Black Girls Hack
Black Girls Hack held its first hackathon in Atlanta. (Photo: Lisa M. Zunzanyika, Simply Zee Imagery)

When Kat Calvin called Amanda Spann and Janelle Jolley about her idea of starting a black girls’ hackathon series, they both had the same reaction: “Are you crazy!?” It turns out that Calvin was crazy — crazy motivated to change the demographics of the technology sector. With fervor, she quickly built a team to help her.  Black Girls Hack blossomed when this group brought Calvin’s seed dream into reality.

“Currently, African-Americans make up less than one percent of tech founders,” Spann told theGrio about the group’s enterprise, “but we can do something about that.”

Black Girls Hack is the first non-profit hackathon series specifically targeting the African-American tech community. The idea can be traced back to the moment these three friends met in New York City at the Focus 100 Symposium, which connects thought leaders and tech startups founded by black women. “We were all experiencing the same problem of not being able to find a technical co-founder for [our] startups. Having a technical co-founder is important because you need it to get into incubation programs for startups and it makes it easier to build out tech products,” Spann explained.

All three young ladies already have startups of their own. Calvin is the co-founder of Character’s Closet, a web destination that lists the outfits that popular TV characters wear, plus how to buy those outfits or similar looks at different price points. Spann started Glamobile, which is slated to become a review and recommendation community for fashion, beauty and shopping apps. Lastly, Jolley has spawned Sidewalk District, a platform for local and independent retailers. It is a virtual sidewalk allowing people to browse participating stores anytime, anywhere.

Their inaugural Black Girls Hack event was held in Atlanta last weekend and it turned out to be a huge success. Yet, the most amazing thing about this event is the fact that these three African-American, female technology entrepreneurs did not know each other two months ago. But through their resolve to change the technology landscape through Black Girls Hack, they were able to acquire sponsorship from companies like MailchimpSendGrid, and Limitless Smart Shot in a short time.

With these sponsorship resources behind them, eight teams were able to compete for the black hackathon championship. Mostly based in Atlanta, as the groups got into the grueling competition they still had a common goal. Black Girls Hack intended “for every company to at least have a beta version, if not a full version, of their mobile app completed,” by the contest’s end Calvin explained. Certainly, this was a rare competition that was a win-win scenario for all.

In case you are unfamiliar with the concept of a “hackathon,” this type of event is a coding contest that pits individuals or teams of coders against a challenge. The range of puzzles presented and prizes awarded varies so much it is mind-boggling. Recently, a hacker was awarded $60,000 by Google as part of it’s Pwnium 2 hackathon for breaking the security protocols of the company’s Chrome browser.

Yes, the days of hacking being deemed little more than a cybercrime are over. Today, incredible skills with computer languages are rewarded with big money and tremendous opportunity to break into the tech sector. This can mean receiving venture funding for your dream idea, and the ability to start a groundbreaking company with powerful mentors — critical resources many blacks in tech believe African-Americans are barred from enjoying because of the industry’s lack of diversity.

The Black Girls Hack founders believe they can change this — and they chose the city of Atlanta to make their start for a good reason.