October 19, 2018

Over 100 students from across the University, and a few from neighboring Carnegie Mellon, took control of the Pitt School of Computing and Information building on Bellefield Avenue last weekend hacking their ideas for improving healthcare, the Internet of Things (IoT), and any other idea they could think of to transform data into solutions to problems.

Sponsored by IBM and AmeriSource Bergen, the Bluehack event saw students quickly form into 21 teams on Saturday morning, and then, with guidance from mentors from IBM AmeriSource, as well as the Entrepreneurs in Residence from the Innovation Institue’s Big Idea Center for student entrepreneurship and the greater Pittsburgh startup ecosystem, they began hacking and pivoting their ideas well into the wee hours of Sunday morning.

Maher Khan, a PhD student in computer science, worked through the night on his team’s smart chat bot for helping groups make more efficient choices for travel plans built with IBM’s Watson AI platform, worked on coding the idea until 4 a.m. Sunday, before catching a few hours’ sleep and returning to help prepare his team’s pitch.

“I love hackathons. For me they are like a hobby,” he said, adding that he previously placed third at YHack at Yale University in 2015.

He said his team, which captured one of the three third place prizes, is planning to take a variant of their Bluehack idea to the Yhack event later this year, in addition to competing in the Big Idea Center’s Randall Family Big Idea Competition, the region’s largest student innovation competition with $100,000 in prize money.

The Bluehack event awarded six cash prizes totaling $15,000, but the students who participated said they were far less interested in the money than in the excitement of working collaboratively with peers form other disciplines and with their mentors to solve problems.

Among the 10 employees from IBM that flew into Pittsburgh for the event was a videographer who captured some of the energy and enthusiasm of the weekend.

For Gaurav Trivedi, a PhD student in the Intelligent Systems program at the Pitt School of Computing and Information, Bluehack was an opportunity to build a cross-disciplinary team and tackle a real-world problem using big data.

At the event he connected with Pitt Dermatology resident Xiaoxiao Li, who wanted to develop an app for tech-savvy young people, who represent a disproportionately large number of dermatology patients. They recruited students from the Katz Graduate School of Business who together developed a compliance app for acne treatments that received a third place award.

“Overall, I am super happy with all that we could achieve within just one and a half days,” Trivedi said.

Christian Manders, chief operating officer of Promethean LifeSciences, a local biotech startup, who served as one of the Bluehack judges at the pitch competition on Sunday, said he was impressed at how quickly the student teams identified “meaningful” problems to solve and developed clever solutions.

“Getting the students to think entrepreneurially will serve them well in all aspects of life,” he said.

For Team Space Jam, which captured of the second place $2,000 prizes, the Bluehack experience has got them hooked on innovation and entrepreneurship.

Christina Nguyen, a computer engineering major from the Swanson School of Engineering, said this was the first hackathon for the members of her team, who are all members of Pitt Excels, which works to recruit and retain minority students at the school of engineering.

“We wanted to explore entrepreneurship. Our project is a marriage of technology, business and social entrepreneurship. We are trying to pave the way for more students to get involved in engineering and innovation at Pitt,” she said.

Team member Nse  O’Dean, who is studying mechanical engineering, said he was pleasantly surprised that he students didn’t need to have coding knowledge to participate in Bluehack.

I learned a lot from the mentors from Pitt and IBM and am excited to stay involved with the Big Idea Center,” he said.

Babs Carryer, director of the Big Idea Center, said the first Bluehack at Pitt exceeded her expectations.

“I just want to say thank you to IBM and AmeriSource Bergen for bringing this opportunity to our students,” she said. “And for the students, I hope they continue to stay engaged with the growing innovation and entrepreneurship community at Pitt, because the skills they learn by participating in our programs and competitions are transferable both to working in startups, and in larger organizations, which must constantly innovate to remain competitive.”


3rd Place Winners:


Michael James, Biochemistry, Music, Freshman

Siyang Hu, Management Information Systems & Business Analytics, Master

He (Hedy) Chen, Management Information Systems, Master

Gaurav Trivedi, Intelligent Systems (Artificial Intelligence), PhD

Charmgil Hong, Computer Science, Post-PhD



Khan, Computer Science, PhD student

Matei Jordache, Chemical Engineering, Senior

Daniel Garcia, Neuroscience and Philosophy of Science, Senior

Logan Freeman Gatenby, Economics, Senior


Block Zero 

Jarrod Frost, Computer Engineering, Freshman

Nikita Krishna, Information Science, Senior

Kelly Smith, Information Science, Senior

Raanan, Gurewitsch, Information Science, Senior

Albert Yang, Computer Engineering, Senior

Artur Kharzamanov, Information Science, Junior


2nd Place Winners:


Christine Nguyen, Computer Engineering, 5th Year Senior

Issam Abushaban, Bioengineering and Computer Engineering, Sophomore

Victoria Mbakwe, Mechanical Engineering, 5th Year Senior

Nse O’Dean, Mechanical Engineering, 5th Year Senior


Team Table 9 

Ray Funahashi, Medicine, Fourth-year Medical Student

Yuxuan Liu, Information Sciences, Master

Yichi Zhang, Information Science, Graduate

Meng Li, Information Science, Master at SCI



Xiaoya Ma, Artificial Intelligence, Sophomore (CMU)

Yue Wu , Computer Science, Sophomore (CMU)

Siyang Qu, Computer Science, Sophomore (CMU)


1st Place Winners:  


Jiachen Tian, Computer Engineering, Sophomore

Lucas Cerchiaro, Mechanical Engineering, Senior

Arkajit Banerjee, Information Science, M.S.

Haihui Zhu, Computer Engineering, Sophomore


The Innovation Geeks

Vineeth Poojary, MBA, 1st Year

Ridhima Puri, Management Information Systems, Graduate

Nikhil Aggarwal, Management Information Systems, Graduate, 1st Year



Yue Sun, Information Science, Master Student

Peng Jin, Information Science, Master

Xinghao Huang, Information Science, Master student at SCI

Zhendong Wang, Information Science, PHD student at SCI

Xinyi Chen, Information Science, Master student at SCI