Published July 1, 2016
Imagine attending a football game 20 years from now. Do you have to wait in line to get your food and drink? Perhaps hotdogs are delivered right to your seat — via a robot. Or maybe you can get that Labatt refill from a beverage dispenser built right into your seat.
More than 50 UB students recently explored the endless possibilities, dreaming up futuristic and convenient guest amenities at a 24-hour pop-up hackathon.
The aim of the hackathon on June 10-11, sponsored by Delaware North, the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, the School of Management and UB Athletics, was to revolutionize the stadium experience.
Delaware North set the stage for the event — a state-of-the-art stadium providing a destination for football games, concerts, award shows and other name events.
Student participants focused on ways to transform and improve hospitality in the stadium, including speed of service, guest convenience and interactivity for fans.
“It wasn’t so much a hackathon as it was a creative problem-solving workshop, and that’s how we had kind of structured it,” said Rachel Stern, an MBA student, graduate assistant for the Blackstone LaunchPad and a member of the hackathon’s student leadership team.
The hackathon was pop-up in every sense — the team and sponsors put in less than two weeks of planning.
“It was quite impressive how we were able to pull everything together,” Stern said. “I mean, we had T-shirts for people. We also had glasses and cozies for everyone. We were able to pull things together in such a short time frame.”
Students arrived at Davis Hall Friday afternoon with their own computer equipment and sleeping bags.
Rick Abramson, chief operating officer and executive vice president for Delaware North, offered some valuable advice.
“Think about the last time you were at a stadium,” he suggested. “What did you like? What turned you off or what was lacking? Were the seats too small? Was the food good? Could you find a jersey to buy? Talk to friends over Wi-Fi? What would you do better?
“We want to learn from you,” he said. “How can we satisfy people of your age and demographic?”
During the first hour of the hackathon, participants mingled and were introduced to volunteers.
Next, an idea generation session kicked off the development phase.
“We had students come up with as many ideas as they could for about seven minutes,” said Hamlet Spencer, a member of the student leadership team and a graduate student studying mechanical engineering. “After those seven minutes, we tried to get them to narrow their ideas down to two or three in about five minutes.”
Subsequent voting sessions left participants with 10 strong ideas. Eventually, students put their heads together, forming eight interdisciplinary groups to develop the concepts.
Spencer said participants had received an itinerary a few days before the event. “I think a lot of students took the time to research and fabricate their ideas and they kind of had a good idea of what materials and what they needed to learn a little bit more about to see their ideas come to life,” he said.
The heart of a hackathon, noted Liesl Folks, dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, “is that you get the creativity of the crowd. So, you have an opportunity to put people together in groups that they’re not conventionally working with.
“There’s a lot of literature — much of it has come out of the U.S. Army, for example — that shows that groups that have diversity of views and expertise will create better outcomes and solutions and products than groups that are more homogenous,” Folks said.
Paul Tesluk, dean of the School of Management, called the hackathon “an outstanding example of the type of creativity and innovation that can come from collaboration with partners like Delaware North.”
“They came to us with a real innovation challenge and we were able to work together to develop the concept of an innovation hackathon that was a great experience for the students and provided Delaware North with some excellent creative ideas," Tesluk said.
Abramson of Delaware North said the company “was blown away by the eagerness of UB’s students to embrace our hackathon, as well as the creativity and expertise that they brought to the challenge.”
“Innovation and cutting-edge thinking are fundamental to our company’s approach to business, and the future certainly looks bright for the next generation of our workforce,” he said.
After nearly a full day of work, the eight teams pitched their ideas to a panel of judges Saturday afternoon. The judges included representatives from Delaware North, as well as Folks, Tesluk and management professor Sanjukta Das Smith. They named first-, second- and third-place winners, who received cash prizes, and three runners-up, who received UB apparel and VIP access to a UB tailgating event.
Delaware North officials said they hope to work with the prize-winning students to develop and implement their innovations.
Team members: Aileen Zebrowski, Samiha Islam, Angus Lam, Abeda S. Alam and George D. Gombert.
The team developed a wearable wrist band that would take the place of a wallet, holding fans’ tickets and ID, and allowing them to make quick, cashless transactions at concession stands. The concept would allow fans to immerse themselves in the stadium experience without needing anything but the wristband.
Team members: Samantha Brennen, Michael Wagner and Miranda Graham.
Taste of _____ incorporates popular foods from the away team’s hometown alongside traditional game-time snacks. For example, “Taste of New Orleans” would bring Cajun-inspired dishes to Ralph Wilson Stadium when the New Orleans Saints come to town.
Team members: Shenaz Balasinorwala, Amit Makarand Panchbhai and Mohammad Ayaj Kader Payak
Existing cameras, SkyCams and other technology within the stadium would be used to record fans reacting to key moments during the game. The technology would index fans’ seat numbers so that personalized videos and photos could be delivered directly to the fans.