What an electrifying time we had at LAB-14 for MEI & Powershop’s Energy Hack 2016

The puns were ablaze, the hashtags were trending, and ideas flew like sparks of electricity. Last weekend, LAB-14 and the Carlton Connect Initiative played host to one of the first energy-focused hackathons. Drawing together the combined power of The University of Melbourne (Melbourne Energy Institute), corporate gurus Powershop, and a multitude of interested partners, this competition had the perfect mix of industry, academics, professionals, students, and startups.

It was probably the most diverse hackathon I’ve been a part of in terms of age and experience. A huge number of participants had 10+ year’s experience in their fields, whilst others had worked on startups, or were intellectual machine learning PhD overlords. All in all, it was great to see the collaboration across a broad range of professions. Unlike most hacks, mentors were in abundance. I think there were almost forty of them on the list. The hive of activity experience over the weekend was something the mentors couldn’t get enough of. Many stayed long hours into the evening, and everyone was keen to inject their own flair into each project.

So. Many. Mentors From all areas of expertise & industries. We couldn't even fit them all on the stage!
So. Many. Mentors
From all areas of expertise & industries. We couldn’t even fit them all on the stage!

Melbourne’s weather is always something unpredictable. For a hackathon however, it was the perfect rainy weekend. The wet conditions meant participants stayed indoors, working on their ideas and keeping dry. Between sunshine, wet patches, and clouds, the end of the weekend finally came and it was pitch time! (my favourite part remember).

From electricity sharing, to solar powered car stations, to Facebook chatbots, Energy Hack had it all. The winners, Planet Lovers, combined big data and machine learning to help users find out more about their energy usage. The team won a Fonzarelli (not a bad prize) and have the opportunity to further develop their idea alongside industry. The Victorian Government also put up a $5000 prize for the best idea engaging the public around ecotourism. Team Spark walked away with the cash for their Rover app, a way to teach consumers about flora & fauna whilst simultaneously giving them insights into electricity generation.

Judges, mentors, organisers, and winners. We're all the same in the end right? Everyone had a tonne of fun and went home learning something new
Judges, mentors, organisers, and winners. We’re all the same in the end right? Everyone had a tonne of fun and went home learning something new

It was fantastic to see so many working demos and prototyped solutions. Energy Hack didn’t have a huge emphasis on coding a solution or building out a complete package, but it’s always impressive to see these shown during pitches. There is nothing that screams feasibility more than actually building your idea out, even if it is pre-MVP. If you are any sort of coder, or find yourself in a team with coding experience, I encourage you to build some kind of demoable prototype. It looks amazing, stimulates the judges, and hits a home run for traditional hackathons.

One of the coolest things about this hackathon is how astonished the industry was with the solutions and outcomes developed over the two and a half days. Powershop are keen to work with all the teams who presented, and have expressed either interest, along with MEI, to run the event annually. You know what that means… Energy Hack 2017 is already in the pipeline. Get excited!

After a weekend of hacking away, drinking Red Bull, sharing GitHub stickers, and making new friends, it was time to say goodbye… but not for long! I’m already here at LAB-14 in another hackathon. It’s great to see some people from Energy Hack back for round two with the international Climathon.

I've almost become Dev Steve with this many stickers!
I’ve almost become Dev Steve with this many stickers!

Finally, there are tonnes more hackathons to come before 2016 wraps up, so get your hack on and get yourself to at least one more before Christmas. There’s a huge focus on MedTech for these next ones, so do your bit of “nice guy” before Santa comes and hopefully we’ll all stay on the ‘good’ list.

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