Last weekend, more than 100 students on 20 teams set up shop in Olin-Rice Science Center on Friday evening and worked through the night to compete in Macathon, the college’s sixth annual 24-hour innovation and creativity contest.

By 8 p.m., team Bigori Beauty Brush (Benjamin Sydel ’18, Giang Duong ’19, Risa Shirai ’19, Nikita Naik ’19, Preeta Raghunathan ’19, and Malvika Shankar ’19) had homed in on its plan. Driven by Raghunathan’s unsuccessful searches for clothing options that could securely and discretely support the insulin pump she carries, the team wanted to design an easily attachable pocket to hold insulin pumps in a wide range of garments. Market research confirmed the idea had potential: “It was like a lightbulb,” Naik says. “There was such a gap [in product solutions]. It was astounding.”

That breakthrough sent the students scrambling to the library before it closed, but they weren’t seeking intricate software resources or coding support—they needed the sewing machine in the second floor’s Idea Lab. Led by Shirai, they developed the prototype (and later that night, the website and presentation) that went on to win Macathon’s $1,000 top prize at the finals presentations on Saturday evening.

So Shirai knew how to sew? “I guess! I surprised myself,” she says. “Of all the skills I have, this wasn’t what I thought would come in handy for Macathon.”

And that’s exactly the spirit of this competition. The event is modeled after traditional hackathons, but the challenge extends far beyond computer programming. Successful Macathon teams need a mix of technical, business, design, communication, and creativity skills. This year’s groups tackled a wide range of complex problems, devising innovative solutions that inspired the 13 alumni judges, who also mentored students throughout the weekend.

On Saturday night, moments after they were named Macathon champions, the students of Bigori Beauty Brush reflected on the past 24 hours—and paused their celebration to look ahead. What’s next for the group?

“Funkathon,” they said, naming Macalester’s overnight musical composition contest in February.

Really? “Yes, really! We’re coming.”

Macathon winners: Fall 2017

First place ($1,000): Bigori Beauty Brush (Benjamin Sydel ’18, Giang Duong ’19, Risa Shirai ’19, Nikita Naik ’19, Preeta Raghunathan ’19, and Malvika Shankar ’19) with “FUSE”

Second place ($750): My Fantastic Roommates (Joseph Trier ’18, Tejas Singh ’19, Nathan DeSilva ’19, Timothy Lipman ’19, and Daijiro Yokota ’20) with “Finlief,” a debit card program to support refugees migrating into western Europe and make each family’s journey safer

Third place ($500): Jollof Rice (Ayoub Belemlih ’18, Mack Hartley ’18, Nana Adom Mills-Robertson ’18, and Thao Hoang ’18) with “Portable Medical Records,” a system that stores health information electronically in African countries, replacing paper records and serving as a bridge between health care providers, community health care workers, and patients

November 14 2017

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