guest blog. The pair, alongside two other students, played a critical role in the inception, planning, and completion of the first-ever Husky AI Hackathon. The all-virtual event took place between Friday, May 1 and Sunday, May 10, 2020. They received more than 130 applications and ultimately, 63 students across nine teams experienced the entire life cycle of building a product. Final presentations took place in front of a group of five judges from the Seattle entrepreneurial ecosystem following a week of mentoring and workshops. Three teams (detailed below) took home prizes.

Why Foster Tech Club is doing events like Husky AI Hackathon

The Foster Technology Club formed with the goal of providing a platform for enterprises, MBA students, and startups in the Pacific Northwest to meet each other every week through a variety of workshops, speaker sessions, and company visits. The Husky AI Hackathon was an attempt to extend the platform to University of Washington students and innovators around the topic of artificial intelligence. With the AI headquarters of Google, Uber, Microsoft, Facebook, and Amazon in the Seattle area, the Pacific Northwest is poised to become the AI capital of the world. We believe the large turnout in students and mentors at a Hackathon specifically for AI proves why UW is the top choice for recruiters seeking talent in AI engineering, design, and business. The student participants felt empowered enough to reach out to us to help them continue work on their prototypes to mature them into a business over the summer! It is humbling to play a small part in sparking that creativity by bringing different disciplines together.

Why a Hackathon?

Shobhit Gupta was a serial entrepreneur in the high technology business before joining the MBA program at Foster School of Business. In his previous experience, he worked in teams of diverse skill sets such as engineering, design, business, and policy to build ideas into a successful enterprise. The Hackathon was an attempt to simulate the experience of many budding entrepreneurs like Shobhit at UW by showcasing how cross-functional interaction leads to innovation. In November 2019, in his role as Foster Tech Club President, Shobhit was joined by first-year MBA reps Jessica Hatz (incoming Club president), Himanshu Singhvi (MBA ’21), and Andy Vadapalli (MBA ’21) to execute on the vision to make the hackathon a reality. It started with the Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship joining to support the initiative given its mission to incorporate entrepreneurship skills into the academic and extracurricular experience for UW students. Soon they found support from Allen School of Computer Science, Information School, Data Science departments, and Human Centered Design and Engineering—gathering 135+ applicants by March 2020.

Details and Facts on the Hackathon

In March, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic forced the organizing team to rapidly shift the plan for the event. We understood that trends of increased digitalization, automation, and robotics in the new world meant that the answer to what will work in the future lies in AI. It is deeply bound by trends in business, learning and engagement, and civic leadership. We pivoted to a virtual event with the hope that it would still be impactful for UW students. The result exceeded our expectations, particularly as we embrace this new virtual world.

As event organizers, we knew we would have to move through ambiguity—but once the event turned virtual, successfully navigating the unknown to host the Husky AI Hackathon would be critical for our participants, partners, and the UW Foster MBA Program. Foster Tech Club wanted to nourish collaboration between UW students—no matter the circumstances—to break the silos between disciplines and bring the community together to hack solutions for a post-COVID world.

Husky AI Hackathon 2020 began with a virtual kickoff on May 1 featuring Denis Batalov from Amazon Web Services (AWS) presenting on “AI for All.” Teams were introduced to each other to trigger radical collaborations across UW disciplines. Our judges, mentors, and workshop speakers were excited—given the access to talented UW students and a desire to give back to the community. During the week, we engaged participants by hosting team-building contests and an active Slack workspace. Lunch & Learn workshops on a variety of topics, such as design thinking, sales strategy, customer validation, and deep dives into AWS and AWS AI Services, helped participants hone their skills.

During the 48-hour home stretch from May 8–10, teams worked diligently to ideate, build, and develop pitches for their business ideas. We saw 1-minute pitches, in-progress photos of teams hard at work, and late-night Slack messages seeking guidance on AWS. On Saturday, mentors from Seattle-based startups, AI organizations, and tech companies gave teams feedback on their prototypes and pointed them in the right direction for the final presentation. On the final day, nine teams had 10 minutes each to present their final pitches and prototypes to our Judging Panel comprised of leaders from technology companies, VCs, incubators, and healthcare organizations. The five judges were surprised at the innovations and loved the teams’ entrepreneurial energy. We are following up with participants to help them convert their prototypes into businesses over the summer.

What next?

In the future, Foster Tech Club will continue to be a one-stop platform for businesses in the Pacific Northwest to connect to UW students and faculty seeking innovations around top technology trends. Upcoming resources and events include Foster Technology Review (a guide to understand business implications of high tech such as space mining, voice technology, blockchain, artificial intelligence, etc.) and the annual Foster Biz Dev Group office hour sessions for student entrepreneurs across campus seeking commercialization support for their innovations.

The first-ever Husky AI Hackathon organized by students in the UW Foster School of Business' Technology Club took place in early May.Winning Teams from the 2020 Husky AI Hackathon

Prizes sponsored by AWS and the Foster School’s Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship

1st Place: AIGeneratedTeamName

Teacher’s Bot, an AI assistant, integrates with LMS (Learning Management Systems like Canvas) and automates the routine elements of teaching so teachers can focus on human connection.

2nd Place: There’s More Phish in the C(++)

Pantry, an AI-empowered app, brings spontaneity to the virtual workplace—like the conversations workers would normally have in the office.

3rd Place: Captive8

Captive8 is a teaching platform that leverages AI to increase student engagement in the virtual environment.