“Hardware Meets Software” In New Launch Milwaukee Hackathon

Milwaukee entrepreneurs, engineers, and designers with software or hardware backgrounds will soon have a new outlet for their ideas: Launch Milwaukee.

The weekend hackathon was announced this week and will be held June 5-7 at Ward4, the new co-working space being opened in the Historic Pritzlaff Building by Milwaukee venture fund CSA Partners.

Brandon Alberti and Matt Cordio are organizing Launch Milwaukee. Cordio, a co-founder of Startup Milwaukee and The Commons, helped put on Startup Weekend hackathons in Milwaukee in 2012 and 2013. Alberti was a lead organizer of last year’s Milwaukee Hardware Hackathon (pictured above). Those two programs are being phased out and combined into Launch Milwaukee.

Startup Weekend events—an affiliated network of hackathons held in cities worldwide—tend to focus on software, while the Hardware Hackathon was geared toward physical products. Launch Milwaukee, meanwhile, is encouraging participants to create both.

“We thought we had enough traction in both spaces to kind of combine them and make one really awesome large event,” Alberti says.

As in the other hackathons, Launch Milwaukee participants will form teams on Friday night around a product idea, then work frantically over the next 54 hours to build a prototype and test their concept with potential customers. On Sunday they’ll pitch their ideas for a chance to win cash prizes and support from sponsors, who include Badger Meter, Godfrey & Kahn, and Accutech Security.

Participants will have access to the resources needed to build their concepts, such as 3D printers, power tools, and CAD software, organizers say.

Last year, Hardware Hackathon teams had the option of creating apps that integrate with Pebble smartwatches. Similarly, Launch Milwaukee has partnered with Milwaukee-based Scanalytics, which is opening up its API to allow teams to create apps that work with Scanalytics’ foot-traffic-tracking floor sensors, Alberti says.

Alberti is hoping to attract between 100 and 150 people to Launch Milwaukee’s inaugural hackathon, which would be more than the 60 people that participated in the Hardware Hackathon and on par with attendance at the last Startup Weekend Milwaukee event, he says.

The primary goal of Launch Milwaukee isn’t necessarily to, well, launch a startup. That would be ideal, but Alberti recognizes that hackathons don’t always produce viable businesses and that a team’s initial enthusiasm can wane after the weekend ends. The winner of the Hardware Hackathon, Shepherdband, is still operating and just completed the Madworks accelerator in Madison, Alberti notes. But, as far as he knows, most of the other participants are no longer working on their projects.

“We don’t need to have a startup come out of this,” Alberti says of Launch Milwaukee. “We understand that’s really difficult.”

Rather, he envisions a weekend of collaboration among “likeminded engineers and entrepreneurs” that contributes to a stronger entrepreneurial atmosphere in Milwaukee and lays the groundwork for future ventures here.

“Whether it’s this weekend, next year, or even five-to-10 years from now, we hope to help teams learn how to launch their ideas and have confidence that they can continue to develop them in Milwaukee,” Alberti says.

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