TechRaising, A Warm Fuzzy Feeling in the Heart of Santa Cruz

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Workshop by TechRaising mentor Jose Caballero.

I’m hunched over a table, staring into my computer screen as the bags under my eyes sink in a bit further. It’s 11:30pm on a Saturday night, and I had just finished explaining my revenue model and market projections to friend of mine, for probably the third time that hour. In one hand I have a near empty Red Bull can, in the other, a red cup filled with Racer 5 IPA. I may be stiff and overly caffeinated, but I feel confident and focused. What’s more important, is that I am one of about 50 other people in the room, all working to bring our ideas to life within 48 hours. This is TechRaising, Santa Cruz’s premier hackathon, and local tech’s biggest event of the year.

As most hackathons go, the main idea is to get a bunch of creative, technical and business minded people together in a room for a weekend, with the main goal of building a business (or close to it) in under three days. However, unlike most other hackathons in the Bay Area, TechRaising is as much about cultivating the Santa Cruz tech community and rekindling that creative, eclectic spirit as it is about building companies. As the judges frequently commented, upon hearing product pitch after product pitch, “that’s so Santa Cruz”, which was taken by the crowd as a badge of honor. It’s not that Santa Cruz is all that radically different from Silicon Valley, birthplace of hackathons, it’s just that we have a unique twist to how we do it.

TechRaising is the flagship opportunity to learn about and get involved in everything tech in Santa Cruz, and, in stark contrast to the valley, there are no single winners. It’s as much about the overall experience and aesthetic of collaboration, as it is about who can execute on building out their idea the most effectively. As one participant explained afterward, “my pitch wasn’t even that good, and I still feel like a million bucks.”

So what did happen during the weekend? Oh, you know, a lot of things. Let me just briefly go over some highlights…

On Friday night we heard near 30 different product pitches ranging from a local social network, to a mechanism by which phones and tablets can charge over WiFi. We had people pitch new ideas about the way in which we experience the Internet beyond links and pages, to a way of interacting with Facebook without having to actually look at it. For my part, I pitched a stand alone feature to build off of the Civinomics platform, that would allow civic organizations and political candidates to better manage their contact lists for engagement and fundraising. Though I am pretty sure I botched it in the 90 seconds I was given. Oh well.

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Team Civinomics, amidst the hacking.

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Gotta get those tokens!

On Saturday morning we all crowded around the breakfast table to enjoy the ultimate brain food: bacon, en masse. We heard from world class mentors like Jose Caballer, about the importance of messaging and brand positioning. We watched as Emily Cohen from It’s Great Media literally design every other team’s logo, raking in all them TechRaising tokens (which she eventually traded in for a nifty pair of headphones). And, we came face to face with the humbling realization that we all probably bit off a bit more than we could chew, at least given the time frame. So, as most experienced entrepreneurs will do, Pivot! Pivot! Pivot!

On Sunday, after arising from the normal dizzied stupor of post caffeine/alcohol/sugar/barely-any-sleep/what-am-I-doing-with-my-life self-reflective semi-crisis, we dug in for the final push…And in that final blitzkrieg of code and presentation prep, I like to imagine everyone experienced a slight moment of transcendence. A moment of higher consciousness that can only be described (and was) as f#$*ing awesome! And before we knew it, 18 people were about to demo their projects, and boy were there some good un’s!

Caffeine.com – A direct competitor to craigslist that strives to be the premier internet marketplace for goods and services, but with a better user experience and greater accountability (no more creepy strangers, we hope).

Laser Meat Muffin – As the name suggests, a simpler way of filling out government forms, such as the ones you have to wait in line for hours at the DMV to receive.

What’s Good? – An app with a built in map interface for figuring out where all the cool parties are at, and just “what’s good?” in general.

LuxePods – A Santa Cruz spin on smaller scale hotel/motel rooms, complete with basic amenities, that are cheaper than anything else on the market and designed with commuters in mind.

And those are just the ones whose name I can remember off the top of my head… Also included in the list of products and teams are the following ideas:

  • An app for helping students learn physics
  • An app for helping students apply to college by comparing their knowledge with individual college expectations
  • An app for mapping out eco-tourism destinations with crowdsourced photos
  • Light gloves that have infinite programing possibilities, opening the doors for a new art form of light dancing

Among many more…

Overall the weekend proved to be a tremendous experience, one that I won’t soon forget. Until next year, TechRaising!

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