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HackHarvard Inspires Entrepreneurial Spirit Among Students

HackHarvard Inspires Entrepreneurial Spirit Among Students

by Joy Jin

This past weekend, hundreds of students representing a number of US and international colleges descended upon campus for HackHarvard. As Harvard’s first annual hackathon, the 36 hour event promoted collaboration on a plethora of digital projects among student groups, regardless of programming experience. Microsoft, Capital One, Facebook, and Wolfram were among the sponsors of the events, drawing a diverse crowd of students. Harvard Ventures sat down with several participants to speak about their experience and thoughts on hacking, intersection of different fields, and entrepreneurship in general.

Q: What hack did you make and what inspired you to do so? Describe the process of building your hack.

Sachin Srivastava (Northwestern): My team and I tried to create a search engine that, given a word describing an emotion, would return a list of book recommendations identifying with that emotion…It was based on the practice of bibliotherapy, a psychological therapy in which a patient reads books with themes relating to events in his or her own life. We ran into some challenges on the back-end work and implementing the searching mechanism, but after speaking with engineers from Google, Wolfram, and Microsoft, we were able to get a working website though it only responded to certain inputs.

Nathan Yu (MIT): My team and I created Osmos, an app that allows users to find nearby study groups that align with their own studying habits, which was inspired primarily by my lack of productivity. As it is psychologically proven that individuals focus better under external or social pressure, we hope Osmos will allow students all across the US to study more effectively. We used HTML, CSS, Javascript, and Parse—one of the difficulties that we ran into was utilizing the Google Maps API to integrate distance into our algorithm for finding the best study groups.

Q: What makes entrepreneurship appealing to you?

Srivastava: My dream job is to start multiple organizations that positively impact the lives of billions of people. Entrepreneurship is so appealing because it’s a team sport, yet in many ways you are your own. It’s also the most creative profession. You can be an entrepreneur and create a product or service relating to any field imaginable.

Q: Do you envision yourself improving on your hack, and is there a particular area you were inspired to explore?

Srivastava: I don’t envision myself building off of the hack because to truly implement it would require extensive algorithmic knowledge that I currently don’t have…At this point, I’m really using hackathons as learning experiences to see what hacking is about and learn by doing, whether that’s web or mobile development. One takeaway from HackHarvard would be that I should try to get my ideas out there as much as possible, since there are quite a few talented people willing to help out.

Q: What was one thing that you really hoped would come through when you were helping to organize HackHarvard?

Yong Li Dich (Harvard): I really wanted participants (most were first-time hackers) to enjoy the event and not feel as if they were being thrown in a competitive atmosphere. That’s why we provided a nap space, had musical chair and dance breaks, promoted collaboration (no solo projects allowed), pushed for more workshops and talks surrounding learning skills, and had participants think about the impact of their projects rather than just prizes.

Angie Rao (Harvard): I also think one of the most exciting things about hacking and entrepreneurship is that it gives everyday people the ability to build so much with just a few lines of code. I honestly became involved in HackHarvard on a whim because I wanted to try something new, but stayed in it because others on the board are so dedicated to their work.