Hackathon Offers More Than $1 Million in Prize

The three-day event runs from Nov. 8 to Nov. 10 in San Francisco, Calif., with $800,000 going to the top two finalists. Launch is the brainchild of web entrepreneur and angel investor Jason Calacanis, whose new spinoff company AngelList Syndicate is taking advantage of the JOBS Actto allow accredited investors to contribute venture funding to existing deals. (Calacanis’ company takes 5% off the top.) Calacanis, an investor in more than 25 startups, is using Launch to look for new talent to cultivate.

“This is a great place to source angel investments from,” Calacanis told Mashable.

Hard at work during last year’s Launch hackathon.

More than 1,000 developers have already signed up to attend, with Digg founder and Google Ventures partner Kevin Rose locked in as a guest speaker. Calacanis says the vetting process was strict, with more than 50% of applicants turned down.

To get the word out, Calacanis says he mainly reached out via social media, with his accounts as well as Rose’s. They reached over a million followers on Twitter and Facebook, he says.

Last year’s winner, WizzyWig, which acts as a CMS tool without the code, received $100,000 from Calacanis and several others, and was subsequently accepted to Y Combinator, the startup accelerator.

“The time pressure made us all a little sharper and better,” Patrick Conway, the co-founder of WizzyWig, says of last year’s event, which he called a life-changing experience. “It definitely helps to throw a rapid deadline on building something, so you can really focus on what’s important about it.”

Coding away

Calacanis says he plans to keep holding the annual hackathon in the hopes of finding more new companies to fund. And with plenty of money in the bank, he thinks he can keep it going long term.

“Launch fund is a $10 million fund that will invest in 50 startups over the next three to five years,” he says.

And while investing in a successful startup helps investors like Calacanis, he claims the benefits for early startups are just as valuable.

“The investment money, and having me as a board member, means you’re starting on second or third base as a startup,” Calacanis says.