Cal Poly Hackathon Awards Top Prize for Reimbursement App

An interdisciplinary team of eight Cal Poly students won $4,000 and an Apple watch in the Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship’s fourth annual Design and Development Hackathon, held April 8-9.


About 100 students competed on 16 teams in this year’s hackathon. Teams had 12 hours to design and develop their own projects before presenting to a panel of judges representing various companies. The designs had to be attractive, consistent and unique with real working code behind the demonstration.

The first-place team, Repay, included graphic communication majors Jared Hirata, Isabella Montalvo and Lucas Tran; software engineering majors Tobias Bleisch, Vivian Fong and Joshi Esha; business administration major Jasper Lim; and computer science major Kevin Vincent. The team’s app, Repay, is designed to expedite a company’s reimbursement process for expenses submitted by an employee.

“Current reimbursement processes are slow and typically require a ton of paperwork,” said Hirata. Repay allows individuals to upload pictures of their receipts and request an amount to be reimbursed via an app, which an accounts payable specialist can easily accept or deny on a matching desktop app.

“Everyone on our team had a role in the success of our project,” Hirata said. “It was my job to design the process in a way that was clean and simple. Although it’s a great feeling to win, the real prize is the fact that we were able to build an awesome and functioning product in 12 hours.”

The second-place team, Woods Watch, created an Apple watch app designed to help Woods Humane Society track and coordinate its dogs and cats with volunteers. The team included computer science majors Carson Carroll and Vanessa Forney and graphic communication major Lauren Ancora. The team won $2,000 and three Apple watches.

“Our team entered the Hackathon without any watch development experience,” Forney said, “so we had the challenge of learning how to design the interface for such a small screen, as well as how to send the data from the phone to the watch in real-time. We had to figure a lot of things out on our own through trial and error.”

Despite those challenges, their app is now under review in the App Store.

Cal Poly graphic communication Professor Lorraine Donegan manages the event. “The Hackathon is Learn by Doing in action,” she said. “Students work in teams to design and develop a product in a 12-hour period. And most of these students met each other on Friday during the kick-off and team forming!”

TransUnion, one of the event’s sponsors, is planning its own Hackathon the first weekend in May. Many of the students who participated in Cal Poly’s Hackathon have already signed up to compete.

Donegan credits the Hackathon’s success to her team: co-organizer and graphic communication Professor Charmaine Farber; volunteer coordinators Jacob Johannesen (liberal arts and engineering studies senior) and Kenny Gurney (graphic communication senior); and event coordinator Megan Donegan (recreation, parks and tourism administration junior).

Sponsors for the 2016 Design and Development Hackathon were Cal Poly’s Orfalea College of Business, College of Liberal Arts, College of Engineering, and the Graphic Communications Department; TransUnion; Apple; Pariveda Solutions; Intuit; and MINDBODY.

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