On August 20th, 2016 the student staff of HackCville gathered at its annual staff retreat to iron out the final planning details before the Fall 2016 semester began. One of the more important things decided upon was how we as HackCville staff were going to present ourselves to the world. This is what we came up with:
HackCville is a school, workspace and a community. We help students launch themselves and their projects.
In the past, we have shied away from using the word “school” when we pitch ourselves to students. We were scared the word wasn’t associated with fun or that it may turn students away. However, this semester we decided to own it. We wanted to prove that school can not just be fun but also a place where students can learn while becoming part of a close community.
Armed with this, we began our most ambitious semester to date. We had some big wins, such as hiring our first two full-time employees and acquiring an additional space on Elliewood Ave. We also had a lot of important smaller wins, including growing our educational programs, improving our matching for our mentorship program, and bringing new student projects into the world.
To start the semester, we hosted our biggest Open House in the history of HC. In 95 degree heat, 220 students came to our clubhouse to learn about what we do and how they can get involved. There was food, drinks, a few broken AC units and more than enough sweat to go around. But, in the end, we experienced an 86% increase in attendance from our last Open House.
This semester we ran six semester-long education programs, double what was offered in Spring 2016.
A HackCville program includes weekly workshops, matching with an alumni mentor, two projects, a trip to visit industry-relevant startups and a final showcase.
The six programs that we ran included:
Hustle: Hustle is our introduction to entrepreneurship program. Members learn methods, mindsets and skills essential for starting themselves and utilize them through independent and community initiatives.
Storyboard: Bootcamp is our video production and storytelling program. Members learn skills in interviewing, filming, and video editing and publish their work to HackCville’s publication, The Pioneer.
Rethink: Rethink is our education innovation & entrepreneurship program run in partnership with ReinventED Lab. Members learn and work on today’s innovations in teacher training, ed tech, after school education, charter schools, etc. Next semeseter, this program will be relaunch as Spark, a program run by HackCville and desgined by ReinventED Lab.
Ignite: Ignite is our social entrepreneurship program where members explore social issues, learn to tackle real-world problems and apply knowledge through hands-on community projects.
Node: The Node is our data science program. Members learn the fundamentals of data science, how it is used to solve problems and gain valuable technical experience.
HackCville received 472 applications from prospective students to join one (or more) of these six programs. This was a 160% increase from the Spring 2016 semester and a 394% increase from the Fall 2015 semester.
There is a certain responsibility that comes with receiving so many applications. Since HackCville only had the capacity to accept 150 students, it meant sending over 300 rejection letters. What the HC staff quickly realized was that some of the students we were rejecting were students that would benefit from our programs the most.
It was a dilemma of wanting to be an inclusive and exclusive community at the same time. On one hand, we wanted to impact as many students as possible. On the other, we wanted to maintain a community full of amazing and talented students.
A few hours after applications closed we planned to launch a program for those that would not make it into our programs. We landed on the name Hack Track. By signing up, students would get early access to our public events, private skill workshops, access to office hours held by our student leaders and guidance through a project. Upon completing the program, students would get automatic acceptance into a program of their choice the following semester.
Hack Track had very limited success. Of the 100 students that had originally signed up, only one completed all of the requirements. The main reason why we believe this happened was that this program was not structured and required a lot of self-direction on the part of the students. The feedback we collected after this all suggested that the students needed more structure.
While Hack Track failed this past semester, I believe it was representative of just how much the organization cares about helping students. With resources already spread extremely thin, we tried to expand our reach to even more students than we had originally planned for. We will be running Hack Track again this upcoming semester and I am excited to see where it goes with a few slight changes and some added structure.
The six programs that we did run were highly successful. Throughout the semester we…
Ran a total of 110 program workshops.
Matched 150 student/mentor pairs.
Took 145 students on startup trips to Charlottesville and NYC.
Helped students start a total of 100 projects. Ranging from hydroponics systems, to EdTech platforms, to a membership meal service.
At the end of the semester, we received feedback from every student who went through a program. Here’s what we found:
While our data science program had the lowest scores across the board, it was this program that impressed me the most and it did so for two main reasons:
- UVA does not offer an undergraduate data science program. There is no current outlet for students interested in data science to explore the field, get instruction, start projects and meet others that share their interests.
- Three weeks into the semester, we discovered a split among the students. Some students were keeping up with the workshops while others were quickly falling behind. As soon as we realized this, we split the program in half and found a student instructor to lead the intro-level students. I believe that with our flexibility we were able to dramatically improve the program experience for the majority of the students enrolled.
The Node was our first test of teaching material that is relatively new to the world. Graduate school programs still do not know the best ways of teaching data science effectively. While we are still also experimenting, I think we have an advantage in how quickly we can move to solve problems, even those the come up while a program is in session.
I am excited for the future when we are running programs on additional emerging technologies. Maybe one day, HackCville will be able to run programs in AI, deep learning, VR, AR, chatbots, etc. It will give HackCville an opportunity (and a great responsibility) to determine how these new technologies are taught.
Building an entrepreneurial community
To build an entrepreneurial community, HackCville brings together HackCville students, students of UVA at large, members of the Charlottesville community, and UVA alumni across the country. Here are just a few big highlights of what we were able to accomplish this semester to build our community:
We held networking events attended by 360 alumni.
We hosted 30 public events that were attended by students, members, alumni, UVA faculty and Cville community members.
We expanded into our second building (#17 Elliewood Ave, right down the street). This new space is used for workshops and as a workspace for student founders, in addition to local founders and freelancers.
We hosted five community dinners that brought together current program participants, HC members and HC staff to talk about their HackCville experience, life and the future.
The Pioneer, our digital publication, published 17 stories about pioneering individuals that are starting companies, leading community initiatives, creating beautiful art and producing amazing music.
The Pioneer also received more than 10,000 views on content published this semester.
HackCville expanded its total membership to 188 students.
All of these initiatives work toward a common goal: To build a community and ecosystem that supports and encourages an entrepreneurial culture. Now, that doesn’t mean that everyone in our network will be the dictionary definition of an entrepreneur. What it does mean is we are building a network full of people who live by entrepreneurial ideals. When they see a problem, they take it upon themselves to fix it. That could include anything on the spectrum from volunteering on the weekends to launching a tech startup in San Francisco.
I believe that community is a catalyst for action and I couldn’t be more excited to see how our increased efforts to expand and enhance our community will create a stronger entrepreneurial ecosystem on Elliewood Avenue and beyond.
Next Semester, Spring 2017
This upcoming semester we will be adding four additional programs, increasing HackCville’s total number of programs to 10. New programs include:
Vector: Vector is our graphic design program. Members will learn design principles; Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign; and develop a small portfolio of work.
Exposure: Exposure is our photography program. Members will learn the basics of digital photography and editing and the steps to take to becoming a freelance photographer.
Beta: Beta is our program for people with existing projects or projects that continue after starting in Hustle, Spark, and Ignite. We provide personalized mentorship and resources to help members continue to grow their project(s).
Finally, a revamped, more structured, more community-based version of Hack Track.
We started the Fall 2016 semester with a renewed vision: to build a school and a community that teaches students useful skills, helps them launch themselves and their projects and provides them with the freedom to explore their own interests.
There are many people and organizations who continue to support us and our efforts. Without them, we would not be able to offer all that we do. We extend our deepest gratitude to our sponsors:
I am beyond excited to see what we can accomplish next semester and the many semesters to follow.