Year In Review: Exploring Startups Coast to Coast

With new trips and initiatives, hundreds of students explored the startup world through trips, competitions, and challenges.

The 2015-2016 year was an exciting one for the HackCville Special Projects team. We improved on our existing startup trips, launched new ones, and even pursued a few side projects.

Without the support of our amazing sponsors and engaged alumni, we would not have been able to make all these trips possible and impact hundreds of students.  So, to round off the year, I wanted to share some highlights and big successes from all of this year’s initiatives.

Charlottesville Startup Trip (September 2015)


This year, we had about 30 attendees for our Charlottesville Startup Trip. About two-thirds of the students were from the University of Virginia with the rest traveling from George Mason University, James Madison University, University of Richmond, Virginia Commonwealth University, Georgetown University, and Virginia Tech.

It’s always astounding to see all the great companies and entrepreneurs that are in our very own backyard. This year we visited Psikick, WillowTree Apps, Borrowed and Blue, Apex Clean Energy, Charmed Designworks, Center for Open Science, Tom Tom Founders Festival, Studio IX, ACAC Fitness and Wellness, Alley Light, and Premier.

On the Saturday after our Startup Trip, we invited attendees from all universities to participate in an Accelerate Summit. With the student entrepreneurship leaders of other universities, we discussed entrepreneurship, education, and career opportunities.

New York City (November 2015)

This year we took 55 students to New York City to tour startups and network with alumni. Our students were split into four themed tracks – Media & Marketing, Technology, Health & Social, and Financial Technology. The Financial Technology track was a new addition this year. It was incredibly exciting to see all the innovations happening in a traditionally “slow-moving” industry and how many alumni are at the forefront of those innovations.

About 60% of our attendees were from the U.Va. College of Arts and Sciences and the remaining 40% from the School of Engineering.

As usual, this year’s trip included a mix of larger and smaller companies including Google, Venture for America, BounceExchange, and more.

As with all of our startup trips, HackCville’s Alumni Relations team hosted a Wahoowa Alumni Mixer. The turnout for this was impressive and students had the opportunity to network and learn a lot from alumni.

Washington DC (February 2016)

Once again, we partnered with George Mason University and their Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship. We brought about 30 students from U.Va. and GMU brought 12 of their own on our third annual DC Startup Trip.

We organized the trip into 2 different tracks and visited a variety of great startups in the DC and Northern Virginia area such as Sestra Systems, Union Kitchen, LiveSafe, and

We concluded our day in DC with a Wahoowa Alumni Mixer in Crystal City.

San Francisco (March 2016)

This year, we launched and organized our first ever San Francisco Startup Trip, and it was a huge success! We kept our first trip small, taking just 24 students during the beginning of Spring Break. About two-thirds of our students were from the College, with most of the rest from the School of Engineering and Applied Science.

We had the opportunity to visit rockstar tech companies like Airbnb, Palantir, Google, Pinterest, and Dropbox as well as some smaller startups like Brigade, Newsela, and Neurotrack.

Apart from visiting the companies and learning from founders and entrepreneurs, experiencing the city and Bay Area was a phenomenal experience on its own. Alumni engagement during this trip was also amazing. At our Wahoowa Mixer, coordinated by HackCville and the Commerce School and hosted at Betts Recruiting, we had over 100 alumni students in attendance to mix and mingle.

HackCville’s incoming Director, Andy Page, put together a brief video recap of our trip out to San Francisco, which can be seen above.

Ballout Challenge

One of the Ballout Challenge participants during one of the first meetups at HackCville
One of the Ballout Challenge participants during one of the first meetups at HackCville

In an effort to expand our team’s current offerings, I launched a new entrepreneurship competition, called the Ballout Challenge.

I observed that many students were learning lots of skills and information, but hardly applying it to side-projects or other endeavors. So, I wanted to show students how easy it can be to start a side project and convey the notion that you don’t need to start a venture-backed, fast-growing startup to do so.

The Ballout Challenge was a 4 week competition in which about 20 students competed to sell the most t-shirts on the Ecommerce platform, Teespring. Teespring allows users to create their own designs and sell shirts seamlessly. Teespring takes care of all the order fulfillment, transaction processing, and logistics, leaving the user to worry about marketing and sales.

I even invited two entrepreneurs who make 6-figures a year selling T-shirts through Teespring to present to the competitors. One of these entrepreneurs, Benny Hsu, even flew up from Jacksonville, FL for one day just to talk to these students. Benny’s talk ended up being immensely profound and in the words of numerous students, “changed their lives”.

