Hacking for Change in Chicago

During our first week of Startup Institute, we participated in a 24-hour IdeaHack. All students at Startup Institute Chicago crave the opportunity to get real-word experience working at a startup– but we were all a little surprised when the opportunity presented itself during week one. Aubrey Schuster of TransTech Social Enterprises kicked things off with a presentation about the organization. TransTech is a nonprofit creative agency that houses an apprenticeship program. They specialize in career development for trans individuals by offering educating and empowering them in the necessary skills to be productive members of the workforce.

The Challenge: Scaling Social Progress and Career Development.

With the goal of expanding both locally and nationally, TransTech looked to our cohort at SI for guidance on how to make their apprentice assessment/ hiring process more streamlined and comprehensive. They not only wanted to make their process more user-friendly, they also wanted to gather more useful data. Many of us, quite frankly, were a little confused at the end of Aubrey’s presentation. And, that was intentional. Our task was left deliberately open-ended to maximize our creativity.

TransTech is working to help people in the trans community gain skills and jobs no matter where they are. In a lot of ways, our hack teams had to do the same thing by working on a cross-functional team with members of varying levels of expertise and build upon each other’s ideas. In short, we had to make something.[bctt tweet=".@TransTechSocial is empowering the trans professionals @rebeckyhogan @erinaengstrom"]

The Hackathon: Dynamics, Deliverables, and the Race Against the Clock.

We were divided into teams of four and told not to expect to be home for dinner – Potbelly’s would be brought in. Working in a small group with people you’ve known for all of three days is challenging. You worry about bringing dumb ideas to the table. You worry about overstepping when your teammates are presenting ideas of their own. You seek reassurance from one teammate that you didn’t piss off your other teammate. Everyone has a different thought process and communication style, and working effectively with people you’ve known for such a short time requires some serious on-the-fly adaptation.

Some teams worked until midnight. The slackers only worked until nine. Everyone reconvened the next day and spent an additional six hours finishing up projects before presenting their deliverables to TransTech in the afternoon. It was cool to see the strengths of these teams on full display during the presentations–some of us are data analysis whizzes, some are amazing designers, some are social media experts, others are right at home in front of an audience.[bctt tweet="Being #effective in a #teamdynamic requires serious #adaptability @rebeckyhogan @erinaengstrom"]

Winning Results.

Ultimately, the IdeaHack was a huge win for TransTech. They got five solutions with a dozen-plus nuggets of insight and ideas contained within each one. The end-results were scrappy and innovative: a resume-builder, landing pages that acquired e-mails, and customized surveys that hit on applicants’ unique interests–just to name a few.

“Seeing other people work with the things that we do every day in a very creative and professional way was a nice experience,” says Aubrey. “We trusted the people whose hands we were putting this into, and knew that they were going to be passionate about what they were trying to do for us. They really did get our organization quickly, and it was really beautiful.”

The IdeaHack was a huge win for us as well. Not only did we learn about our teammates and ourselves, it was also a career development opportunity for us, offering a real-life taste of what the world of startups is all about: addressing challenging, nebulous problems in demanding settings without a lot of resources.

We’re all chomping at the bit for more.[bctt tweet=".@StartupInstCHI IdeaHack for @TransTechSocial = real-life lesson in startup challenges @rebeckyhogan @erinaengstrom" via="no"]

Erin Engstrom is an editorial communications specialist with more than seven years of managerial experience. She looks forward to crushing it as a technical marketer following Startup Institute.

Becky Hogan is a digital marketing strategist that is passionate about helping companies tell their stories. She has five years of experience in corporate communications and is excited to join a fast-paced, early-stage startup after honing her skills in the technical marketing track.