UH Hilo, HawCC students participate in virtual HIplan Hackathon

Date: Friday, April 17, 2020
Contact: Alyson Kakugawa-Leong, (808) 932-7669

For Immediate Release

The University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo has long been recognized for the diversity of its student body, and on the weekend of April 4-5, UH Hilo and Hawaiʻi Community College students really learned how important that diversity is in approaching solutions to local problems.

In planning for over a year, UH Hilo and HawCC collaborated with HIplan Executive Director Jason Ueki and the BizGenics Foundation to offer a HIplan Hackathon for students. The goals were to develop students’ understanding of how to conceptualize and design a business concept for an app-based solution to a real community issue, which centered on the recovery efforts around the 2018 lava flow.

Roughly 50 students from both campuses had initially registered for the face-to-face event, which had to be completely restructured as a virtual event due to COVID-19. Since many students had returned home or experienced a shift in priorities, 15 students participated in the online event, spanning the globe from Hawaiʻi Island to Spain. Luca Checchia Adell, a sophomore at UH Hilo studying Business, participated from his hometown of Valencia, Spain, which meant that he stayed up all night to collaborate with his teammates.

The event lasted two days, bringing students together from different campuses, majors, and backgrounds to share their global perspectives and approaches to problem-solving. Collaborating in teams of three or four students, the students were provided with training in business models and the BizzyB.com collaborative learning platform, and heard a presentation from Helen Tien, instructor at UH Hilo’s College of Business and Economics, on the challenges the community still faces from the 2018 lava flow.

The students worked with mentors who shared their extensive knowledge in business and technology to develop the teams’ concepts, business plans and pitches. The teams then pitched their concept and answered questions from a panel of judges.

UH Hilo participant Ryen Helzer, a senior studying Geography & Environmental Science, said, “The HIplan Hackathon allowed me to practice creative problem-solving and presenting skills that apply to real-world careers. The opportunity to quickly meet and work with a diverse group of individuals to create solutions is a positive experience for future endeavors.”

For some, the online format might have been helpful.

Makamae Kamaka-Mauhili, a UH Hilo freshman studying Business and Women’s Studies, reflected, “I am someone who tends to stay in the background, but with my team, I was able to emerge from my shell and share what I thought comfortably. Since it was virtual, in my opinion it was easier for us to work together.

“The overall hackathon experience really broadened my scope of learning alongside applying knowledge and skill sets to produce a positive outcome,” she added.

Kamaka-Mauhili and teammates Brian McMichael (HawCC, IT), Karly Requelman (Sophomore, HawCC, Culinary Arts) and Zoe Whitney (Senior, UH Hilo, Environmental Science and TESOL) took First Place and were awarded $2,500 for designing an app that connects community members with skills and materials to rebuild homes that were lost as a result of the lava flow. Second Place and $1,500 went to Kevianna Adams (Junior, UH Hilo, Chemistry & Psychology), Santos Gutierez (Sophomore, HawCC, Information Technology), Ryen Helzer (Senior, UH Hilo, Geography & Environmental Sciences) and Catherine Kane-Paulo (Junior, UH Hilo, Business Administration) for their app named Coconut Grove. Third Place and $1,000 went to Luca Checchia Adell (Sophomore, UH Hilo, Business Administration), Casey Chow (Freshman, HawCC, ITS), Kevin Oh (Freshman, HawCC, Information Technology), and Jena Shidaki (Sophomore, UH Hilo, Communication) for their Disaster Defense app. Fourth Place and $300 went to the team of Alan Cincunegui Corres (Sophomore, UH Hilo, Finance), Kapaiaʻalaopuna Earle (Junior, UH Hilo, Communication & Hawaiian Studies), and Garnett Stone Jr. (Junior, UH Hilo, Business Administration) for their app called Second Wave.

Judges included Melanie Wilson, Dean of Liberal Arts & Public Services at HawCC, tech entrepreneur Steve Sakoman of Steve Sakoman Inc., and Chris Rehkamp, former program manager at the Digital Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Maryland. Mentors included Director of Accelerator Operations at Elemental Excelerator Sherrie Totoki in San Francisco, Americas Advisory Learning Leader Louise Lorton of Ernst & Young in North Carolina, and Phillipe Rosse from RFP Match in North Carolina. Facilitators included local entrepreneur Mike Nakamura, former tech executive Wayne Morris, and retired tech professional Walter McCoy.

Event sponsors were Kamehameha Schools, Ulupono Initiative, County of Hawaiʻi, UH Hilo and HawCC.

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