This short 4-week competition alone has empowered many students and even inspired some of them to continue working on side projects and businesses over the summer.

I also wrote an entire article about my inspiration for this competition and how I put it all together.

The Pioneer Media Trip to NYC (April 2016)


The Pioneer is both HackCville’s media education program and our in-house publication. (It’s where you’re reading this, right now!) We worked with The Pioneer team to put together a media-focused trip up to NYC for their students. Students visited NBC, the Wall Street Journal, Parsely, and Dataminr, all thanks to U.Va. alumni connections. The diverse lineup of companies gave students a unique view into the rapidly changing world of media and how data is increasingly driving decisions in the newsroom.

Super Demo


Super Demo is a regional showcase of the coolest student projects and innovations. Once again, this year’s Super Demo competition took place during the annual Tom Tom Founders Festival. After receiving nearly 40 applications from nine different universities, we selected just ten teams to pitch during the competition. Seven of these ten teams were from U.Va. After hearing all the students pitch, our panel of world-class entrepreneurs selected YardMapper, a project from Virginia Tech, as the winners. Additionally, the presenter’s choice award went to Garret Allen, a U.Va. 4th-year, for his company, airsurve.

Student Impact

Below, we’ve shared a small fraction of the testimonials and responses we’ve received from student attendees of our Startup Trips.

“It has motivated me to try even harder to find my dream job at a big tech firm in SV/NYC, or a start-up in NYC!”

“I would now rather work for a small startup than a big corporate firm.“

“It made me understand exactly what I had to do in order to prepare for a technical interview or a job in the software engineering field in general.”

“This trip showed me that there are actually hundreds of opportunities to intern and work — you really do just have to be the one to seek them out! And this startup trip was the perfect environment to get me started and on that path.”

“Seeing the culture of the firms in San Francisco changed my perspective on what my career after college might look like.”

In addition to life-changing experiences and career-shifting weekends, some attendees even received job opportunities and interviews, which they will be pursuing during the upcoming Summer.

Plans for Next Year

Students visited Piazza during HackCville's first annual San Francisco Startup Trip.
Students visited Piazza during HackCville’s first annual San Francisco Startup Trip.

We plan to continue and improve upon our existing startup trips (Charlottesville, NYC, DC, and SF). However, we have ambitious plans for expanding our startup trip offerings to cater to more students and more interests throughout the University. Here are just a few of the things we’re working on:

  • The Pioneer will host a new media-focused trip to Washington DC this fall to see how the worlds of politics and media collide during the election season.
  • In the Fall, we are also planning on spinning-out our Accelerate Summit from our Charlottesville Startup Trip into a full-blown conference in October. We plan on inviting as many schools as possible (including community colleges) from Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, and DC. This conference will hopefully include great speakers and help highlight the entrepreneurship and innovation scene across the region.
  • The Node, HackCville’s new data science program, will likely host a trip to NYC to visit companies using data in powerful and impactful ways.
  • Next Spring, we will host our first ever Social Entrepreneurship Startup Trip in Baltimore, Maryland.

We also plan to explore smaller startup trips. These would be groups containing 5-15 students and focused on a specific theme such as financial technology or data science.


Alumnus Ken Zamkow hosted U.Va. students at his office during the NYC Startup Trip in November 2015.
Alumnus Ken Zamkow hosted U.Va. students at his office during the NYC Startup Trip in November 2015.

Once again, we owe a big thanks to all of our enthusiastic alumni throughout the country and our supportive sponsors.

The Startup Trips continue to inspire students and give them access to a unique view of startups, entrepreneurship, and innovation. Many students change their entire career paths or at least make new considerations after attending these trips. The companies we visit are always pumped to meet our smart students – and hire them in many cases.

Our entire team is incredibly excited to grow these programs and create amazing new ones as well. Thank you again for all your support and we are excited to organize some great trips again next year!

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About The Pioneer + HackCville

The Pioneer is the publication of HackCville. All of our producers are either current students or graduates of HackCville’s media education programs.

Our producers develop skills in modern media production through publishing stories about creative, civic, and entrepreneurial innovators in the University of Virginia and greater Charlottesville community. Learn more →

HackCville is a platform for experiential education and career development. We train students in high-demand skills, accelerate their ideas, and connect them to jobs, opportunities, and a tight-knit community.

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