By BEN SANCHEZ
Business Journal Writer
STOCKTON — Huddle Cowork hosted the first Valley Hackathon in Downtown Stockton on Sept. 23.
Nate Bunney, owner of Inventaweb, spearheaded the project a few years ago in Turlock before gaining momentum in Modesto, Sonora and Stockton.
“We run a few of these in the area. We’ve had more and more success over the last year,” Bunney said. “The City of Stockton just signed on to boost our prize pool up from $1,100 to $2,000 for (this year’s event.”
Bunney collaborated with Phillip Lan, vice president of partnership and business development at Trinity Brand Group, to organize the event on a broad scope in the Central Valley. Bunney is considered the “geek” side of the project with his knowledge and connections in technology, while Lan specializes in business development, marketing, fundraising and community outreach.
Each Hackathon provides an opportunity where coders, developers and software programmers can gather and collaborate to create usable software products. The teams work for a 24-hour period to meet and discuss their project before presenting it in front of sponsors, judges and other community members.
The mini Hackathon in Stockton was a 10-hour event in the co-working space, and helped showcase the local talent in the area to businesses and sponsors.
“The overall goal is to build the Valley economy by developing the community here and showing other communities to invest here. Bay Area companies can discover talent right over here instead of looking somewhere else,” Bunney said. “Hackathons are ground zero for innovation in tech and we invite people to come see it here.”
Bunney said a partnership with Valley Sierra Small Business Development Center in Modesto provided opportunities for funding as they start the process to form a non-profit organization. In the past three years, several businesses have approached Lan for sponsorships to support the tech movement.
Lan explained that businesses supporting these events see value in growing tech throughout the area by increasing their visibility and awareness. Many businesses see value in brand awareness, but also the need to connect and train more local residents in software development.
Laurie Humphrey, Director of Recruiting at Robert Half Technology, connected with Lan on LinkedIn to sponsor and elevate the knowledge of the Valley Hackathon through tech meet ups in the Central Valley.
“We have a great partnership going with them and it provides us with an opportunity to help make those connections with coders and developers to meet the right people and build a tech community here,” Humphrey said. She suggested companies have this idea that most of the coders and software developers are coming out of the Bay Area, but are not aware of the local talent in the Central Valley.
“There are so many people commuting to the Bay Area for jobs, when we could be connecting them with a company right here in the Valley,” Humphrey said.
Lan also expressed the strategic goal is to attract tech companies to the Central Valley and continue promoting these events to gain exposure for more economic development that will create job opportunities.
“Creating opportunities for people in the Valley and tech is the way to do it. There is a community here, but it isn’t very connected. We want to give people a reason to come out, build connections in the community, grow the tech ecosystem here,” Lan said.
As the startup companies continue to grow in Stockton, George Parrish, Executive Director of Business and Tech Incubator Entrepreneur’s Lab, met with Lan and Bunney to help expand the network of contacts and build relationships in the area. He emphasized the importance of coding within the framework of a startup company and how students from University of the Pacific could benefit from these events.
“Coding and tech is an important piece of the puzzle for startup businesses. Students will see the value in it. They will see the practical application and meet real entrepreneurs that are doing it,” Parrish said.
Lan said once that community base has been established with the momentum from Hackathon events, the next phase is to launch a coding academy through Bay Valley Tech out of Modesto, with plans to expand into Stockton.
The academy will benefit residents by offering the skillset needed to work at companies moving in the area that need these individuals to successfully move forward in their industry. Lan explained they would be utilizing the space at Huddle Cowork to teach these courses in Stockton.
Matt Amen, executive director at Huddle Cowork, explained the partnership was a great fit for what their co-working space is already doing in Stockton.
“Downtown is flourishing right now and our space is excited to be a part of these events. The community needs to see all the local talent we have in the tech field,” Amen said.