February 10, 2017

Boston Cleanweb Hackathon: 30 Hours of Innovation

Sara Reich, Multimedia Fellow

Boston’s vibrant clean energy sector is brimming with innovators developing technologies to solve tough energy problems – but most of them have more than 30 hours to do it.

This time crunch is fundamental to the Boston Cleanweb Hackathon, an annual two-day technology competition organized by MassCEC in partnership with Greentown Labs. Participants compete for thousands of dollars in cash prizes by creating a user-friendly, web-based application that helps consumers use energy and natural resources more efficiently.

This year, students, programmers, software developers, entrepreneurs and energy experts will gather for the fifth annual Hackathon from April 1-3 at LogMeIn in the Seaport District. If you're interested in participating in this year's event, click here for more information and registration.

At the 2015 Hackathon, Kathryn Wright, Brandon Bass and Andrew Belden were among 70 innovators taking on the challenge. The team created MySunBuddy, an online market that simplifies the sale of solar energy through net metering. But neither the business idea nor the team existed before the competition began.

“The idea for MySunBuddy was actually dreamed up on the elevator to the Hackathon,” said Wright. When Bass expressed interest in the idea during the pre-competition mixerFriday evening , the team gained the technical expertise it needed to bring the platform to life.

After a weekend of hard work, MySunBuddy walked away with the $5,000 grand prize.

The company was later selected as a semifinalist for the CleanTech Open Northeast, an accelerator for cleantech startups. In December, MySunBuddy was awarded a Catalyst Energy Innovation Prize grant to help advance their startup toward commercialization. The platform is set to launch this summer.

When Eric Graham arrived at the 2013 Hackathon, he didn’t have a team either. In fact, he didn’t even plan to compete. But he formed a team, and they came up with an idea to use crowdsourcing and smartphone software to unlock efficiencies in building and workplace management. The idea won the competition, and this was the beginning of CrowdComfort.

Today, the company is a member of Greentown Labs and MassChallenge and serves companies such as GE and National Grid. At the end of 2015, CrowdComfort raised $1.4 million in funding to continue developing its products.

Hackathon participants are not limited to those looking to generate new ideas. At the 2014 Hackathon, Dan Sterling had a plan.

His idea was to create a smartphone-controlled water detection and automatic shutoff system, but he needed to find additional talent to make it happen. Luckily, Jordan Gilmore was looking to utilize his background in water policy and development, and this was the perfect opportunity for him to do so. With the help of software engineer Mark Henderson, the trio created Water Hero.

After a strong third-place showing in the Hackathon, Water Hero competed in the Cleanweb Haccelerator (formerly called the DataJam), a mini-accelerator program that helps Hackathon teams further develop their startup ideas. After eight weeks of training, mentorship and a lot of hard work, they won the $5,000 grand prize. Water Hero launched the first beta release of its product in January.

Looking back on the Hackathon, Gilmore said, “I’m just grateful because there I was, looking for a project of that type, and it was presented to me in a nice little package.”

Like Water Hero, father-and-son duo Brian and Kenn Butler had an idea coming into the Hackathon. They were frustrated with how difficult it was to find information about home energy efficiency on real estate websites, and EnerScore was the solution to their problem. The software empowers home buyers and renters by providing them with information about a property’s energy cost.

Driven by the desire to find developers, the Butlers participated in three Hackathons before competing in the 2015 Haccelerator, where their idea won. They went on to receive $40,000 from MassCEC’s Catalyst Program in June.

EnerScore now has a nine-person team and $1 million in seed funding to help achieve its goal of implementing the software on every major real estate website.

When asked about their experiences, Hackathon participants highlight the exceptional talent of the Boston cleanweb community.

“There’s a great mix of people,” said Brian Butler of attendees. “We made a lot of good connections.”

Developers, designers and technical experts alike come to the Hackathon prepared to innovate. The results: clean energy solutions that are never short of remarkable.