Sprinkle Camp Offers Hackers an All-Expense-Paid Weekend in Detroit

Detroit in 2015 reminds a lot of people of New York City (minus the functional public transportation system, of course) before former mayors Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg helped transform it into a bright, shiny playground for the upwardly mobile.

The edge that used to attract artists and innovative thinkers of all stripes to the Big Apple has been smoothed by a layer of luxury condos and upscale shopping, and the disaffected are increasingly streaming west to the Motor City in search of inspiration, community, and affordable housing.

The latest batch of New Yorkers to make the shift—albeit for just a few days—are the crew arriving this week for Sprinkle Camp, a weekend-long all-expenses-paid hackathon where developers with day jobs are encouraged to pursue their passion projects. The camp is sponsored by Sprinkle, a New York-based team of designers, developers, and marketers that helps its clients figure out how to scale.

The Bizdom accelerator downtown will host Sprinkle’s hackers, and the camp culminates with a demo day at 5 pm Sunday in the Madison Building that is free and open to the public. (Click here to RSVP.) Along the way, Sprinkle Camp’s organizers hope that whatever the campers create in Detroit eventually comes to fruition.

“What I hate about these events is that the products and teams die on Sunday night,” said Steph Lee Sprinkle Camp’s director, referencing the traditional breakneck pace of a weekend hackathon. “There are always great ideas and people, but they can’t commit to leaving a secure job to develop a great idea. So when camp is finished and the teams have successfully built minimum viable products, Sprinkle plans to help them take their ideas to market. Lee says any Detroit startups or companies that want to test the products free for a year will be invited to be beta testers.

When Sprinkle first announced the idea earlier this year, it published a manifesto on Medium describing the process and purpose of the camp. Sprinkle sought ideas with a clear utility and customer base, and it wanted to avoid anything in fintech, healthcare, hardware, or a regulated industry.

Sprinkle also shied away from sharing economy innovations, for fear they couldn’t pass the “boxer check”—can a developer grow their product sitting home alone in boxers at 2 am? (In this scenario, female founders wear boxers too, apparently.) The softer pitch involved selling participants on being part of Detroit’s revitalization, and along the way perhaps helping the city attract more startups to grow here.

After 300 developers applied to participate, Sprinkle “open-sourced” the selection process. Initially, Sprinkle wanted to keep the Detroit location of the camp a secret. But a backlash ensued amid rumblings of Sprinkle Camp essentially kidnapping participants, so organizers spilled the beans. Lee said Sprinkle initially considered Las Vegas and Kansas City along with Detroit, but Detroit eventually won “in a landslide.”

“I’m also a dance professional, and a lot of my friends had moved to Detroit and said how amazing it was,” she said. “Given the nature of the project, why not hold camp in a community looking to gain momentum?”

Lee seems especially happy with the diversity of the camp’s participants; there are 10 men and four women, some of them veterans of New York University’s prestigious ITP program, and their day jobs include software engineer for Google, designer, data scientist, and algorithmic trader.

“We have some pretty heavy hitters,” Lee said. “And none of them have been to Detroit.”

Once the six Sprinkle Camp teams were chosen, Lee said they spent two months meeting with mentors and each other in preparation for the hackathon.

Sprinkle is planning to hold recurring camps in Detroit and will open registration for its second camp on Sunday, though Lee said camp no. 2 may be a tougher sell, as it would involve a permanent move. “We’re looking more for startups that can join the accelerators and stay in Detroit.”

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