The hackathon winners, Afraan. (Images via QRCE)
In just 24 hours, seven teams of Jordanian programmers took on the challenge to build, test, and launch innovative original apps during AngelHack Amman 2016 on April 8-9.
From chaos emerged functioning prototypes. But after demo'ing creations to a panel of judges, only one team of coders reigned victorious: Afraan, a food-freelancing, or 'foodlancing', app created and coded by Fahmi Najjar and Mahmoud Al-Hammouri.
In the conceptual stage, Afraan would allow users to access culinary experts and hire chefs, an attempt to capitalize on the popularity that food preparation and recipe websites have enjoyed in MENA such as Chefxchange, Shahiya, and Foodlve.
As winners, the Afraan team was invited to join AngelHack’s 12-week long HACKcelerator program, through which the team will be assigned local mentors, get access to a coworking space in Amman, and participate in weekly chats with Silicon Valley mentors. They also receive three months of pre-incubation training, mentoring and support from the Queen Rania Center for Entrepreneurship (QRCE).
The hackathon was hosted at Princess Sumaya University for Technology in Amman, and was organized alongside local partners including, QRCE, Madfooatcom, ArabicWIC, and the Jordan Open Source Association.
Promoting inclusivity and innovation
Attended by roughly 50 developers, students, and aspiring entrepreneurs, the hackathon struck a balance between pushing participants to their limits and nurturing their nascent coding and business skills.
“With the idea of entrepreneurship in the early stage, you invest in people rather than ideas,” says Abdelraheem Abual Basal, QRCE executive director and one of the judges.
The solutions dreamed up by participants were far from finished products. But that wasn’t the point. AngelHack’s global hackathons promote the idea that "anyone can code", regardless of age, race, gender, and experience level.
AngelHack’s theme of inclusivity permeated throughout the event and is a particularly appropriate topic for Jordan’s tech startup scene. Unlike most industries in Jordan, the tech ecosystem is relatively young, allowing it to be an oasis of diversity in the face of old tradition, privilege and patriarchy.
The winners, Fahmi Najjar and Mahmoud Al-Hammouri.
The AngelHack Amman event reflected this; among the seven teams, which averaged two or three members each, female coders made up more than a third of participants.
Rewarding innovation and impact
The hackathon’s judging criteria was weighted equally between four main areas: impact, creativity, design, and execution. Teams had only two minutes to demonstrate their hacks to a panel of judges. No slide-decks or PowerPoint presentations were allowed.
Judges included Tech Women’s Rand Muhtaseb, Microsoft’s Ahmad Aldeiri, ArabicWIC’s Shatha Jayyousi, Orange’s Muhannad Abu Maizar, and Abdelraheem Abual Basal.
As teams demoed their creations, feedback from judges centered repeatedly around a crucial topic.
“How can you make money out of this?” asked Abual Basal. Despite being an idea-stage hackathon, Abual Basal said it was vital to get participants thinking about monetization as soon as possible. “The problem is, when they’re in the ‘coding box’, they don’t think about this."
Announcing the winners
Besides the foodlancing app Afraan, two other groups walked away with trophies at AngelHack Amman.
The Amazon Web Services Prize went to the group Magical Cubes for their interactive education app, netting a $100 Amazon Web Services credit for each team member.
A third prize, the Code for Impact Award, was specially created by AngelHack’s nonprofit arm, Code For A Cause, to be given to one team for building a technology designed to have a positive impact on the world, on people, or on the environment. That award went to Give, a mobile donation app that aggregates different causes and NGO aid pages onto one platform.
As a reward, Give was entered into a global competition where the top three winners will be flown to San Francisco for AngelHack’s fifth Annual Global Demo Day.
Despite a plethora of winning ideas, judges conceded that turning these creations into companies won’t be easy - but it’s within the realm of possibility.
“They’re in the process of validating their ideas. I think there’s rooms to pivot, to make these ideas have larger impact and be scalable,” said Abual Basal.
Creating a hacking community in Jordan
Events like AngelHack, along with the glut of other tech events in Amman, show that a network of passionate web developers exists in Jordan, and is beginning to form a more active community.
While judges deliberated, the coding teams spent time together and engaged in informal debates, with discussions ranging from the legacy of Steve Jobs to simply teasing one another. Spontaneously, the teams collectively burst into song, singing 'Happy Birthday' to one of their fellow participants.
Despite the looming competition results and fatigue from a sleepless weekend spent frantically coding, participants at AngelHack Amman enjoyed being together as a cohesive community.
“There isn’t a losing team,” said Abual Basal. “Everybody won.”