A Future Built by Hackathons

I had never been so ecstatic for a nine-hour car ride in my life.

Even with the limited bathroom breaks, that uncomfortable line of interrogation at the border crossing and the same songs played on repeat, I was pumped. Our trip from Philadelphia Pennsylvania, to Waterloo, Ontario was to attend Hack the North, Canada’s largest international hackathon.

Hack The North is Canada’s premier hackathon, hosted at the University Of Waterloo where in 36 hours, 1,000 hackers from around the world gather to build cool and innovative technologies. With attendance from renowned companies, such as Y Combinator, Google, and Pebble, Hack the North has shown itself as one of the top places for innovation. “I’ve only been here for 12 hours and I’m just super impressed,” said Sam Altman, President of Y Combinator, at last year’s event. “I think I have a little better sense about why the University of Waterloo works as well as it does for training potential founders and engineers.”

At the end of the event, teams presented their projects to an expert panel of judges including Qasar Younis (COO of Y Combinator), Steven Woods (Engineering Director of Google Canada) and Mike Kirkup (Director of the Velocity Entrepreneurship Program at the University of Waterloo).

This event is something I hold close to my heart, because it helped accelerate my current startup, Neutun Labs. Exactly one year ago my team and I built a Pebble application to track and graph motion for epileptic-like events. After winning the top Pebble Hack and having thousands of people view and sign up, I decided to take the plunge and go at it full time. Since then, Neutun joined the DreamIt Health Accelerator Program in Philadelphia.

Returning this year, we wanted to build something for the future of wearables, providing utility and customizability no matter your location or economic class. We came up with Zen Sync, a smartwatch band lined with sensors to track the health and stress of expecting mothers in areas that don’t have access to an obstetrician. This is a problem that our CTO, Wes Wilson, saw first hand when working for the Yukon government. Once again, we ended up receiving the award for the top Pebble Hack for the weekend.

We hope to integrate this technology into our platform in the near future, as the benefits could be untold. We started Neutun to help epileptics and their families, but realized that just recording events is often not enough and there are many chronic conditions along with epilepsy that need this technology. Wearables are more than just technology, they’re health and social solutions to make our world a better place.

Hackathons, like Hack the North, are an amazing platform to have a glimpse of what might be and what is to come. So next chance you get go to a hackathon, who knows, you might end up with your own Neutun.

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