HackOut: An LGBTQ Hackathon, Deep in the Heart of Texas

Sep 1, 2018 · 6 min read

Austin tech industry professionals create startup planning environment within LGBTQ community.

HackOut participant, Kaitlyn Bush shares take-aways from the weekend’s event. Photo courtesy of HackOut.

HomeAway Domain in Austin, Texas buzzed with anticipation for the second annual HackOut event. HackOut is a unique LGBTQ themed hackathon, presented by StartOut, Techstars and Lesbians Who Tech. East Austin Cider in hand, organized teams of focused individuals from all over the world were hard at work expanding their pitches and conducting research on their startup projects. They were eager to impress the tech leaders and top-level investors sent to judge their startup ideas on Sunday night.

All are welcome and encouraged to join HackOut’s efforts in expanding entrepreneurship in the LGBTQ community.

Early weekend social events brewed a relaxed atmosphere and creative energy. The program organizers included activities that brought everyone together and gave a small sense of community. Participants started with a late night bar crawl, followed by morning stand-up paddle boarding and a barbecue pool party, giving everyone a taste of the laid back Austin lifestyle and set the mood for the weekend to come.

Event organizers introduce themselves before participants pitch their start up ideas for the weekend. Photo courtesy of HackOut.

Beth Houtrow, Director of Operations and Membership at StartOut shared “Anyone who is curious about what it is to start a startup [should join].” Houtrow adds, “[You] definitely don’t have to be in tech.”

HackOut stands as a unique outlet for the LGBTQ community, and anyone who wants to learn what it takes to build a startup.

“HackOut is for LGBTQ and allies. Anyone with an open mind. Your professional career background doesn’t matter, and your level of expertise doesn’t matter because we are all here to learn,” StartOut’s Mario Villanueva said.

Participants work within their startup teams to create business plans, websites, gather market data, and more. Photo courtesy of HackOut.

Diversity and learning were the two major focuses of HackOut weekend. HackOut is unlike any other hackathon, because of it’s unique theme.

Event organizer, Desmond Thomas shared, “[We want] to show a community, that wouldn’t necessarily be exposed to entrepreneurship, the ropes of becoming an entrepreneur and showcasing the types of technology and ideas that would come from a diverse population.”

HackOut aims to build a better community through LGBTQ entrepreneurship, specifically in places where the work place may not be accepting.

Houtrow weighed in, “The importance of LGBTQ entrepreneurship can’t be understated; especially in states where there aren’t protections, because you still can be fired for being LGBTQ. Sometimes, being an entrepreneur really is the best option for you if you don’t feel safe in a work space.”

Typical hackathons entice participation by offering a steep financial prize. HackOut also differs in this way. Prizes from HackOut included practical awards such as the tools needed to flesh out their business ideas and funky lamps, for fun.

Kipi Business Intelligence wins first place for the 2018 HackOut event. Photo courtesy of HackOut.

Organizer Karlene Berger expanded on the importance of community for HackOut, “I think Dan [Driscoll, HackOut organizer,] would want to say, and I’ll say it on his behalf, is this is not a [hackathon] that offers a big cash prize like [other big hackathons that exist]. All of the money we raise goes back to scholarships to have participation. We are investing in the participants in this group, not a specific business idea, or startup, but our community. We want to make this a community. We want to make it international where we can, and we want it to feel like Texas when we are hosting you.”

Locals and visitors who participated have found HackOut to be a fun weekend to socialize and see what it takes to build upon a startup idea.

University of Texas student and HackOut participant, Kaitlyn Bush said, “I find this to be a really good social opportunity to meet queer people outside of, you know, where being queer is the focus. It’s not the focus, it’s an added benefit, which is nice. And there’s lots of great food. Food A-plus.”

Supporting the LGBTQ community in tech and entrepreneurship is not seen enough. Accurately so, because participants flew in from all over the world, as no networking and learning event such as HackOut exists.

StartOut’s Austin Chapter Lead, Ravel Thai, was amazed by the global impact that HackOut has had already.

“I don’t think it was [an intentional] goal, but we have a lot of people who came in internationally. We have people from Egypt, Brazil, Berlin, Australia, and they’ve all come and said there’s nothing like this in their country,” Thai said. “They want to bring this back. So it’s really powerful to hear that.”

Travel scholarships are made possible by the local sponsorships the HackOut team is able to acquire.

“All these people applied for a travel scholarship to attend this event and there’s not an LGBTQ startup hackathon anywhere. We were just trying to do it in Austin and it became bigger and bigger,” Thai said.

Game development student and travel scholarship recipient, Oliver Taylor traveled a long way to participate in this year’s event. Taylor hails from Australia and was happy to meet people in this community.

“It’s really nice to meet people in this space, like the startup space, who are queer and things like that. It’s a really niche market and you don’t really find a lot of people in,” Taylor recalled. “And it’s very interesting to meet people from all different backgrounds who have different skills, and from different places throughout the world, and throughout America. Overall, it’s been very good, challenging, but good.”

Friendships are created as a result of the HackOut event experience. Photo courtesy of HackOut.

This event proved challenging for everyone, and full of rewarding experiences. Everyone brings something different to the table, and that is why success stems from the event. The reasons why organizers give so much of their time to HackOut is always meaningful and heartfelt.

Berger shared her reasons for being involved with organizing the event. “I am not LGBTQ or IA. I am a straight lady, if you will, but the biggest influence in my life growing up was my two gay uncles. They taught me to think differently and to go after exactly what I wanted in life. And, every year, I volunteer a lot of my time so I can give back to a community of people, who I’m not necessarily a member of, but who have shaped who I am. And that’s why I’m here. And I find it really rewarding, and I’m happy to be an advocate, but that’s why I’m here every year. It’s very important to me,” Berger said.

With such a passionate team facilitating growth and entrepreneurs in the LGBTQ community working together, there’s no telling how far HackOut’s reach can be. Prizes were awarded to teams for first, second, third and crowd favorite after judging occurred Sunday evening. Teams could expand upon their projects after making a solid startup plan, or try something different. Every person left HackOut knowing that they learned new skills, met like-minded people, and became motivated to take the next step in their endeavors.

2018 HackOut organizers and participants together at HomeAway’s Domain office. Photo courtesy of HackOut.

Interested in participating, or becoming a sponsor for HackOut 2019? Visit swhackout.org for more information and we’ll see y’all next year!

Kristin Pilsner

Written by

Curious writer, artist, cake decorator…I like making things and sharing them!

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