McHacks brings 500 students to McGill for 23-hour hackathon

More than 500 students from as far away as Illinois are at McGill this weekend for McHacks, Canada’s largest ever hackathon.

Students from as far away as Illinois in town for Canada's largest hackathon

Arielle VanIderstine, Zafarali Ahmed and Niko Yasui are among the 500 students at McGill this weekend for McHacks, a 23-hour hackathon. (CBC)

Five hundred students from as far away as Illinois are at McGill University this weekend for McHacks, Canada’s largest ever student hackathon.

With $10,000 in prizes up for grabs, students came prepared with their best ideas for hacks, or short-term, creative computer projects, that they develop over the course of the 23-hour competition.

“Hackathons run on minimal sleep, and there’s a lot of caffeine involved,” said Mohamed Adam Chaieb, co-founder of HackMcGill, the organization that put the event together.

McHacks is the first Canadian event affiliated with the newly-formed Major League Hacking, which is billed as the “NCAA of hackathons.”

Chaieb said Montreal’s abundance of tech companies makes it an ideal location for an event like McHacks. Local tech start-ups like Shopify were among its sponsors.

“We get a lot of support from local start-ups. They’re excited about hackathons, and we’re excited about start-ups, so it’s win-win,” said Chaieb.

Hackathons are not unknown for producing marketable ideas, a fact that also attracts companies and even venture capitalists to the events.

“There’s a lot of excitement and energy here and some special ideas can come out of that. It’s not at all rare that a hack can turn into a start-up,” said Chaieb.

Fame and fortune, however, take a back seat to learning and having fun for most student participants, not to mention the challenge of producing a workable product in a short period of time.

“The premise of a hack is to get rid of the perfectionism; it’s a great opportunity to get things done, to get things to a finishing point, and add polish later,” said University of Michigan participant, Jason Berlinsky.

Madeline Halpern, of Rutgers University in New Jersey, came to Montreal with a hack for a women’s health app in mind.

“It really motivates you, you really want to get it done and prove to yourself that you can do this,” she said.

McHacks began at 12:30 p.m. ET on Saturday and wraps up Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET.