Startup Institute to Lock 50 Students Inside a Room for 24 Hours to 'IdeaHack'

This article originally appeared in BostInno. Fifty students will be locked inside a building in Kendall Square for 24 hours, hacking away at a real-life problem faced by a local nonprofit.

Sound like a torture scene out of a Halloween movie? Not for them. These students are part of the IdeaHack hosted by the Startup Institute, a Cambridge-based lifelong learning program aimed at equipping students with the tools they need  to have an immediate impact on the startup company they decide to join. What better way to do this than to present students with a startup problem and give them 24 hours to solve it?

That’s what the Startup Institute thought, too. They are hosting the second IdeaHack at its Cambridge headquarters, lasting from 3:30 p.m. tomorrow until 3:30 p.m. on Friday.

“They’re mostly working around the clock,” Allan Telio, director of the Startup Institute’s Boston program, told BostInno of the students enrolled. “They’ll get back in the morning [on Friday] and keep working through the day.”

Telio also added that there will be pizza given out at the event, but the main priority for students will be solving the nonprofit's problem.

This year, that nonprofit will be Sharitive, a mobile application that enables consumers to earn dollars on their behalf for each purchase and check-in made with a Sharitive business partner. Sharitive is now working with Crema Cafe and raising funds for Girls’ LEAP, Harvard Square Homeless Shelter, The Possible Project and the Cambridge School Volunteers. Sharitive was recommended to the Startup Institute by The Possible Project, the nonprofit youth entrepreneurship center that the Startup Institute worked with at this summer’s IdeaHack.

“Here is an organization we can add value to,” Telio said of the Startup Institute’s decision to work with Sharitive. “We try to figure out what some of the problems Sharitive currently faces are that the students can then help solve.” He added that the Startup Institute is always looking for other nonprofits that students can work with and encourages any nonprofit to volunteer for the event.

The basic structure of the IdeaHack is that students are broken into 10 different teams, with most teams including members of each of the four tracks available at the Startup Institute: product and design, sales and business, technical marketing and web development. The problem that students are trying to solve is not presented to them until they arrive at the event, giving them exactly 24 hours to solve it.

“Part of our rationale for why we are doing this is, from an organizational perspective, we want to give back to the community with the talent we have,” Will Eaton, the director of instructors at the Startup Institute said. “It’s a diverse group of people working together to solve a problem for a nonprofit and it’s tangible for the organization we work with.”

While Eaton said the event over the summer went pretty well and does not need many changes the second time around, one major difference that students will see at this IdeaHack is that if they are interested in continuing to work with the nonprofit after the 24-hour buzzer goes off, they are more than welcome to do so.

“One thing we learned after the 24 hours was up is that we still had students that wanted to continue to give back,” Eaton said. “We are kicking off Thursday ready to say if you want to continue problem-solving, you can. We’ve structured the challenge to make it ongoing.”

Thursday’s IdeaHack comes four days after the Startup Institute launched its fall programs in all three of its locations: New York, Boston and Chicago. This is the first time the company will have three consecutive programs running.

“This is something we plan to continue to do in the future,” Easton said of the IdeaHack. “We are actively looking for other nonprofits to work with on future events.”

Fifty students with no choice but to solve a problem for your nonprofit? Sounds like a great opportunity to us.