Oakland’s first Startup Weekend focuses on black male achievement
on February 12, 2014
Could an app have saved Trayvon Martin?
That was the question posed by the organizers of Oakland’s first Startup Weekend. The international event brings together coders, designers, and others and gives them 54 hours to moved from idea to product. More than one hundred people gathered at the newly-opened Impact Hub Oakland to launch start-ups focused on black male achievement.
“The George Zimmerman verdict affected most of the world, but it was everyday as normal for Silicon Valley,” said Kalimah Priforce, co-founder of Qeyno Labs and organizer of Startup Weekend Oakland. “How do we, you know those of us who consider ourselves so smart and so brilliant and design savvy, how do we actually create apps that could save Trayvon Martin? Oscar Grant? How do we create apps across education, health, restorative justice, even gaming [so] that these young people don’t feel as vulnerable as the as the statistics show? ”
On opening night, more that 40 pitches were given, from social networking to criminal justice, and from wellness to street safety. Fourteen ideas were chosen.
Throughout the weekend, teams worked on ideas that included ways for former inmates to locate jobs that would hire individuals with criminal records to interactive games that would encourage youth to workout and eat healthy.
Sticky notes decorated walls of the rooms where the teams hashed out ideas about user interface and ideal business models. Workflows were written out on dry erase boards. Participants worked into the evening and returned early in the morning.
On the final day, teams sent up representatives to give five-minute pitches. Judges considered whether the startups had consulted their potential market, the business model, and the apps’ potential impact on community.
Connect the Dots, a social networking platform that allowed black students at private schools to connect with each other was voted audience favorite and tied for third place with Rx Easy, an app that allowed users to compare prescription costs and have the medicine delivered.
Second place went to Court Date, an app that allowed youth in the criminal justice system to receive messages reminders about upcoming court dates.
The winning app was Help Circle, a program that allowed users to reach out to their emergency contacts with the push of a button. When they feel unsafe, users press a yellow button can send a warning message to a group. The message will include their coordinates so the group knows where they are located. If a situation becomes a serious emergency, they can tap a button that will contact their emergency list and police.
Judges noted that the app delivered “the promise of the day,” and said that in addition to having a good presentation, Help Circle had great potential impact.
“I initially came because I wanted my daughter to participate and for her to learn the importance of technology,” said Iman Saint Jean, who pitched the idea that became Help Circle, despite her lack of tech experience. “I want her to understand the importance of using technology for change, for liberation, for personal empowerment and growth.”
Her daughter, who was a bit reluctant to spend a Friday night with coders, ended up working on Court Date.
“The beautiful thing about hackathons versus any other discipline — education, social sciences — they talk about the problem, they write about the problem, they submit the problem to journals, but there’s nothing that they really build until later,” said Saint Jean, who is working on her masters in education. “It can take years for some of those ideas to be implemented. The thing about hackathons is it’s done in a weekend. It’s like if you could build a house in a weekend.”
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