Amit Jotwani | Front End Developer, Developer Evangelist
December 16, 2011

Princeton's got talent


Startup Weekend Princeton's landing page describes a typical Startup Weekend as - "Lots of coding, lots of creativity, tons of junk food and energy drinks, lots of prizes, and a lot of fun - don't miss the action!" - That probably sums up Princeton's Startup Weekend quite well and I can stop typing right here, but it ended up being so much more, so am gonna continue typing!

I have said this before and I am going to say it again, I love college hackathons. There's something about them that makes it very exciting. The enthusiasm and energy is so enticing. In fact, with a college hackathon, you can be sure that you would be witnessing something very special. Point in case - Startup Weekend Princeton. It was a fabulous experience representing Mashery at Princeton.

What is Startup Weekend

If you haven't heard of Startup Weekend, it is a non-profit organization based in Seattle, Washington that organizes 54 hour intense hacking events all around the world that focus on building a web or mobile application over the course of a weekend which could form the basis of a credible business.

In a nutshell, you walk in on a Friday evening with an idea, pitch your idea to other fellow Startup Weekenders in no more than 60 seconds (no slides allowed). Everybody gets an opportunity to pitch.  Next, everybody votes for the idea they find exciting enough to build over the weekend (other than their own idea of course). Once voting is completed, the top 10 ideas rise up. You now have a choice to join any of these and begin hacking. The point is to take an idea from a concept to a working prototype. Teams are encouraged to do market validation, have a rough business model and practice their demos.

Through the weekend, the teams have access to mentors, who are a mix of rockstar entrepreneurs, VCs, and developers. After being at three Startup Weekends as a participant over the course of the last 18 months or so, I got an opportunity to be on the other side of the fence -- a chance to "mentor" student hackers at Startup Weekend Princeton. Needless to say, I was very excited.

The Mentoring

It was a thrilling experience helping teams with APIs and some random coding SOS', ranging from platforms in the Mashery API network (New York Times API, Patch API, Rotten Tomatoes API) to the Facebook Graph API. Assisting teams with random tasks was both a satisfying, thrilling and a learning experience.

It started on Friday with my demo of the Mashery API Explorer - a free tool that I think is tailor made for events like these. It lets developers explore new APIs with ease and makes the whole process of learning an API and making that first API call a breeze.

In what would probably go down as one of the most fierce "Facebook API" battles at Princeton campus, we (Marc and I) helped the Newsance team pull and parse data using Facebook API, despite the platfom not playing nice. It all worked out in the end as Newsance ended up winning the Grand Prize.

The Winner - Newsance

What: An app that lets you see which news items are important to your Facebook friends. It pulls news stories using Patch API & Associated Press API and organizes it by your Facebook friends. For example, if there was an earthquake in Japan, Newsance would tell you which of your friends live there so that you can make sure that they are okay.

They also won the award for Best Hack using an API from the Mashery API Network. They took home the now famous Red Jawbone JamBox for their use of Patch and Associated Press APIs. In fact if there was an award for playing around with most APIs, they would have easily snatched that. They absolutely earned their API Explorer merit badges!

The Team: Andrew Sauber, Ante Qu, Archit Budhraja, Pratham Mittal, Josh, David Dohan, Daniel Chyan, Junjun Che

Additionally, they earned an entry to compete in the Startup Global Battle with 48 other teams. Here's a short video of their entry. 

Thank You Princeton

Really awesome hacks got built out over the weekend. The quality of the hacks was simply mind blowing. Here's a shout out to all teams that participated. Great stuff!

Momchil Tomov - a Computer Science BSE student at Princeton who also runs the Princton ACM Club did a fantastic job at organizing this. The Wi-Fi - a thorn in the rear of organizers at most hackathons, absolutely rocked. In fact I would go one step ahead and say that this was the most awesome collegiate hackathon I have been part of.

Keith Armstrong from Startup Weekend, who I learnt had been on travel binge for 2 weeks straight up was instrumental in making this such a huge success. It's the passion of people like Keith & Momchil that makes events like these so worth it for hackers. Take a bow guys! Take a bow Princeton for pulling off a top notch event!

Some Pics from the event on Flickr

Update: If there were any doubters as to the validity of the title of this post - Daniel (of Newsance fame) & his Princeton peers, am sure have put that to rest with this HUGE win!

"Overcoming stiff competition from MIT and Waterloo, Princeton won this year’s Facebook College Hackathon finals." ~ Techcrunch