CoCo Launches Weekly “Hackathons” in Mpls.

Hackathons will bring together creative thinkers each week at CoCo's new Minneapolis location to glean ideas from one another and stay on the cutting edge of digital technology-while also attempting to find solutions to real-world problems.

There's a new weekly opportunity for local creatives, entrepreneurs, and the tech-savvy to collaborate and learn from one another-and it's called a “hackathon.”

Coco-a co-working firm that offers alternative office space to freelance professionals, small businesses, and corporate work groups-will host the events at its recently opened location in the Minneapolis Grain Exchange building downtown.

Garrio Harrison, president of Twin Cities-based social media consultancy Doublethink and resident manager of CoCo's St. Paul location, will help oversee the hackathon program, which will take place on Wednesday nights from 7 p.m. to midnight, beginning on August 3.

CoCo opened its St. Paul location in January 2010 and has hosted about 25 hackathons on that side of the river, according to Harrison. The program has attracted tech-savvy locals including independent developers, coders, and engineers-many of whom spend hours outside of work sharpening their skills, developing new ideas to launch a start-up, or are looking to glean ideas from fellow participants.

But Harrison told Twin Cities Business on Tuesday that he hopes the Minneapolis launch will expand the program significantly.

“We want it open to the broader creative thinkers,” Harrison said, pointing out that everyone from graphic designers to programmers to consultants can benefit from each other's ideas. “Direction and inspiration can come from anywhere.”

Harrison says hackathons give participants an “opportunity to steer the kind of rapid iteration we typically do [in the technology sector] toward some social good without making it a charity.”

The inaugural Minneapolis hackathon on August 3 will be a soft launch, although everyone is invited to attend, Harrison said. Participants in the initial meetings will help shape a more formal structure, which is expected to focus on social issues, or “themes.”

Participants will eventually be able to opt in to teams comprising individuals from various skill levels and disciplines, who will meet each week for a month to attempt to develop a solution-typically technology-based-to that month's theme. At the end of each month, teams will discuss the challenges they faced in executing the project.

“We can see this becoming a massive environment of creativity and lessons learned,” Harrison said.

The folks behind the hackathon-who hail from CoCo, Doublethink, and tech news outlet TechDotMN-have not defined specific social issues to address but plan to establish an advisory board of individuals from the nonprofit sector to help determine the themes. For example, the group could identify challenges within the education sector and attempt to develop solutions to those problems, Harrison said.The goal is to bring people together and spark an idea that could be seen all the way through to fruition-for example, by developing a new computer program or digital application.

Hackathons can benefit everyone from marketers to graphic designers, Harrison said, especially as the digital sphere finds its way into more and more aspects of business. They allow local business people to see various opportunities in the digital space and collaborate with those who are immersed in new technology.

No one's making money off of the hackathon program, and any start-ups spurred from collaboration in the program will be entirely independent of CoCo or the program itself. “It's not for financial gain,” Harrison said. “It's just channeling the things we already do.”

Minneapolis-based design, merchandising, and marketing agency Knock will develop branding and design efforts for the hackathons. In addition to the hackathon program and general co-working services, CoCo's new Minneapolis location will serve as home to tech accelerator Project Skyway, where it will host twice-yearly classes of software entrepreneurs.