In February, more than 500 students from across the country attended the first-ever MHacks hackathon at the University, taking over Palmer Commons and setting a new college hackathon attendance record.
But when organizers sought a location for the September 20-22 event, they realized one of the only locations on campus big enough to hold the anticipated 1,000 hackers was the nation’s largest football venue — Michigan Stadium.
Hackathons are competitions where “hackers” develop apps and programs in a period that usually spans between 24 and 48 hours. Participants often forgo sleep to create the most polished product possible, and there are no limitations on what they can make. MHacks only asks that competitors don’t continue past work or use parts of past work.
Engineering junior Thomas Erdmann, the director of the hackathon, said given the expected scale of the event, housing it in Michigan Stadium isn’t a stretch. He said Palmer Commons was overflowing during February’s event and though the Ross School of Business was considered as a possible venue for the upcoming hackathon, it was deemed not large enough.
Though Oosterbaan Field House could have held the event, Erdmann said they settled on the Big House instead. The hacking will take place in indoor luxury suits overlooking the field.
“It’s going to be epic,” Erdmann said of the hackathon, which will give out about $30,000 in prize money, but will have no attendance cost and even reimburse some attendees for travel costs.
Within the first 24 hours after tickets were made available online Tuesday, Erdmann said 1,000 tickets were claimed.
While Erdmann said MHacks is renting Michigan Stadium for the event, he declined to comment on the rental fees as well as the total budget of MHacks.
He said, however, there is a tremendous financial interest in field of computer science.
“There’s an incredible demand right now for engineers,” he said. “There’s so much money going into technical companies and technical start-ups.”
The event has yet to announce this year’s slate of sponsors, but last year’s included Facebook, Groupon and Ann Arbor Spark.
“It’s not inexpensive,” Erdmann said. “What’s important is that we’re going to be able to provide an incredible experience for the people attending.”
Tom Zurbuchen, a professor and an associate dean of entrepreneurial programs in the College of Engineering, is the faculty advisor of MHacks. He said MHacks is one of several highly visible and student-led entrepreneurial events held at the University.
Zurbuchen said MHacks is a telling representation of what’s great about the University in the way the event facilitates a massive collaboration in which people of different disciplines work together. He added that Michigan Stadium is an ideal venue for the event.
“What speaks better about competition than being leaders and coming together as a team in The Big House?” he said. “This is what Michigan is about, these mega-solutions … I’m really proud of the students.”
Erdmann said MHacks, together with PennApps at the University of Pennsylvania and hackMIT at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, make up the three biggest college hackathons.
PennApps and hackMIT are aiming for 900 and 1,000 students, respectively, Erdmann said, but he remains confident that MHacks will hold onto to its title as the biggest college hackathon.
“I’m pretty confident that MHacks will still be the largest student hackathon in the world,” he said.
Still, Erdmann emphasized that the focus is on the experience, not the number.
“Being the biggest isn’t what’s most important,” he said. “Our number one goal … is to provide a really incredible experience for each and everyone of attendees.”
Tentatively, MHacks is offering 1,500 spots for hackers, with 1,200 already claimed as of Wednesday night, Erdmann said. He said even though more than 1,000 have signed up, it’s expected that not everyone will show up.
While the MHacks website says the event is for undergraduate students and only accepts high school and graduate students “on a case-by-case basis,” Erdmann said they have admitted every student that’s applied so far.
“(MHacks) never meant to be exclusive to undergraduates; that’s just our main target.”
Correction appended: A previous version of this article stated the host university for PennApps was Pennsylvania State University. The host for PennApps is actually the University of Pennsylvania.