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Lehigh Valley Hacked: Tech Group's Inaugural Event Unifies

The inaugural Lehigh Valley Hack, which took place at Ben Franklin Tech ventures in Bethlehem last weekend, encouraged attendees to pitch ideas and create teams to develop unique solutions to local and global issues. It began with an ice-breaker round of rock, paper, scissors.

That's also how things ended on Sunday, to break a tie for the coveted Crowd Favorite designation, and when the last fingers were thrown, Locus came away victorious with the title and $200 in Amazon gift cards for its text platform to identify local bus stops without Internet connection. However, Austic Touch earned top honors overall for its demo app that facilitates communication between parents and autistic children.
Organizers from Lehigh Valley Tech Group were motivated to create an experience that would bring something larger to the Lehigh Valley and create a solution to Lehigh Valley Tech Founder Mark Koberlein's assessment:

"There are really cool things being done in the Lehigh Valley, but no one really knows each other," said Koberlein, principal at Code Paint and chief tech genie at Menu Genie
This event marks a pivotal moment in the growth of this group. It began its journey as friends through monthly meetups and have grown to a prominent collection of 140 people and counting since launching in February, 2011. The group attributes its growth to their similar interests in wanting to make the Lehigh Valley a technology hub, and in the sense of community that they instill, while thriving in a like-minded mindset to succeed.
Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan kicked the weekend off on Friday by talking about his experience organizing the  hackathon with Lehigh Valley Tech Group. He also expresses that this has been a learning experience.

"I didn't know what a hackathon was till four weeks ago," said the Mayor. He highlighted Pi, the newly opened coworking space in South Bethlehem and sponsor of the crowd favorite prize, as the beginning of an effort to bring back technology to the Lehigh valley.
Following the presentations of the LVHack sponsors, INetUEcoTech Marine, SendGrid, Cloud 9, Cloudmine, Voxeo Labs, Pub Nub, Nexmo and Good Semester, the idea stream commenced. After the initial 10 minutes, the approximately 70 people in attendance had a preview of what the brilliant minds would be working on for the next 42 hours. Off with their ideas, hackers and hobbyists alike left to begin their work.
This Hackathon was unique in that it had an all-female team. The team composed of Professor Yamaguchi, Jade  Abston, Brittney O'neal, and this story's author represented Cedar Crest College. Although the team had not initially provided a pitch, they came with Locus, an SMS service that would allow the user to identify the nearest bus stop to their location without the use of internet connection, and networked around the room. Soon developer Anthony Josiah Braun and CloudMine developer Ilya Braude were on board. Everyone would just have to wait and see.
Next, came the most inspiring team of all in Autistic Touch, headed by Jason Lotito. His 3 1/2-year old son is autistic and the boy's parents want to give him his space when he wants it, but also doesn't want him roaming around unattended. The idea is to enable him to use his iPad to contact mom or dad to let him know he's tired or thirsty or wants to play. During Lotito's pitch, his idea garnered much attention. Although initially he thought he would be working alone, he soon found some amazing designers and developers who were very passionate and committed to making his idea a success. Focusing on the needs of his autistic son, he was providing a global solution, to all autistic children in the world. It was heart-warming to observe this team's dedication to these children's well being.
Other teams worked on building interactive apps like the Alive Kinect team's idea that integrates Microsoft Kinect and won Best Hardware Hack. Raincatcher's main purpose was to capture all the events and things going on in the local south Bethlehem area earning Best Local Hack. Book Hookup focused on a UI to exchange books among students on individual campuses, earning Best College Hack.
Suburban Philadelphia business accelerator Novotorium was also on the search of someone who was committed to a personal project that could become profitable one day organically, providing them with a two-day session with their business team, connections with over 30 partners and access to their publicity engine. The organization found one in Autistic Touch. Also, SobeCoworks, a new coworking space set to open by the summer in the Bethlehem area, provided a free one month membership to all those in attendance.
Prizewinners and Titleholders
Best College Hack: Book Hookup: provides a way to swap textbooks with students.(Zachary Daniels, Michael Toth, Eric Riese, Nick Roessler)
Best Local Hack: Rain Catcher: Event and location aggregator for South Bethlehem( Timothy Falconer, Greyson Parelli, Ben Chen, Madhan Gounder)
Crowd Favorite: Locus: SMS service to identify local bus stops without Internet connection. (Precious Yamaguchi, Jade Abston, Brittney O'neal, Natalia Martinez)
Best Green Hack: Electric Safari: aims to change energy consumption behavior by tying an exotic virtual pet to home energy usage. (Trevor Salzmann, Matt Solt, Kevin Elko)
Best Hardware Hack: Alive Kinect: integrate Microsoft Kinect to navigate the player's virtual character through 3D environments. (Armon Shariati, Mark Remimbas, Jason Paden)
Biggest Team: Three Dishes/Menu Genie: Pandora for food, catered to individuals who are indecisive on where to eat. (Chris Koelle, Hana Harrison, Donna Chastain, Seth Prelovsky, Trevor Holmes, Joshua Miller, Lindsey Corbin, Mark Koberlein)
Overall Rankings
1st place: Autistic Touch (Jason Lotito, Fernando Desouza, Brian Bartholomew, Michael Andreano)
2nd place: Locus ( Precious Yamaguchi, Jade Abston, Brittney O'neal, Natalia Martinez)
3rd place: Reportal mobile (Charles Schmidt, Christian Birch): Help facilitate the implementation of the Clean Water Act
Overall, everyone left feeling accomplished, complimenting the fact that it was such a healthy and supportive environment to work in. Most of the attendees expressed their wish of making the Lehigh Valley Hack bigger next year. So stayed tuned for Lehigh Valley Hack 2013.
NATALIA DE JESUS MARTINEZ-COLON  is a freelance writer based in Allentown. Originally from Puerto Rico. She enjoys writing about news, fashion, music and technology. Send feedback here.


Coders in action (photo by Anthony Josiah Braun)
Team Locus, from left Natalia Martinez, Jade Abston, Brittney O'Neal (photo by Santiago Rivera)

Lehigh Valley Tech Founder Anthony Durante speaking about the Lehigh Valley Tech group (photo by Natalia Martinez)

Demo of RainCatcher App (Natalia Martinez)

A collaboration of Lehigh Valley Health Network and a Lehigh University student demoing their app Alive Kinect (Natalia Martinez)


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