Minnesota’s Largest IoT Hackathon Is Turning 5 This Year


Five years — that’s how long Minnesota’s largest Internet-of-all-the-things hackathon has been up and running now.

IoT Hack Day, as it’s aptly called, is happening this October 27th from 8am to 8pm.

Every year, around a hundred makers from across the state (and beyond) gather at Minnetronix HQ to conceive and create new IoT products, or perhaps even start a new company like HabitAware did back in 2014. Or Macchina, a 2016 IoT Hack Day grad, who went on to raise $140k on Kickstarter to help people ‘root their ride’.

In the end, it’s all about rolling up the sleeves and getting hands on with a bunch of like minded individuals.

“Everything about IoT Hack Day is free, even the food” explains co-organizer Justin Grammens, adding “We fund this for the community-based on surplus from our annual conference, intentionally eliminating any financial barrier.”   Organizationally, he’s joined by Patrick Delaney, Kristina Durivage, Daniel Feldman, Eric Nyaribo and Jen Deglmann.

There will be a cash prize for the winning teams with additional hardware giveaways offered up. Opportunity knocks, makers.

And for those who think it’s hard to hire in this market, Grammens notes that savvy sponsors are actively investing and scouting new prospects through the event.   “We’ve seen firsthand how actively engaged sponsors can identify and recruit new talent from IoT Hack Day,” he says.

Also celebrating a give year anniversary is the LED Costumes event for kids and caretakers, which runs concurrently with IoT Hack Day.


  • http://www.patdel.com Patrick Delaney

    Looking forward to it!

    • http://tech.mn Jeff Pesek

      Patrick – how can we increase the likelihood that more ideas become products become companies?

      Same question goes for any/every hackathon…

      • http://www.patdel.com Patrick Delaney

        That’s a really difficult question and I think what you are doing with Tech.MN already helps. I think we need to be careful in precisely how soliciting people to start startups is formed around the context of hackathons because asking folks from the general public to start a startup from scratch is asking them to take on a highly risky financial asset which could be detrimental to their life, relative to other opportunities they may have available to them, depending upon the individual, their risk tolerance, skill set, financial position, experience, etc. I think hackathons should be more about building trust, networking, learning new skills and building a, “hypothetical” product or “hypothetical startup,” but ultimately participants may either go on to find a job, or build some consulting service based off of the people they meet and technology they work on. Or the technology could be rolled into another product, or in a minority of situations, could become its own product and startup. Basically I would angle for a, “diversified investment strategy,” approach where there may be five or six different outcomes from IoTHackDay ranging from just having fun and meeting people, building something beautiful or endorphin-creating, learning new skills to getting a job through the contacts they meet (all of which have happened frequently), to building a cool tool which augments an existing business, even if for the wow factor (which has happened) to outright startups, which may or may not go anywhere (which also has happened less frequently).

        In my opinion someone going to the IoTHackDay hackathon should have multiple of these possibilities framed up in their mind, that there should be a, “risk mitigation strategy,” where the participation in the hackathon needs to create some future value career-wise or life-objective wise, and then going through the process of preparing for the hackathon and executing the hackathon the day-of should be focused on achieving that future value – the more tangible, the better. If someone can add a particular language skill to their resume which adds 1/5th of a justification for an additional $20k salary bump to their resume, I would assign that around $4000 worth of value, whereas if they participate in an abstract startup idea which may not have much chance of succeeding, say 1% chance on a $100k valuation over 5 years, well…the expected value of that is around $200 per year vs. $4000 per year for the salary bump, so obviously the former value add has more so than the latter. Of course these two activities are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

        So that being said – if there are aspiring entrepreneurs or startup proprietors looking to bring their startup concept to IoTHackDay, they should keep that in mind – that if they can do a really solid job of meeting team member’s goals, and set up a good learning experience for potential, “team members,” by way of having a mutually beneficial learning objective goal which solves a technical challenge, they can hypothetically exchange value with hackers by being a project manager for a coder, and then do right by that developer by doing something like endorsing their Github with a star, or acting as a reference for a future job prospect – in short focusing on helping an individual hacker make more money. Any aspiring startup person should understand that everyone has their own ideas, so it is up to them to figure out how to “trade,” their team members with the most immediate tangible benefit possible.

        There is also prize money – but that of course is up in the air as well in terms of which teams will win that, so there’s no guarantee there, just like there is no guarantee for startup success. But any team leader should have a concrete, clearly defined way of letting the team know how the prize money will be distributed should a given team win.

