The College Park City Council has found another way for the city to collaborate with the University of Maryland.
The council voted unanimously March 8 to participate in next month’s Bitcamp, the university’s annual hackathon, by agreeing to spend $1,000 to solicit development of an app students create during the event in hopes of serving College Park residents.
The Downtown College Park Management Authority is also working with Bitcamp to create an app for the city’s businesses, Mayor Patrick Wojahn said.
“I’m very interested in … what this organization does,” said Wojahn, who initiated the proposal. “Last year, I noticed they had a Social Impact Trail event where they had different nonprofit organizations … put real problems to these students … so I reached out to Bitcamp to see if there was a way the city could participate.”
At the hackathon, which will take place from April 8-10 in the Reckord Armory, students will have 36 hours to come up with an idea, form a team and turn that idea into a product using technology and creativity. Apps typically serve various businesses, but there are a lot of different ways apps could be used to help city residents, Wojahn said.
The council’s potential ideas for the app include utilizing it to report problems in the city, support local businesses or for residents to report when their trash hasn’t been picked up, Wojahn said. District 2 Councilman P.J. Brennan also suggested an app to help activate the city’s volunteer base and gather groups of volunteers for specific projects.
The city must put together potential criteria for the app and assemble a team of judges to select a winner, Wojahn said. A $1,000 prize will be offered by the council as an incentive to motivate students. He noted it is up to the council how specific the guidelines are.
It would be beneficial to give students a “grab bag” of ideas to choose from while also leaving things open-ended to see “if maybe they bring us something that’s exactly what we’re thinking about, or maybe they bring us something that’s completely in a different direction that we hadn’t thought about,” City Council student liaison Cole Holocker said.
“Students’ ideas are transferring to College Park businesses and staying in College Park,” Holocker said. “I think this is a great opportunity to really leverage the assets we have at the university, and some of the brightest minds from both the university and around the region, to develop an app and get a direction for our technology presence and enhance it with whatever purpose the council decides.”
Holocker, who is also the director of city affairs for this university’s Student Government Association, said the SGA has been a Bitcamp financial sponsor for the past two years.
“We understand how important entrepreneurship is on our campus and how integral it is to both students’ education on campus and incentivizing that technology transfer we always talk about: having the businesses and the ideas that students create transfer to businesses that exist in College Park,” Holocker said.
District 3 Councilwoman Stephanie Stullich said the proposal was a “win-win” for the city and this university.
“We’ve expressed a lot of excitement towards creating an innovation district,” Stullich said. “So I think this is one small way that we could contribute to the goal of incentivizing and encouraging and promoting entrepreneurship and creative thinking in the technical sphere.”
It would be a bonus if the city “end[s] up with some kind of product that will really be useful to our residents,” she added.
Rather than putting this task entirely on students’ plates, this is a chance for the city and this university to work together to solve a problem in College Park, Brennan said.
“Throughout my two years on the council, we’ve often said, ‘Well, the university should do something about that,’ and I’ve always felt very uncomfortable with putting things on their plate,” Brennan said. “But I think that this is an opportunity for us to collaborate on a solution.”