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Hawaii Plans Prize Money, Tool Enhancements to Month-Long Annual Hackathon

Now in its second year, the Hawaii Annual Code Challenge looks to build upon 2016's success.

As Hawaii prepares for its annual month-long hackathon, organizers have added a number of enhancements to the competition, most of which seek to make it a better experience for developers and entrepreneurs, as well as for the state agencies that stand to benefit from their work.

This event, dubbed the Hawaii Annual Code Challenge (HACC), which kicks off on Aug. 26, has provided a richer experience than most hackathons since its inception, eschewing the usual hackathon length of 24 or 48 hours for a month-long program — during which technologists work directly with public servants to modernize state functions, improving transparency and efficiency. The event was an immediate success when it began last year, attracting more than 300 developers and 27 teams that submitted unique ideas on a host of challenges government presented to them.

Hawaii CIO Todd Nacapuy said the goal for this year’s event is to build off 2016’s success and enhance the things that worked, including weekly workshops where the state brought in expert developers, venture capitalists and others to provide tech entrepreneurs with pointers on how to pitch ideas, give effective presentations and adapt to new platforms.

“Not only were developers working on presentations, but they were also learning how to pitch to the panel,” Nacapuy said. “That really inspired a lot of people to take applications they built in that 30-day period and push them into production on their own. The idea is that if you solve a problem for the state of Hawaii, you might be able to turn that into a company that works with other states. That’s the goal here, to spawn that entrepreneurial environment in the state.”

This year the state is also hoping to increase the amount of prize money it offers, and to introduce participants to newer tools, such as Salesforce and Dynamic. Officials are also tweaking some minor hiccups from last year. For example, they had all 27 teams present on one day, which was a bit ambitious and not something they plan to repeat. They are also launching a more robust outreach effort so the event is more inclusive. Part of that is also inviting business and sales professionals who don’t know how to code but can offer the teams their skillsets.

The HACC is part of a budding trend of hackathons and other events seeking to pair developers directly with the public servants they want to help in order to focus efforts and accelerate collaboration. The Startup in Residence program in San Francisco and the annual Big Apps competition in New York are two other successful examples of such efforts. Extensive collaboration between public servants and participants is a central tenet of these types of events.

“A lot of these challenges have existed in state government for many, many years, some of them for even decades,” Nacapuy said. “Obviously they haven’t been solved because they’re very complex problems. What we require from the state’s departments during this month is to make themselves available to the teams that are trying to solve these problems.”

The event is slated to being with the HACC Kickoff on Aug. 26, culminating with the HACC Judging and Awards on Sept. 23. Rules and judging criteria will be announced prior to the kickoff event, with the list of challenges to be announced at the event itself. Last year, teams took on challenges issued by Hawaii’s departments of accounting, general services, agriculture, health, public safety and others.

Sponsors for the event include Hawaiian Electric Companies, Kaiser, Kamehameha Schools, KPMG, and Verizon Wireless. Additional support is being provided by DRFortress and eWorld, as well as other partners such as DevLeague and XLR8UH, although the state is also looking for more sponsors to come forward.

For participant registration and more information, visit

Associate editor for Government Technology magazine.