VCU students win first corporate hack-a-thon hosted on campus

Jackson Grigsby
Contributing Writer

Four VCU sophomores won the Power the Future design-a-thon, hosted Oct. 20-21, competing against students from around the world.

The event — hosted by Dominion Energy in collaboration with the College of Engineering — was the first hack-a-thon led by a corporation as opposed to VCU faculty.

About 120 students from as far as Canada and India traveled to Richmond to participate in the event. They formed teams of four to develop an app related to customer-based energy options.

First-place winners — Yashar Atajan, Omar Karim, Panth Doshi and Brennan Chaloax —  earned $4,000 to be split among themselves.

VCU sophomore Jio Inciong said he volunteers at events like the design-a-thon because helping students and setting up the different events allows him to network.

“Hack-a-thons are events where you meet people,” Inciong said. “It’s less [about] winning and more of meeting new people, learning about new perspectives and essentially learning skills you hadn’t learned before.”

Comedian Micah “Bam-bamm” White opened the event, performing a short comedy set to warm up the students. After introducing the challenge, Joe Tannery, an innovation strategist at Dominion Energy, sent the teams off to begin brainstorming their solutions, as well as help students who did not have a team form one.

“Namaste. Go forth, and power the future,” Tannery said.

Aside from scheduled meal breaks and tech talks, teams were left on their own to budget their time for the 24 hours they had to develop an app. At 10 a.m. on the second day, the groups presented their projects science fair-style in the Snead Hall Atrium to architects, managers and creative marketing employees from Dominion volunteering at the event.

Ten finalists were then selected for a “Shark Tank” style presentation.

VCU senior and computer science major Corey Satphin and his team made it to the final 10. He said they began by thinking of the big picture and narrowing the problem down. They developed a system called “Dominion Power to Power,” which would allow customers to route excess power generated by their homes to other locations that may need power in the event of an outage.

Dominion board of directors member Joseph Rigby, executive vice president Carter Reid and senior vice president Mark Webb evaluated and questioned each of the finalists’ presentations.

The second place winners won four Nintendo Switch bundles and third place won four Amazon Echoes and smart home light bulbs. Students could also be selected for internships or jobs, regardless of whether they were part of a winning team.

“We’re always looking for talented people to work for Dominion,” said the event’s lead organizer Sean Stalzer, adding that non-electrical engineering majors are needed as well.

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