New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) Highlander Hackers Take Top Prize in United Athletes Foundation-Microsoft Competition

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A team of NJIT students took top honors for their mobile gateway app at the United Athletes Foundation-Microsoft Hackathon this month at Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, Washington.

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A team of NJIT students took top honors for their mobile gateway app at the United Athletes Foundation-Microsoft Hackathon this month at Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, Washington. The contest judges awarded the NJIT student team perfect scores on all three criteria: innovation, revenue model, and demonstrable functionality.

“For me, the UAF Hackathon clearly demonstrated the intersection of the technological, social, and economic aspects of software development,” said Matthew Cooper ’16, of Bloomfield, a computer science graduate student. “The whole experience was really inspiring.”

Cooper and teammates Jackie Patel ’15, of Edison, a business and information systems major, Albert Dorman Honors College students Nikhil Kaushal ’16, of Belle Mead, a biology major, and Pitambar Dayal ’16, of Breinigsville, Pennsylvania, a biomedical engineering major, will share a $40,000 prize for their mobile app that converts a cellphone into a video transmitter.

For Kaushal, who served as a developer with Cooper, the Microsoft victory is just a start.

“We strive to continue developing the app to convey vital health information in countries such as Sierra Leone, where thousands of natives and health care workers are at risk to contract Ebola,” he said.

According to Dayal, who served as speaker and business manager for his team, one of their greatest strengths going into the Hackathon was their combined diverse cultural and academic backgrounds.

“We were able to draw from a variety of experiences and skill sets in order to create a successful product and presentation," he said.

Teams were required to create a mobile app, including a prototype and business plan. For their demo, the students installed their app on a cellphone to convert it into the mobile gateway, then used it to broadcast videos directly to the judges’ cellphones. Health care institutions can use this app to broadcast public service announcements in regions of the world where there is no Internet access.

“The judges were impressed that students did this live and with no safety net,” said Cesar Bandera, of East Brunswick, an assistant professor of entrepreneurship in NJIT’s School of Management who has two companies in the NJIT Enterprise Development Center business incubator that specialize in mobile learning services. Judges included key members of UAF, Microsoft, the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the U.S. Black Chamber of Commerce and the Asian/Pacific Islander American Chamber of Commerce and Entrepreneurship. Bandera, who served as faculty advisor for the team, said that the students went beyond conventional consumer apps to develop an enterprise app with societal impact.

“After the other teams presented their innovations and demo, the judges asked them questions about their revenue models, but the first question they asked the NJIT team was, ‘When can we invest?’”

The UAF’s Be “U” Hackathon League is designed to leverage the talents and resources of the emerging minority collegiate community to enable students/entrepreneurs to create innovative technologies. These diverse collegiate student teams have the opportunity to create innovative apps with the support of advisors and mentor-coaches comprised of technology industry leaders. Teams compete for scholarship prizes and the opportunity to showcase the winning teams’ concepts to industry executives.

On August 4, UAF Chief of Staff James Gaumond, Esq. reached out to NJIT President Joel S. Bloom, inviting NJIT to participate in the Hackathon (participation in the Hackathon is by invitation only). Bloom then reached out to Albert Dorman Honors College Dean Katia Passerini, Ph.D. and charged her with putting a team together. Due to the Hackathon’s emphasis on entrepreneurship, Passerini reached out to Bandera, and they decided to build upon the recent health care work by Honors College students in the Dominican Republic by assembling a team comprised of two of these students from the Honors College (Kaushal and Dayal) as well as two NJIT students from outside the Honors College (Cooper and Patel).

“I am sure that being in Redmond at Microsoft’s headquarters was an unforgettable experience for the students,” said Passerini. “We need to thank President Bloom for encouraging us to apply. He continues to be our greatest supporter.”

For team member Jackie Patel, who also played the role of business manager, competing with a variety of talents from across the country is what made the competition such a "motivational and invigorating experience."

“This Hackathon was truly an amazing and inspiring experience that gave me perfect opportunity to showcase my skill set that I have acquired in the past few years here at NJIT,” she said.

About NJIT
One of the nation’s leading public technological universities, New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) is a top-tier research university that prepares students to become leaders in the technology-dependent economy of the 21st century. NJIT’s multidisciplinary curriculum and computing-intensive approach to education provide technological proficiency, business acumen and leadership skills. With an enrollment of more than 10,000 graduate and undergraduate students, NJIT offers small-campus intimacy with the resources of a major public research university. NJIT is a global leader in such fields as solar research, nanotechnology, resilient design, tissue engineering, and cyber-security, in addition to others. NJIT ranks fifth among U.S. polytechnic universities in research expenditures, topping $110 million, and is among the top 1 percent of public colleges and universities in return on educational investment, according to Payscale.com.

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