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Davis, California

Friday, April 19, 2024

Campus organizations hold Idea Fair

Last summer, Mike Eidlin, a fourth-year Japanese and economics double major, had an idea for an iPhone app. He presented his idea to the Hacker Lab competition in Sacramento, where he recruited a team to build the app and won third place in their hackathon.

Currently, the UC Davis Computer Science Club is running a similar event: the Idea Fair. The event is co-hosted by on-campus organizations: The Institute of Electrical Engineers, the Engineering and Technology Entrepreneurship Club and Pixel, the graphic design club.

The Idea Fair consists of three separate events: Pitch Week, the Idea Mixer and the Idea Hack. During Pitch Week, students presented their ideas to computer science officers for consultation. Then, the Idea Mixer allowed these students to present their ideas to other students, in the hopes of recruiting them to their team.

“The goal is to facilitate collaboration, make ideas happen and even make them come true,” said Charlyn Gonda, a fourth-year computer science major and president of the Computer Science Club.

Finally, from Feb. 21 at 9 p.m. to Feb. 22 at 12 p.m., the teams will have 12 consecutive hours to build their ideas at the Idea Hack: a hackathon similar to the event attended by Eidlin.

A ‘hackathon’ has become a general term to mean any continuous amount of time where teams can code, program software, create business models, design graphics and do whatever else they must to create a product within the time limit.

“We want to put people who do have ideas together with people who can make those ideas happen,” Gonda said.

Gonda said the Idea Fair is one way to give students real-world experience. On one hand, she said the event can give computer science majors a chance to apply their knowledge. On the other hand, Kevin Liu, a fourth-year computer science major and chair of the Computer Science Club’s professional development committee, said students of all backgrounds and majors have a chance to let their ideas be heard.

“If you find some sort of problem in the world, it doesn’t matter what background you come from,” Liu said. “As long as you have an idea, you can try to solve it.”

Liu said students in business, economics, design and even philosophy have pitched ideas and joined teams during Pitch Week and the Idea Mixer. He also said part of the need for the Idea Fair came about from such students recruiting software engineers from the Computer Science Club’s Facebook group.

Eidlin said he found fourth-year computer science major Raymond Lau through this method. Eidlin recruited Lau last summer for Hacker Lab.

“My idea was kind of like an Instagram for books,” Eidlin said.

As a recreational book reader, Eidlin came up with Bookbucket, an iPhone app to let users share book recommendations. The idea developed into something like a social network, where he said users could discover more books through friends, celebrities and other users. He also said the app would provide user profiles, friend tagging and a book recommendation engine.

Eidlin said he began by drawing up the wire-frames — the drawings of what the app might look like — and pitched his idea on the first day of Hacker Lab.

Lau and Eidlin were joined by two other people, a designer and a 31-year-old retired game developer who happened to be at the hackathon. Eidlin said his team worked together for over 20 hours at Hacker Lab, and noted that participants were even permitted to bring sleeping bags to the hackathon.

“You see everyone else working on their projects, and you get more motivated to work on your own,” Eidlin said. “It’s a really competitive environment.”

Eidlin said his contributions didn’t stop with the initial idea. Using his own skills, he was able to develop the app’s business model. He said whenever someone received a book suggestion and purchased that book through Bookbucket, Eidlin and his team would retain a percentage of the profits. The team even planned to partner with physical book retailers like Barnes & Noble, who could ship the books directly.

At the end of the hackathon, Eidlin said the team came up with a working prototype, the business model and strategies to face competition. In the end, they were able to win third place at the event.

“A four-person team is all you need,” Eidlin said.

Unfortunately, Bookbucket never made it to the app store. Eidlin said the back-end developer, a vital part of the small team, decided to back out of the project.

“I’m willing to revive the project,” Eidlin said. “The code is still there. I could easily pick up the business aspect.”

Until then, Eidlin has shifted his focus back to graduating and finding a job, which he said is more important to him.

The Idea Fair is using aspects similar to the Hacker Lab, giving students like Eidlin an opportunity.

Liu said last year’s Idea Fair was a small event and almost completely different than this year. This time, the club posted more advertisements, garnered a larger list of participants and added the hackathon and Pitch Week.

“This is really the first year we’re doing this at such a large scale,” Liu said.

The Idea Hack will run for 12 straight hours in Kemper Lobby. Gonda said food, drink and prizes will be provided to the participants, and judges from academia and the industry will judge teams based on the execution and practicality of the finished products.

Part of the event has been made possible thanks to sponsorships from companies like Cisco and Intel. Gonda said Cisco has had previous contact with the club and supported the Idea Fair since early on in the year. As for Intel, Gonda said an internship she held with the company over the summer gave her the chance to make a pitch.

“Intel was very supportive of the effort and believed in the vision, so they decided to sponsor it,” Gonda said.

Based on the number of signups during Pitch Week, Gonda and Liu are expecting a good turnout from the Idea Fair.

“Generally because hackathons are regarded as fun events, to bring it to everyone here is a good way to react with the community,” Gonda said.

Gonda said she hopes the Idea Fair can give students a chance to create a product that’s not only fun to make and fun to use, but maybe even profitable, and able to provide them with the chance to gain real-world experience.

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