Hackathon Opens at U-M, Reddit Founder Alexis Ohanian is Keynote


Since launching last year, the semiannual MHacks Hackathon — a 36-hour event where high school and college students create apps and tech-related products — has grown fast. So much so that it’s even drawing the likes of Alexis Ohanian, the founder of Reddit, who will deliver the opening keynote speech, which kicks off today at the University of Michigan.

At first, we just wanted to see if we could pull it off,” says Diego Calvo, president of MPowered Entrepreneurship, via email. “Now, student-run hackathons are popping up in every state in the Union, and they all look to MHacks as the model. We’re proud to be the example, and we collaborate and share experience with others as much as we can.”

And while Calvo doesn’t know what the content of Ohanian’s presentation will be, he expects it will be one of the highlights of the weekend.

I’m pretty sure our Twitter account imploded when we announced his coming, and some people are flying in just for him,” Calvo says. “He’s the perfect example of what it means to be a “hacker” — someone who wakes up every day wanting to learn new things, build creations that help people, and make the most out of life.”

While the last MHacks event saw more than 1,200 participants last year, Calvo says event organizers opted to ease off mass-expansion to focus on delivering the best possible experience for each and every hacker. To do this, they capped participation at 1,000 people and have introduced the MHacks Gateway, during which about 100 first-time hackers will work with MakeGamesWithUs, a startup providing in-person and online iOS learning academies, to improve their programming and coding skills.

If they become programmers, great. If they don’t, that’s okay, too. In the end, Calvo says they’re more interested in showing people “the joy of learning-by-doing, what it feels like to dive into something you’ve never tried before and keep at it until you produce something you never thought you could.”

Our dream is that no student in the world will ever ‘wait’ for anything, whether it’s graduation, qualification, (or) experience,” Calvo says. “If they want to make a change, to create or organize something that helps people, they just dive in and do it. If they fail, they try again. It’s the entrepreneurial spirit that’s our mission to share.”

That’s not to say there isn’t any incentive to win, however. Teams are ultimately competing for prizes, one providing the top first-time hacker team at MHacks an all-expenses-paid trip to Cal Hacks at UC Berkeley’s California Memorial Stadium on Oct. 3-5.

To learn more about the event, which runs through Sunday, visit mhacks.org.