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USDA HACKS4HEALTH Uses HHS Data and More

By Joyce Hunter, Deputy Chief Information Officer, U.S. Department of Agriculture

hack·a·thon ˈhakəˌTHän/ noun, an event, typically lasting several days, in which a large number of people meet to engage in collaborative computer programming.

That definition was exactly what the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) accomplished this fall - a competitive hackathon to solve real problems in health and nutrition. On the campus of the California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, California on September 23-25, 2016 the Hack for Health (H4H) was a hackathon for social good, hosted by VSolvit, in partnership with the USDA, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), HUB101, California Lutheran University, NASA, the State of California, and the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California. In only 40 hours, the teams coded creative solutions to specific issues in health and nutrition including poverty and hunger, food deserts, and maternal/infant health. 

In total 80 participants were divided into ten multidisciplinary teams of software developers, designers, entrepreneurs, farmers, farm consultants, marketers and others in the agricultural and health industries. Participants competed for cash prizes at a “pitchfest” in front of a live audience at the California Lutheran Entrepreneurship facility, Hub 101 on Sunday, September 25th, Prizes were awarded to the top three apps: first place won $5,000, second place $2500 and third place $1,000.

Winners
1st Place – REMEDI’s innovation was a revolutionary app that tracks your personal medication schedule, and tells you where your medicine is available cheapest in your area. You can input the distance you wish to travel for the medication and the price you wish to pay, and the app will find the best fit. Future services include automatic refill installments and delivery. In addition to the prize money the team also one a one year mentorship with the Larta Institute, a one year membership to the Hub 101 Entrepreneurship Innovation Center and A one year internship with VSolvIT.

2nd Place – MAMA U hacked an approach to a reward-driven pregnancy education and governmental resource center for new expecting mothers. With the app, mothers have access to videos, articles and seminars in their area to help them along their journey and earn points towards reward coupons. Users can also make partnerships with other mothers via a direct chat forum. In addition to the prize money the team also one a six-month mentorship with the Larta Institute, a one year membership to the Hub 101 Entrepreneurship Innovation Center and a one year internship with VSolvIT.

3rd Place - #LeftoverShare has a social media platform designed with the mission of educating people about the intensity of the food waste problem. Shocking statements that put into perspective the food we throw away in the United States drives a great social purpose with the aim to do good.

Also tied for 3rd Place FUDI featured the slogan “Right food, Right people, Right time” and worked to connect perishable food donations with local food bank organizations. Individuals post pictures and information to their Giver profile and are given a tax deduction estimate as well as how far they wish to take their product. Receivers, or food banks, can then approve or deny the donation via email.

In addition to the monetary prize both 3rd place teams scored a one year membership to the Hub 101 Entrepreneurship Innovation Center and a one year internship with the Vsolvit.

As you can see Hackathons are one of the most creative ways to approach problems in nonconventional ways. They have become an effective means of getting bright minds engaged in developing modern solutions for government programs. Hackathons are synonymous with fun. Yes, you will be challenged and yes, you will be stressed at some point but you will enjoy every minute of it. Being surrounded with very interesting people, eating free food, engaging in fun activities, and having your brain stimulated with new ideas are definitely a great combination for having fun. Give it a try and experience firsthand all the amazing benefits that hackathon participation provides!