Free Enterprise Staff  | April 18, 2016

Checking in on hackathon winner Vanilla Frame

The Pac-Man machines had gone dark, the Nerf guns had been holstered, and the bean bag chairs laid scattered and unoccupied on the floor. The laptops and computer cordswhich had for the past 30 hours covered every square inch of table tophad been packed away, and the sleep-deprived coders had headed home. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s first hackathon had come to a close.

But for the weekend’s big winner, the adventure was just beginning.

The Growth Economic Trends Map (GETMap) team which took home the top prize at the inaugural hackathon, has had a busy six months since that heart-pumping, data-crunching weekend in October. Most notably, the team has become a formal company with a new name: Vanilla Frame. While the five members have all maintained their day jobs, they meet occasionally on weekends to work, often sleeping on one another’s couches after evening-long coding and brainstorming sessions. And when they need a slightly more formal business setting, they head to the 1776 startup campus in downtown D.C. (desk space at the incubator was included in their hackathon prize package).

So what are they working on? For the most part, they’re still tinkering with and perfecting the very tool that won them the blue ribbon six months agoan online application that helps visualize the economic impact of small and medium-sized business on their states. We recently caught up with the Vanilla Frame team at 1776 to walk through the latest iteration of the application, which incorporates a wealth of data from public and private sector sources, and it’s fun to see how far the tool has come since October. Meanwhile, it’s inspiring to see them learning how to manage their own business venture.

They’re not the only ones are learning, though. Nearly everything about our relationship with Vanilla Frame is unchartered territory for the U.S. Chamber and Normally, when we work with an outside group to build something, it’s our team that specifies exactly what we need built, how it should look, how it should function, and so on. In this case, it’s a much more collaborative process, as we have trusted Vanilla Frame to run with only broad instructions: that is, as the hackathon rules specified, create a tool that shines a spotlight on the powerful impact of American businesses.

It’s impressive to see how they continue to meet deadlines and offer up creative solutions with all they have on their plates, balancing this new venture with their other careers and their personal lives. They do so with the same enthusiasm they’ve shown since that weekend at the hackathon, which is another reason working with them has been such a rewarding experience for our team.

We have since met with the team about once a month to go over their progress, exchange and refine ideas, and discuss the next steps. Right now, they’re closing in on a final design and overall functionality for the tool. Once that’s nailed down, our team will be working very closely with Vanilla Frame to iron out what data will flow into the tool and how it will be used on and beyond. Of course, when we’re ready to unveil the team’s final product, you’ll be the first to know. Stay tuned.

Here are some of our favorite moments from last year’s hackathon.