DeisHacks seeks solutions for Waltham-based non profits
124 students worked to help the organizations overcome obstacles during the 48-hour “hackathon.”
This past weekend, Brandeis hosted its seventh annual DeisHacks, a competition intended to come up with ideas to better improve the business models of local nonprofits. The “hackathon” worked with local nonprofits and organizations to seek to provide more opportunities for the groups. Some of the groups included Brandeis-alumni-founded Project Insulin, the Boston-area Jewish Education Program and the Brandeis International Business School. The competition commenced on Friday, Jan. 26 and ended on Sunday, Jan. 28.
Students outlined their project proposal in a three minute video that was submitted to judges on Sunday at 11 a.m. The team with the best overall project proposal won $1000. Isabelle Yang ’27, Tobei Nakajima ’27 and Marie Amandine Reyes ’27 received the award for creating an escape room at the Charles River Museum. According to the Brandeis Business School Instagram story from Jan. 28, the project was led by second-year Master of Business Administration student Sarah Wang. The Charles River Museum had recently lost a funding grant and one of Wang’s goals was to increase engagement with the museum to supplement the loss of the grant. “If what we have achieved at DeisHacks, they are able to use in real life to actually help them to get more money, I will be very happy,” Wang said in a Jan. 26 interview with The Justice. Charles River Museum also won the best overall project the year before, though the members of the team are different this year. Students also won $500 in the categories of best technical, best non-technical, best marketing, highest organizational impact, hidden gem and best use of emerging technology.
Students who took Business 297C with Associate Prof. Gene Miller (IBS) and Adjunct Ian Roy (IBS) were assigned to assist one of the 18 organizations. They worked with them throughout the fall semester identifying ways to improve their business models to engage more people, receive more donations or better accomplish their respective goals. “They've already been embedded in that company for six months, they know the pain points of the company, they bring those pain points here as the topics that people try to solve over the weekend,” Roy explained in a Jan. 26 interview with The Justice. These students were referred to as “board fellows” and essentially served as the experts on the organizations the teams sought to find solutions.
Students gathered in the Farber Library on Friday evening to hear pitches from board fellows on why they should join teams. Teams could be anywhere from three to six members according to DeisHacks’ website. Some offering pitches were quick to have members sign up, while others took more time.
One of the students in the business class was Alex Cohen ’24. Following her meeting with Miller, she was assigned to the nonprofit Community Day Center of Waltham — an organization that provides day shelter and resources to those experiencing homelessness. “Some of the things they are struggling with is fundraising as well as community awareness and outreach as well as the stigma against homelessness. Then a recent thing they’ve been struggling with is the recent surge in immigrant and migrant issues,” she said in a Jan. 26 interview with The Justice. Over the past semester, Cohen assisted them with their social media and community outreach. Cohen recruited three of her softball teammates to take part in the event to help come up with additional solutions to help the Community Day Center of Waltham. “I’m looking to just give back to my community and the organization that’s welcomed me and given me the opportunity to help out,” she said.
Phebean Ogunsanwo ’25 first joined DeisHacks last year— “It was definitely outside my comfort zone since I'm not a comp-sci major or minor. But I just thought it would be really interesting because they're trying to work through solutions to help organizations that are doing really good work,” she explained in a Jan. 26 interview with The Justice. After her team won “highest organizational impact” representing the nonprofit Vision Volunteer Alliance in 2023, the group reunited this year to try and win again. While Ogunsanwo doesn’t have an economics or computer science background, other members of her team do, and they all contribute in different ways to ensure the most success they can for their teams.
Due to the 48-hour nature of the competition, DeisHacks expected the members of the teams to stay up late Friday night working on their projects and wake up early Saturday morning, Anogunsanwo explained based on her past experiences.
According to Roy, the number of people engaging with DeisHacks has increased every year since its founding. This year there were 124 participants according to the DeisHacks project submission website. He strives to have students from different fields throughout the University take part in the event. “I really hope to see multidisciplinary teams that can build something that doesn't have to be ‘shovel-ready.’ It doesn't have to be an app that's ready to deploy, but that has an implementation plan and a way to fund it and really exist for years after the event for that nonprofit,” Roy said.
Seven years strong, DeisHacks has become such a well-known event in Waltham that Mayor Jeannette McCarthy has spoken highly of the Brandesian competition’s community impact: “I was inspired by the ideas the students came up with for our local nonprofits. It’s refreshing to see that type of brain power. They combined heart with brains and that’s a wonderful combination. This event goes to show that the types of things being done at Brandeis opens doors for students and their community.”
At the event’s Sunday evening conclusion, Alan Trefler, founder of the Cambridge-based software company Pegasystems Inc., gave a speech to DeisHacks participants and those who gathered for the closing ceremony.
— Editor's Note: Smiley Huynh '24 works for Brandeis Design and Innovation, and Eliza Bier '26 and Anna Martin '26 are DeisHacks Ambassadors.