When Professor Mike Grandinetti first realized that students need to be more aware of the business realities happening throughout the world, he decided to have a Hack-for-Humanity Hackathon. According to him, to hack is to “create a quick solution to a problem.” The other word, he mentions, is marathon, which he defines as “a fast-paced demo.” With this coinage, hackathons accelerate innovations, lending humanity the ability to propose groundbreaking solutions with the right guidance and motivation. Having supervised several Hackathons for many years, Prof. Grandinetti believes that solutions come from intense brainstorming breakthroughs with optimistic collaborations.
Given the four tracks that correspond to a certain challenge proposed by a chosen NGO, the Hack-for-Humanity Hackathon invites students to participate in the day-long event filled with adrenaline rush and inspiring lessons to learn. Representatives from RecycleHealth, Rethink Relief, Rosie’s Place, and Green Hope Schools presented their goals and needs for their institutions. From providing schools in Tanzania and shelters to homeless women, as well as from recycling fitness trackers to bridging humanitarian disaster response and recovery, the Hackathon can collate ideas generated from bright young minds.
A New Wave of Mentorship
Mike Grandinetti is persistent when it comes to change. He hopes to see his students motivated to provide solutions to real-life problems. A global professor of innovation, entrepreneurship, and marketing from Hult, Prof. Grandinetti dares to disrupt the familiar. However, he is not only into the seriousness of things. From wine-and-beer tasting with former students to Lego plays with Hackathon participants, Prof. Grandinetti understands that work and fun can go together.
“I believe that there is no effective way to teach entrepreneurship and marketing in a purely academic fashion—it requires ongoing, practical application for the skills to truly be learned,” says Grandinetti in an earlier Hult article. When asked what being a mentor means to him, he makes no hesitations to his answer. “It’s a role I cherish,” he says. Having served as a trusted advisor for students, he also creates events that complement and reinforce Hult’s practical curriculum.
During the orientation on the day of the Hackathon, Grandinetti paces around the Fenway Bleachers. His booming voice demands authority, attention. “It takes a village to make a Hackathon happen,” he explains. Aside from the students who signed up to take on the challenge, Grandinetti also meant the mentors.
Briefing the mentors—most of them his former students—is something he is used to. Grandinetti reminds them of their roles: to strike the balance between independence and mentorship, between letting the students think for themselves and giving them as much information on the NGOs as possible. Aside from trying to drive sustainability, he wants the mentors to “leave them [the students] at a focal point, give them plenty of space to get to a solution.”
Generating Ideas for a Change
Perhaps it is not the grand prize that is the priority of the Hackathon: free tickets and accommodation to the world’s first Conscious Tech Summit in Egypt. “Conscious Tech is any kind of tech that tries to save the world,” explains Prof. Grandinetti. Behind the allure of an exclusive trip, opportunities for a better tomorrow are at the forefront for the students.
Rethink Relief winners Nitin Sethi, Renata Grande, Saul Robinson, Duje Suric, Gaurab Subba, Kenzo Vezina—all from the MBA program—know this all too well: with their two-fold strategy in providing design workshops and consultations to various institutions and to focus on providing skills to refugees in creating products to be sold in the urban markets, they hope to help Rethink Relief in empowering its constituents. Knowing that their chosen NGO bridges together initial humanitarian disaster response and the resettlement and recovery that follow, the team advised Rethink Relief to work on fundraising solutions to make their strategy possible.
Students Diane Tran (MIB), Tzu Ning Chan (MIB), Charity Maddox (MIB), Precious Nwachukwu (MIB), and Michelle Maestre (MFin) won for RecycleHealth, an NGO that takes old fitbits and trackers and provide them to individuals with health problems who need to increase their exercise. “[We] created a roadmap that aligned to the vision of the organization to bring feasible solutions. . . . [and] an implementation plan that would help RecycleHealth’s organizational structure and improve sustainable funding,” says Nwachukwu of the winning team, “The strategy was to listen to each team member, mentor, and co-founder, dig deep into the root of the organization and establish short and long-term solutions that align with the vision and mission of RecycleHealth.”
Winners of Rosie’s Place—Angelica Ferrao (MIB), Franziska Schlemmer (MIB), Sanjit Advani (MIB), Ayelet Norkin (MBA), and Titilola Shawana (MBA)—offered solutions that are targeted towards a broader group of women—”and not just the women with those specific need,” adds Schlemmer. The first ever homeless shelter for women in the US, Rosie’s Place faces the stigma attached to people who are afraid to reach out in servicing the poor and homeless women. With first-aid kits to be distributed to students through their schools, the winning team hopes to provide awareness to people—mothers and children alike—about the advocacy of Rosie’s Place.
Green Hope Schools winners Anna Lundberg (MIM), Anne-Cathérine Verellen (MIM), Bernardo Pennacchio (MIB), Elise Teves (MIM), Melissa Behrens (MIM), and Vidhi Vekariya (MIM) had to focus primarily on maximizing the use of the resources that Green Hope has in order to develop a self-sustainable growth strategy. Knowing that their NGO hopes to have big school with experienced teachers and kids of all ages, Behrens elaborates on their idea. “The new business model for the short-, medium- and long-term includes the social and organizational embedding of the pre-primary school into its local area in Tanzania as well as the expansion of trained staff and the curriculum for the children.”
BETTER DAYS AHEAD
His students are ever so thankful for the privilege of working with him. Allison Ziehr, a dual degree student in MIB and MIM, and part of the dedicated team of organizers, admits that organizing the hackathon was “a great learning experience for all of us.” Should Prof. Grandinetti have another one the following year, she would not hesitate signing up all over again.
Dylan Andrew Lurvey, a representative of GreenHope, is very impressed. “Looks like you’re so well-liked on LinkedIn that my only option is to follow!” He tells Prof. Grandinetti through text, “Ami [also a representative] and I had an absolutely fantastic time, and we really felt as though we connected with people in your organization both on the student side, and the mentor-judge side as well.” Lurvey has left Prof. Grandinetti speechless and awed.
It was not only Lurvey who appreciates Prof. Grandinetti’s first-class attitude and the enery he carries. His former students know that working with him was as much enlightening as it was fun, and they are all looking forward to the opportunity of working with him again in the future.
“Dream Team—” Grandinetti calls them, “While there were many others involved along the way, you were the nucleus, always available and ready to do whatever it took to make this Hackathon the success that it was.” He muses. “I consider myself fortunate to have you as my students and mentees and friends. I could not have done any of this without each one of you there in support.” Gratitude from Mike Grandinetti goes a long way.
Whether seeing the participants having fun, giving elaborate speeches to a huge crowd, or even just getting together with his former students, Mike Grandinetti himself has learned hope from the Hackathon: the global generation, in its youthful endeavors, will not fail him.
All my thanks to Vanessa Rosenthal for copyediting and to Melissa Behrens for featuring this article in The Hultian.