        In short, building sustainable startups and businesses is exceedingly difficult and not likely to succeed, so in my opinion a generalized approach of trying to help others achieve their goals first and to, “be cools about things,” which is our number one rule of the hackathon!

        Check out the front page of our Devpost for more information about categories and ways to participate whether you are an entrepreneur type, or a creative type, or a kid. http://www.iothackday.mn

        • http://tech.mn Jeff Pesek

          OK. I fixed the spam thing and removed the exchange about that to clear the clutter.

          Thank you Patrick for the thoughtful responses, it’s insightful! For example, I did not know that Macchina went through IoT Hack Day, but believe you, and added them to the article as notable examples of going from ‘idea to company’ via IoT Hack Day.

          Something simple to think about…maybe you have or maybe you already do this: would just be asking those attendees/teams ‘who is interested in more of a business sense?’

          (beyond just the social/tinkering/learning/fun aspects that naturally draw many into the experience).

          If they say no, as most will not be, then just let let it be. But if they say yes, then offering some additional/ongoing resources during or after the event.

          And no, I don’t mean bring in a sponsoring party (lawyer, etc) to confuse and convince them they need to worry about and pay a bunch of money just to get something started. (this sort of stuff can be really be counterproductive, we’ve learned through firsthand experience doing nine Startup Weekends).

          Instead, some free and quick basic value for them could include:

          a) links and procedures for incorporating a new business in Minnesota

          b) knowledge/content/books from QUALIFIED individuals who have proven success.

          c) names and or intro to local IoT entrepreneurs/CEOs/Execs who are succeeding.

          d) list of local accelerator opportunities to apply for.

          e) list of known active seed stage investors.

          f) followup-event (or prior event) w/ Macchina/HabitAware – two alumns who are finding success in the real world.

          What do you think about that? Missing anything obvious? Anything I/we can do to help?

          • http://www.patdel.com Patrick Delaney

            Hey Jeff,

            > Macchina went through IoT Hack Day, but believe you, and added them to the article as notable examples of going from ‘idea to company’ via IoT Hack Day.

            Just to clarify, by my understanding Macchina itself did not go through IoTHackDay, but the individuals behind it met at IoTHackDay 2016.

            My feelings on polling people at IoTHackDay – I personally don’t want to ask that question. I used to angle things a lot more toward that, but over time I’ve just realized that it’s better from a technical aptitude standpoint to be a bit more, “laissez faire.” You get a higher quality of inventions and devices produced if multiple parties come for various reasons. However I welcome any outside organizations (Tech.MN, Beta.MN, other accelerators in town, etc.) to come and do their own visiting and polling. We do get different kinds of angel investor type folks who come and wander around and look at what was built. However this brings up another important point: investors have a high signal-to-noise intolerance, so often they don’t want to go to just a hackathon, it’s not worth their time, from their perspective, because there may not be a single group which ever fits into their capital profile – completely understandable.

            This is where I think Tech.MN and perhaps other groups and maybe even IoTFuse the Conference can play a role – if there are individuals who want to move forward with their startup idea, or even just experiment around with it, getting exposure to more potential customers through some of our technology-obsessed publications and groups is an easy first step for them. I think it of course also benefits IoTFuse the Conference and Tech.MN because the broader public want to read and learn about these types of things – often they make the best stories.

            At any rate, I completely agree with your assessment of not creating a lot of overhead for startups and/or smaller companies. I think the main thing these companies need is actually potential CUSTOMERS and BUYERS of what they are building. We are a big corporate town, so it’s easy for me to think of B2B business models vs. consumer models, but either way could work. So for example, to take a B2B strategy approach, if there is a group which is building something that might go on some kind of manufacturing line, if we could get them in front of a sample or panel of local companies that have a challenge and want to improve their process, then those companies could give real feedback about how amazing or how crappy a particular hackathon idea might be. So maybe setting up some kind of event in Midway area in St. Paul and asking a bunch of manufacturing engineers in the various recycling plants or cardboard box factories from that local area, or same question for northeast Minneapolis and the small manufacturers around there.

