HackOut, the nation’s only hackathon geared specifically toward aspiring LGBTQ+ tech entrepreneurs, is kicking off its annual event next month, organizers recently announced.
Created in 2014 by StartOut, a national nonprofit that supports LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs, HackOut attracts budding entrepreneurs from all over the world. Over the course of the four-day event, participants network, sit in on seminars, and then pitch startup ideas of their own to a panel of judges.
The idea, according to Tony Uceda, StartOut’s director of development, is to create a “safe and open environment for attendees to be their genuine selves, without having to feel any form of discrimination whatsoever.”
Things are going to be a little different with this year’s HackOut. Previously held each year in Austin, this year’s edition, like pretty much every other large event right now, HackOut will be held virtually. But Taylor McCaslin, an Austin-based HackOut organizer who’s been involved with the hackathon since 2015, promises it won’t just be a weekend-long Zoom call. The event will feature entertainment by LGBTQ artists and will host various social events as well.
“Part of the magic of HackOut is bringing 100-plus LGBTQ people together in a single space,” McCaslin said. “We’re being very thoughtful about the way that we’re creating safe spaces for participants to engage in, to try to bring as much of that in-person magic as we can to a digital space.”
This year will also mark another first for HackOut: cash prizes awarded to its winners, $5,000 in total. Winners are determined based on the quality of the idea and how feasible it is from a business standpoint. For instance, McKinley Forbes, a trans woman and software engineer won in 2017 for her app that connects at-risk queer folks with safe, temporary housing. Last year’s winner was Robbi Katherine Anthony, who built an app that provides support to transgender people as they go through their transition. Anthony will be emceeing this year’s event alongside co-facilitator Julian Bryant.
This year’s organizers are also being intentional about the 2020 event’s diversity and inclusion efforts.
For the first time, the hackathon has laid out and committed to explicit diversity goals, with an aim for 60 percent of attendees identifying as people of color. They also want 20 percent of attendees identifying as trans or non-binary and 40 percent identifying as women.
This also carries over into who HackOut selects as judges, speakers and mentors at the event.
“The whole focus of the event is to help LGBTQ people found companies. To start up and start out,” McCaslin said. “As you’re starting a company, if you start it with a more diverse viewpoint and with a more diverse founding team, you just build better products and better companies.”
While the event is structured as a competition with judges and prizes, the hackathon means much more than that, Bryant told Built In.
“One of our objectives for the event is to create great startups, of course. But also, for the startup founders, it’s an opportunity to try on the hat of being a startup founder,” Bryant said. “If you’re a designer, an engineer, you may not have led a team before. This weekend, you get to do that and see what it takes to take an idea and make it into a real startup.”
McCaslin, too, pointed out that the event has not only nurtured friendships, but it has enabled an entire group of people to grow in a way that may not have been possible before.
“There’s this ‘aha’ moment during the weekend with participants when they realize: ‘I can do this.’ Then they go on to work for giant tech companies, to found their own companies, to change their entire careers based on their experience, knowing that there is a supportive community for them,” McCaslin told Built In. “The LGBTQ community is marginalized in many cities and countries around the world and this event helps create that community of support so that you know you’re not alone and that you’ve got people who want you to succeed. That message is so important to participants.”
HackOut 2020 will be held from September 10-13. Those interested in attending can apply here.