In San Francisco, a hackathon that humanizes the business plan

SAN FRANCISCO -- At the Reinvent Business Hackathon, coders, designers, executives and students came together to find ways to put people ahead of profits (to grow profits).
Written by Mary Catherine O'Connor, Contributing Writer

SAN FRANCISCO -- "We want to build companies that we want our kids to work in, and that we're proud of," said Kal Patel, a judge at the Reinvent Business Hackathon hosted by frog design last weekend here in San Francisco. Patel, who leads global development and the European expansion of business consultancy LRN, said this as a prelude to announcing the three top teams from the two-day hackathon, in which 20 seven-member teams were tasked with developing a product, platform or system that can "build a more human and truly social enterprise."

Clearly, that's a tall order. But that's the point; frog design and LRN collaborated to develop the hackathon in the hopes of inspiring great ideas for humanizing the way businesses operate.

Tim Leberecht, frog design's chief marketing officer, greeted me as I arrived at frog's SOMA headquarters late Sunday afternoon, just in time to watch all 20 three-minute presentations. It was an unseasonably warm and sunny day in San Francisco, but the offices were packed with slightly sweaty hackathon participants. Their excitement was palpable.

"None of the teams have dropped out," a surprised, exhilarated Leberecht said. With an expected attendance of around 80 participants, the hackathon received more than 200 applicants and some of them -- coders, designers, students, filmmakers, business leaders and engineers -- had to be wait-listed. Each team contained seven participants, many of whom didn't know each other before the work started up on Saturday morning.

The panel of judges were given only a half-hour to deliberate and decide which of the 20 ideas -- all of them formed and turned into a product or service prototype or concept during over the weekend -- was the best, and therefore awarded a $5,000 prize from Silicon Valley Bank.

The ideas and presentations were judged based on:

  • Originality of idea
  • Feasibility of implementation
  • Likelihood of adoption
  • Fidelity of code
  • Possible impact and capacity to make positive change
  • Storytelling

The winning idea is SkillCloud, a kind of social network that gives employees within an organization the ability to share their personal interests and abilities outside the workplace. Organizations could then build out teams based on these individuals' interests -- skills that wouldn't necessarily be on their resumes and certainly not integral to their jobs. The hope is that the platform would become an idea generation engine.

"We want to be the matchmaker between motivated people" within companies, explained one of the designers from Design Icon, the team that came up with SkillCloud.

The members of the second-place Loopool team displayed their acumen for coding, having created a very snazzy demo over the weekend, as well as pulling together a very entertaining presentation, complete with a song. Loopool would rebrand customer resource management ("CRM") software as collaborative relationship management software. The software would give consumers a platform for providing product feedback in a way that would be shared not just with the company that makes the product, but with a larger community and in a manner that would elicit a public response.

"This tool lets companies evolve, like open source technology," one Loopool team member explained.

To my ears, Loopool sounded a lot like products that already exist, such as Get Satisfaction, which empowers consumers by giving them a platform for complaining or praises companies or products, and, in turn, gives companies a tool for directly responding to those consumers.

The third place winner was Sentimetric, a software platform billed as "Google Analytics for emotion." This is a tool that employers would use to chart, measure and track the way employees are feeling about their workplace on a day to day basis. The idea is that by being more keyed into how employees are feeling, employers will be able to respond proactively to changes in the emotional landscape, thereby (hopefully) boosting happiness and retention. It would be targeted toward small companies that are growing, and adding staff, very quickly.

All three top teams will receive free mentoring from frog design and LRN, and all of the participating teams will be featured in an upcoming issue of frog's Design Mind magazine. As the hackers filed out of the frog design offices and onto 3rd Street, they all seemed quite content that they'd toiled away all weekend. And Leberecht hopes the conversation, and hacking, will continue.

"This may be turned into a series of events, held in different locations, or held a larger platform," he said.

Author’s note: The original version of this post stated that the winning idea was Decision Icon. That is incorrect; it is actually SkillCloud. Decision Icon is the team that came up with the idea. It has been corrected. I regret the error.

Images: Mary Catherine O'Connor

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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