            The problem is – while you and I may be interested in technology, Jeff, the vast majority of Minnesotans and people worldwide are not anywhere near as interested in it as you or I or most of the readers of Tech.MN or attendees at any of the groups we know of. To a lot of people, technology is a black box in a sense, and is something that they could waste a huge amount of time and money on. In other words, it’s easy to get tech people to consume tech material, but it’s exceedingly difficult to figure out how to solve, “real problems,” in the business world, because it’s very expensive and risky to build trust between these different audiences. If I run a pizza business, and I spend 8 hours per day making Pizzas, that’s a huge amount of money to be made on Pizzas, that’s essentially my salary. But if I want to build a Pizza delivery app, that takes a huge amount of time, maybe 4 to 8 hours per day for several months, it more than likely will not be adopted by the marketplace, etc., meanwhile I am losing money by not making Pizzas while I work on that app. This is essentially the job of the tech entrepreneur – to take on all of the risk to figure out how to make the non-tech world interface with the tech world in a way that creates a huge win for the non-tech people, or the folks running that Pizza shop, while meanwhile taking out risk for their own employees. It’s a huge effort and not to be taken lightly!

            So out of the options and ideas you gave above, I would definitely vote for c) and f), however those types are very few and far in between, and it’s all completely industry specific. So HabitAware’s advice will sound completely different than Macchina’s yet they are both correct in what they say, and that advice may not be the right advice for a completely new startup in a different industry.

            I would think there may be a surplus of retired corporate executive types and older entrepreneurs all over the Twin Cities in their 70s and 80s who might have more time, and although they may not have as much familiarity with today’s technical space, they likely understand the basic patterns of getting a company going, and can come from a wide variety of industries – so maybe having a battalion of former salespeople and marketing executives to help engineers make connections in various industries would be helpful. Mind you, I don’t mean investors, I mean just people from the community who want to get involved in tech. I am not sure how you would compensate those folks for their time – maybe it would be a “coolness factor,” type thing, social validation, the chance to work with new people and use your skills in retirement in a commitment way, etc.

            The main thing I think anyone can do to help a super early stage startup succeed is to help them discover how to actually sell something. Investor money doesn’t really get you a lot until you have proven out an economic model, so I think from the standpoint of hackathons that comes later. Of course I’m just a regular St. Paul born kind of Minnesota simpleton who doesn’t know too much about raising millions of dollars based upon napkin sketches – every business I have built has been based upon selling something and has been self-capitalized.

          • http://tech.mn Jeff Pesek

            “This is where I think Tech.MN and perhaps other groups and maybe even
            IoTFuse the Conference can play a role – if there are individuals who
            want to move forward with their startup idea, or even just experiment
            around with it, getting exposure to more potential customers through
            some of our technology-obsessed publications and groups is an easy first
            step for them. I think it of course also benefits IoTFuse the
            Conference and Tech.MN because the broader public want to read and learn
            about these types of things – often they make the best stories.”

            OK Patrick, let me know how we can help foster more ideas to products to companies.

          • http://www.patdel.com Patrick Delaney

            Just keep doing what you are doing! If you wanted to talk about facilitating a tech meets non-tech for a particular industry around Minnesota, that could be interesting too.

      • http://www.patdel.com Patrick Delaney

        I would point out another thing about your article, relevant to this question. From my recollection, while HabitAware was the winner of the first IoTHackDay in 2014, Sameer and his team had a general idea that they were going to start a startup prior to the hackathon, and by my understanding they had already done extensive background research, etc. The hackathon was a way to build out a prototype. Whereas Macchina, another startup that came out of IoTHackDay 2016 I believe it was, was due to two separate teams meeting each other at the hackathon, as well as meeting some folks from Digi International who later supported their hardware effort in some way, networking and talking and then creating something later which was vaguely related to what one of the teams actually built on IoTHackDay. Both of these are examples of successful startups which in a sense, “came out of IoTHackDay,” but hopefully this explains a bit more of how things work in reality. I don’t think there has ever actually been anyone who has really created a perfect idea encapsulated only within the hackday itself and that thing later became a standalone product or startup – I could be wrong though, there have been many hundreds of people who have participated in this over time.

        • http://tech.mn Jeff Pesek

          Did you delete your initial / first reply? Was looking forward to reading that…

          • http://www.patdel.com Patrick Delaney

            No, I didn’t delete it. Not sure what happened…?

          • http://www.patdel.com Patrick Delaney

            I still have my authored reply shown in Disqus, it shows marked as spam. I’m not sure if you can control that on your end or if it was automated by Disqus? It was a huge wall of text, so they may have interpreted it automatically as a big spamming wall of text full of links.