Innovative bill-splitting app wins Think Big Hack Small hackathon

September 01, 2016 | GET MORE : Innovation

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Gamification helps team earn top prize at fintech hackathon.

At 3 a.m., Vishal Srivastava was still typing away in the auditorium, his face lit by the glow of his computer screen.

A thought occurred to him: Maybe he was taking this a bit too far. The app didn’t have to be perfect, right? But it was too late to stop now. He shrugged off exhaustion and pressed ahead.

Thirteen hours later, Srivastava learned his all-nighter had paid off. He and four teammates won the $15,000 grand prize in the Think Big Hack Small hackathon held Aug. 27-28 at the Plug and Play Tech Center in Sunnyvale, Calif. Sponsored by U.S. Bank and MasterCard, the competition was a way to uncover fresh solutions for small business by tapping into Silicon Valley innovation.

“We really want to thank all the teams that spent the weekend with us and participated in our first external hackathon,” said Doug Nielson, senior vice president for innovation research and development at U.S. Bank. “The enthusiasm, creativity and out-of-the-box thinking that all the teams brought to their solutions was truly impressive."

Nielson and four other judges selected the hackathon winners after hearing two-minute pitches from 23 teams at the end of the two days. U.S. Bank broadcasted all the pitches live on Twitter’s Periscope app.

The winning team’s project, called Undutchly, was a mobile app that turned the awkwardness of bill-splitting into a game. Out to dinner with a bunch of friends who can’t decide how to pay? Let a monster settle the matter as it munches its way around the screen in a twist on “credit card roulette.”

Undutchly securely stores each player’s tokenized card information and processes payments using code that MasterCard made available for the hackathon. Restaurants could drive loyalty by using the app for customer engagement. It allows them to incorporate their logos as characters and objects in the game, and special offers could also be added, said Harvey Chan, one of the team members.

Chan and Srivastava are software developers who coded the game from scratch starting on Saturday. Tami Kwok, Amanda Bukur and Zach Moore designed the user experience and graphics. The five became friends at previous hackathons and decided to compete in this one together.

“We feel great about winning; it’s awesome, and we weren’t expecting it,” said Kwok, who blew off steam before winners were announced by dancing exuberantly on stage. “We thought our app was very different. It was the only app that gamified the financial process.”

In addition to $15,000, the team won admission to the Plug and Play Tech Center’s highly regarded 10-week startup camp for emerging tech companies.

The second place prize of $7,000 went to Lou de los Reyes and Ratna Bhavsar for their product, “The Lazy Freelancer,” which allows small business owners to talk to an Amazon Echo for information about their finances.

Third place and $3,000 went to Howard Chan, Audrey Cole and Marika Lee for “4Sights,” a dashboard to help small business manage their invoices and working capital.

Hackathons take place regularly around Silicon Valley. A total of 100 people participated in “Think Big Hack Small,” which was managed by AngelHack, a producer of the events. The crowd included a 10-year-old and her dad, several serial hackathoners who were still in high school and a group of Singaporean exchange students.

Energy drinks, snacks and late-night pizza fueled work that went on through the night. Some people went home for a few hours; others didn’t even bother to brush their teeth.

“There’s a current of electricity that goes through the night,” one participant said. “You want to see your end product.”

MasterCard and U.S. Bank gave teams access to some of their APIs, which are pieces of code that allow software programs to communicate with the companies’ data. U.S. Bank recently made enhancements to its APIs and was introducing them to outside developers for the first time.

The bank has already worked with several startups at the Plug and Play Tech Center, testing one app, for instance, that helps people set and track financial goals. There will be more hackathons in the future, and more opportunities for the bank to build on ideas that help customers, said Nielson of U.S. Bank.

“U.S. Bank is open for business with fintechs,” Nielson said.

Written by Karen Gutierrez, member of U.S. Bank’s social media team.