HKUST Hosts Hong Kong’s First Ever University-Backed Hackathon and Introduces Students to Startup Life

Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) hosted the city’s first ever university-backed hackathon.

With HK $43,000 in prizes on the line and over 100 students registered, the hackathon proposed a broad challenge to participants: build a working prototype of an app within 24 hours and present it to an audience and a panel of judges. No pressure.

Judging criteria was based on main idea, usability, implementation, business value and presentation. While our own Jon Buford grilled teams on the judging panel, fellow StartupsHK founder Casey Lau also lent his support through an inspiring talk as a startup scene pioneer and veteran entrepreneur.

With sponsorships from a number of startups including Radica, Divide, Makible, and BiTOSS, the categories with cash prizes up for grabs were: ‘Best Entrepreneurs’ ($8,000), ‘Best Innovators’ ($5,000), ‘Best Developers’ ($4,000) and the Audience’s Favorite ($2,000).

After a red bull-fueled and generally sleepless day and night, 24 teams gave live demos of their apps in a sharing ceremony. So how did they do?


While some apps teams came up with were your standard run of the mill taxi sharing (Cab Split) and product barcode scanners with a social twist (Revie), there were more novel ideas such as a machine-learning app that remembers your unique typing pattern (I Know U). One team in particular (uHoo) even hacked together a hardware prototype for their health-monitoring wearable targeting those with respiratory issues.

Winners for each category are as follows:

Best EntrepeneursuHoo (App that utilizes wearable devices and air quality sensors to provide you with personalized information and insights so you can defend yourself against air pollution)
Best InnovatorsRock, Paper, Scissors / Textical (Event organizer app that combines free-flow messaging, calendar structure and gamification fun)
Best DevelopersTeam TMT (Game engine responsive to your vitals, e.g your heartbeat makes the game harder or stickier)
Audience PickOpenLore (Online lecture platform for web learners and perpetual skippers – which naturally won the crowd vote)

We spoke to Jan Vosecky, a PhD. Candidate in Computer Science at HKUST and one of the organizers of the weekend, and he told us why Hong Kong needs a University-led hackathon.


According to Jan, initially the idea of a hackathon was met with some resistance, and that has to do with the learning culture of Hong Kong. “Before, a lot of people were hesitant and wondered why they should join a hackathon,” said Jan. “A lot of students just want to finish their coursework, graduate and find a job. So we did a lot of pitching in the classrooms and word of mouth promotion – and people have really enjoyed joining a team and coming up with ideas.”

Besides encouraging creativity, Jan also says that university hackathons are a great way to spark the tech entrepreneurial spirit in students. And breeding the next generation of developers and designers who are passionate about entrepreneurship is a positive for startups who are seeking talent.

“One really cool thing about having a hackathon at a university is it helps connected the academic world to the business world,” said Jan. “From the student’s perspective, it’s fantastic because they can get inspired and learn what it’s like to startup a business. And a lot of startups are looking for tech people, and as students are a great target – this is just one of the channels to reach out to them.”

Photos and below videos from the hackathon via the HKUST Hackathon Facebook Page:




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  1. Bart Verkoeijen says:

    Great initiative! Hong Kong needs more showcases of entrepreneurial spirit. Especially since the future of the finance industry in Hong Kong can be debated, and students should be aware of other very viable options out there.