World’s First Animal Health Hackathon Takes Place at Cornell

On January 25th, Cornell kicked off the first ever Animal Health Hackathon in the world. Presented by Entrepreneurship at Cornell and the Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine, the hackathon brought together students and business leaders to develop ideas and build products in the hopes of making a significant impact in the animal health industry.

“It was something truly amazing,” summarized Cornell sophomore Alan Lee (’19). Lee’s team, Animal Friendly, took first place in the service vertical after creating a browser plugin that helps users identify products that were created humanely when shopping online. In doing so, Lee and his team earned $1,000 and lasting memories.

A hackathon, popularized on the collegiate level by organizations like Major League Hacking, brings diverse talents together to solve problems. Many hackathons are also backed by a specific cause so that participants can showcase their skills, network with peers and industry leaders, and make a concrete difference.

“None of us came in knowing anything about making extensions yet I feel like we left with a very functional product capable of shaking an entire industry,” Lee added.

Other ideas included a machine learning tool to analyze the health of beehives, a social diet-fitness tracker for pets, and audio software to monitor the respiratory health of birds. The grand prize was awarded to Retriever: a product that helps pet owners find their lost pets via cutting-edge NFC technology and a free companion app.

The hackathon began with a conference on Friday, in which Cornell alumni and industry leaders discussed areas in need of innovation and business advice. For example, Cornell alumnus and VitusVet founder Mark Olcott (’95) recommended that participants model their business strategies after the ones discussed in books like The Lean Startup by Eric Ries, Zero to One by Peter Thiel, and The Art of the Start by Guy Kawasaki.

Mentors stuck around on Saturday to consult on projects as teams developed them, and the hackathon culminated with project presentations on Sunday. Each team prepared a one-minute pitch for two judges, and the top twelve teams were selected to deliver a four-minute pitch in front of a larger audience.

“Our hackathons are meant to utilize the skill set of Cornell students in a weekend of experiential learning,” Entrepreneurship at Cornell explains when prefacing the goals of student hackathons on its website. “These interdisciplinary hackathons bring together students from across degrees, majors, and schools at Cornell to form diverse teams and create solutions, products, or services around a topic or theme.  A hackathon celebrates hacking in its most positive context – using minimal resources and maximum brain power to create outside-the-box solutions (‘hacks’).”

With more than 100 students across close to 25 majors and degree programs competing in the Animal Health Hackathon, it seems those goals were shattered.

For more on upcoming hackathons run by Cornell, visit the listings here.