Data center hardware nerds, where are you going to be on June 18 at noon? You may not be sure right now, but keep reading, because Facebook and the Open Compute Project are holding a hardware hackathon at Facebook headquarters that Tuesday. The winners will get time onstage to present to the audience at GigaOM’s Structure conference on June 19 and up to $10,000 in seed funding and mentoring from the foundation to prepare their idea for a venture capital pitch.
The social network started borrowing the concept of hackathons from the software world at its Open Compute Summit in January, and now plans to make them a bigger deal for participants and the industry. There are a few tricks to making hackathons a success however, from tools to setting expectations. On tools, the trick is bringing in software that makes the job of collaborating on hardware designs faster and cheaper. The Open Compute hackathons use Upverter, a company that allows people to build circuits in a web browser and share them easily, as well as GrabCAD, a company that provides libraries of CAD files, so each hacker isn’t starting from scratch when it comes to designing standard physical products.
As for expectations, John Kenevey, the technical evangelist for Open Compute and a program manager at Facebook, is keeping them modest. Unlike a software hackathon where a finished product might result, the hardware ideas or prototypes are still pretty rough. Results are judged on the completeness of the design, its applicability to scaled-out computing and the probability of the hack attracting funding, says Kenevey. For this competition both VCs and angels will vote on the winner.
This time around, Facebook and the Open Compute Project are offering not just pizza and breadboards, but access to future capital. If the participant is an entrepreneur, The OCP will give $10,000 toward the development of the idea; coaching from the OCP foundation; and set up pitches with SKTA Innopartners, other VC firms, and angels. If you are a weekend hacker and win, the OCP will pay to patent your idea. In addition to monetary awards, you get to present at GigaOM’s Structure conference on June 19 before an audience of venture capitalists, executives in the infrastructure business and fellow entrepreneurs.
The hackathon will be limited to about 100 people and registration is open. Participants should have general experience in designing hardware and will need to submit their idea when registering to see if they make the cut. Given that participants will have 12 hours to perfect their inventions, they should start thinking about them once they are selected.
The Open Compute Project is looking for ideas around scaled out computing and the internet of things for this event. There are lots of options in those categories, so good luck.