How do you turn ideas into successful pitches and prototypes within three days?
Participants at Campus 1871 have the answer.
This past weekend, the fourth annual Campus 1871, a startup hackathon for university students from the Greater Chicago Area, gathered the largest cohort to date at 1871 downtown — 128 students across nine universities, including The University of Chicago, Northwestern University, DeVry University, DePaul University, Loyola University, Illinois Institute of Technology, University of Illinois Springfield, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and University of Illinois at Chicago.
This year’s cohort was more diverse than ever, representing students evenly across genders, racial backgrounds, ages, interests and skills.
On Friday, the weekend started off with a fun team-building exercise — the marshmallow challenge. Participants had to build the tallest structure with 20 spaghetti sticks, a rope, some tape and a marshmallow within 18 minutes.
(Students working on building the tallest structure with the given materials. Photo by 1871/Gregory Rothstein & Rena Naltsas)
Following the icebreaker, two rounds of pitches narrowed 50 ideas down to 13, around which teams of 10 were formed.
(First round of the two rounds of initial pitches. Photo by 1871/Gregory Rothstein & Rena Naltsas)
(Photo by 1871/Gregory Rothstein & Rena Naltsas)
Early Saturday morning, 1871’s CEO Howard Tullman flew in from D.C. to engage with the attendees, and shared his insights on tech trends and entrepreneurship. Tullman emphasized that startup founders should use technology to find new ways of doing business. Tullman categorized innovation, optimism, and perseverance as three qualities key to an entrepreneur’s success.
(CEO Howard Tullman giving students a talk on tech trends and entrepreneurship. Photo by 1871/Gregory Rothstein)
After lunch, students attended a “startup life” panel discussion, moderated by 1871 Manger of Events Jihan Bibb, which consisted of General Manager at Jammber Music Ryan Shand, Founder of EX3Labs Adam Wisniewski, CEO & Founder of WeSolv Stella Ashaolu, and ChangEd App Co-Founder Nick Sky. The panelists shared stories on how they got involved with entrepreneurship, demystified the startup life, and offered advice on growing a business.
(“Startup life” panel. Photo by 1871/Gregory Rothstein)
In the afternoon, each team split into subgroups and attended three workshops specific to their skills and interests. The engineering, design and marketing members went to the “When Business Meets Design.” The business-leaning participants learned how to use Lean Canvas and build revenue models. The “hustlers” got some pro-tips on pitching.
(Photo by 1871/Gregory Rothstein)
On Sunday, the 13 teams finalized a variety of prototypes that are accessible on mobile devices and pitched to a panel of five judges, from a travel app that facilitates the traveler’s experience by combining itinerary planning and booking, to a subscription-based platform that aims to solve child obesity.
Respirare, a sensor cap that clips onto asthma patients’ inhaler and syncs with a mobile app to track and record usage data, came in first place. Team leader Mary Novokhovsky started forming the idea when her asthma got progressively worse about a year ago and there was no mainstream solution that tracked her inhaler usage.
(The Respirare team answering questions from the judges. Photo by 1871/Gregory Rothstein)
The Respirare team hopes to continue their momentum by building a prototype that they can bring out to the market and utilizing the resources they discovered over the weekend.
“[Campus 1871] showed me that if you have an idea, if you really believe in it and if you work really really hard, you can achieve whatever you want,” Novokhovsky said.
Muzé, an app that allows users to get information on artworks at museums through image recognition technology, came in second. Timber, a P2P lending platform that helps people secure quality down payments by matching borrowers and investors, and VSeedU, an app that democratizes venture capital on college campuses and educates university students on investing, tied for third place.
Campus 1871, capturing the essence of startup life in one weekend, not only helped many student entrepreneurs jumpstart their ideas but also connected various talents going forward.
Richard Liu, an incoming MBA student at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management and team leader of VSeedU, believes that Campus 1871 has prepared him for his future pursuits in entrepreneurship.
“Campus 1871 has taught me how to become a better leader, by aligning different skill sets toward a shared vision and motivating/inspiring teammates rather than delegating work,” Liu said.
Looking ahead, Campus 1871 falls under 1871’s larger initiative and vision to help retain tech talent in the city and foster a community of students passionate about entrepreneurship.
“We really want to create a network for university students, both undergraduate and graduate, to see what 1871 has to offer them, whether it is job opportunities, exciting events, visitors that are coming through the space,” said Deena Siegel, Manager of Membership at 1871 and main organizer of the event this year. “And not just that but also [connecting like-minded students] to each other, and [following up] with them to see where they are at.”