Ready for a High Tech Barn-Raising?

stamford hackathon 2015Remember the barn-raising scene in the movie “Witness”?

(If you have a few minutes and are in the mood to chill, click here).

Hackathons are a new-ish version of the concept: if you bring people together to build something, they will push themselves in new ways, have fun, and strengthen their ties to the community and each other. The hackathon version of this idea is to invite software developers, entrepreneurs and the tech-minded to a weekend-long event where new technologies are used to make ‘hacks’ – creative uses of technology that solve problems.

As a smaller market, it is easy to assume that one needs to go elsewhere to find tech talent, that the technology community in Fairfield County is too thin to find what you’re looking for. And yet, as I’ve  been out in the community promoting the Stamford Hackathon over the past few months, I’ve been astonished at just how much is going on (get ready for a partial roundup).

Praise the makers

Makerspaces are opening up everywhere, from the Ferguson, New Canaan, Westport and other area libraries, to more single-purpose communities like the rockstars at Fairfield County Maker’s GuildCT Hackerspace, Rippowam Labs, and Danbury Hackerspace. In fact, a new friend of mine, Frederico, has shown his passion for this community by opening their new makerspace/tech gallery in SoNo, Industrial C.H.I.M.P. Check that one out.

Creating Companiesstamford coworking space

On the entrepreneurial front, everyone is pushing to create an ecosystem, and it is working. The Stamford Innovation Center’s coworking, advisory services and entrepreneur in residence, Janis Collins, all help young firms find their footing, and their way forward. Janis also leads a fantastic accelerator program, the Refinery, “fueling the growth of women-led companies”. Comradity in Stamford similarly gives creative & media talent a place to grow their practice and businesses.

Fairfield County is home to some amazing tech companies that were once considered startups — reminding us that this is a very good place to hang your shingle. Kayak, Priceline, Datto, Arccos and others have all started and remain here in Fairfield County. These breakthrough firms came from the constant bubbling of strong Fairfield County thinkers and the sorts of startups that can be found presenting their wares at meetups like the SIC’s monthly Stamford Tech Meetup, weekly Innovation Roundtable, and the periodic pitch competitions held by CVG, CTNext and others.

Teaching Talent

At the heart of any technology community must be the developer. Money matters, management matters, marketing matters – but first and foremost someone has to see a need in the marketplace and build something. And that takes software developers. Recruiting for the Stamford Hackathon started with Fairfield County Universities. There are a lot: from Sacred Heart to UConn to Fairfield University, WestConn, University of Bridgeport and of course NCC & Hausatonic Community College – all creating an astonishing number of engineers, coders and developers.

Statewide, the A100, a breakthrough apprenticeship program, is taking talented young engineers and creating seasoned developers in three-month cohorts, the most recent of which was held at the Stamford Innovation Center.

Government Support

The job of government in a tech community is to help create the conditions for smart people to do great things, and here we are very lucky to have an environment where that is the case. CTNext, CTInnovations and the Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD), provide support, seed money and more importantly, ongoing pitch competitions that give entrepreneurs something to shoot for, all-important exposure, and a ton of advice from their entrepreneurs in residence.

We’ve also found that city governments, recognizing the need for technology-driven startups and the jobs of the future, are amazingly helpful. The Office of Economic Development in Stamford was instrumental in getting the data that’s behind the Stamford Hackathon’s 3D interactive model, data that was created by grants from Connecticut’s Open Data Initiative, and given to us by the WestCog organization.

There is in fact a huge and growing amount of data coming from government, data that our technology community is increasingly starting to work with.

Of Hackathons, Codeathons, and meetups.

On Sept. 18, 19th and 20th, The Shippan Institute will hold the first Stamford Hackathon hosted at the Stamford Innovation Center.  This weekend-long event will be kicked off by Mayor Martin, and will include participation by Congressman Jim Himes and State Rep. Caroline Simmons as well as IBM’s Chief Information Strategist, Stephen Adler, and 150+ of the area’s developers.

We are running a series of Developer’s Meetups that teach developers how to work with each of our three tracks, and have made some great tools available that allow non-specialists to create projects in each of them: the tracks for this hackathon include Internet of Things, Civic Data, and Virtual Reality.

On Saturday, Sept. 19th, we’ll also host an open-house: on the second floor, area makerspaces will hold family-friendly activities, while on the first floor, breakout sessions and a cybersecurity panel will present some cool ideas from the worlds of Internet of Things.

Stamford HackathonThe Stamford Hackathon is another important step in the growth of the Stamford region as a recognized startup and tech community.  If, like us, you consider that a legitimate and worthwhile goal, we hope you’ll join us for the Hackathon, and pass the story along to your friends and colleagues.

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