From Underdog to Top Dog

Senior and team compete in St. Louis technology challenge

Slumped down in his chair, senior Jake Bjorseth lets out a deep sigh. With less than 18 hours until the deadline, and only two hours of sleep under his belt, he looks up to the ceiling of the arena.

“When I first heard about the hackathon I thought it was more business and entrepreneurship oriented,” he said. “But when [my team and I] got here we were completely shaken to find out the prompt was completely different from what we expected.”

Bjorseth and his team of four Blue Valley CAPS seniors traveled to St. Louis, Mo. this weekend to compete at GlobalHack VI, a technology challenge held at the Chaifetz Arena on the St. Louis University campus. Upon arrival, his team would then have 36 hours to solve homelessness through computer programming.

“I know absolutely nothing about computers because I’m a businessman,” Bjorseth said. “We have four people on our team, and three of them are business guys like myself. All the other teams have a lot of coders, but we only have one.”

Despite the low odds, the team set it upon themselves to not leave St. Louis without some sort of award. Bjorseth said that even though he didn’t know how to code, he did know how to be an entrepreneur, and that would bring the team success.

“I’ve always been involved in business and entrepreneurship since I can remember. I’ve taken the Kauffman FastTrac course for entrepreneurs, and I have experience with startups,” he said. “If there’s one thing that’ll set [my team] apart from everyone else, it’s the people skills that CAPS has taught us.”

Although the competition primarily revolved around writing code to create software, a substantial component of the challenge involved pitching the idea to a group of judges ranging from social workers and investors, to coders and engineers.

“Many of the people here aren’t comfortable giving a pitch to a bunch of VCs (venture capitalists),” Bjorseth said. “And this is where we’ll shine, because I’ve gotten so much experience from my CAPS Global Business class in [that] kind of stuff.”

Advancing through the first round of judging seamlessly, Bjorseth and his team broke into the top one-third in their division for Round Two. However, their momentum was brought to a halt when the judges – a group of Silicon Valley programmers – gave the team low scores for their weak coding.

Despite this hurdle, the team moved from Round Two to advance into Round Three, the final round of judging. Only 15 out of 250 teams would make it this far.

After presenting their pitch in the 10,600-seat arena, Bjorseth and his team won fifth place in the youth division of the competition, receiving an award totaling to $2500.

“When they announced our team code on the speaker we were all in shock because none of us ever thought this would happen,” he said. “This was really amazing because we were able to use our business knowledge to win a technology event that we’d never done before.”

To view the final presentation of the team, click here. To learn more about GlobalHack VI, click here.