Hack for Savannah Event Overview

Details, judging criteria, venue, hosts, team formation.

After Hurricane Irma brushed past Savannah last month, causing massive storm surge and flooding in lowlying areas, Open Savannah had to postpone its original date for this event. But the date change showed the Brigade a potential opportunity to pivot to a new theme we may increasingly have to fear in the coming decades.

"There is no expertise more valuable than locality knowledge." - Jane Jacobs
Who should come/what if I'm not a coder?

If you’re passionate about Savannah, if you think you can help make it more democratic, and if you believe in the power of code to facilitate change, you should come! Civic hacking and hackathons benefit from participants of all types of backgrounds and levels of expertise. Even those with no technological skills at all can play vital roles in researching, designing, and launching projects. Subject-matter experts are essential to the quality, sustainability, and scalability of a project. Content experts and partner organizations contribute extensive, nuanced knowledge of the subject matter; they help guide and structure a project so that it tackles key needs, creating the greatest possible impact. No specific technological skillsets will be needed for you to make a meaningful contribution to the hackathon.

Want to help build stuff that matters? Want to have a fun time meeting new. interesting, and creative people from the Savannah area? Want a chance to win up to $3,500 doing it?

Open Savannah’s first-annual “Hack for Savannah” civic hackathon (see What is a civic hackathon?”) is absolutely free to participate in, and the civic technological solutions you build could end up being officially adopted by the City of Savannah or Chatham County.

The hackathon is being held to mark Code for America's annual National Day of Civic Hacking, an annual day of action to convene coders, bureaucrats, data scientists, journalists, user experience designers, and community activists to tackle big problems.

What is a hackathon?

Simply put, and as the name might suggest, hackathons are hacking marathons. This means that we get together for a weekend to create new projects from the ideation stage to functional (or at least semi-functional) prototypes. It’s also a great excuse to eat food, drink lots of coffee, hang out with friends and meet new people.

Who We Are

Open Savannah, the official local brigade of Code for America. We're a diverse and inclusive mix of civic-minded individuals from a variety of backgrounds who share the common belief that we can make government work better "by the people, for the people, of the people, in the 21st Century."

What you get

Aside from the feeling of having built something useful that improves the community, all participants will receive a healthy dose of SWAG (stickers! buttons! more stickers!), access to all project assets, a cool project to add to their resume and, if your team wins, a healthy cash prize to take home! The winning team will also receive free tuition to ATDC's Startup Bootcamp.

What We Do

We meet regularly to work on civic-technology projects that best fit the needs of the entire Savannah community. Whether it's building a mobile resource directory for social services or breaking down the City's budget data, we play with civic apps and do a mix of project management, coding, documentation, event planning and designing.

The Nitty Gritty

How will it work?

Participants will work in teams of no more than five (5) individuals over two days to develop civic-tech product and startup ideas that make a difference, with an additional prize bracket for the team with the best functional prototype. Winning teams will receive a total of $6K in cash prizes, courtesy of the generosity of Savannnah Economic Development Authority (SEDA). The general theme will revolve around 'Urban Resilliency and Disaster Response,' but a more specific challenge will be assigned at the event kickoff.

The Basic Details
  • All food and meals will be provided thanks to the generosity of our sponsors.
  • The event is BYOD ("bring your own device"). Please notify us by Oct. 16 if you don't have a laptop and we will seek to provide you one.
  • This is not an official City of Savannah, Chatham County or Chatham Emergency Management event, but officials from all three entities will be present to help judge and answer questions.
  • Four cash prizes will be awarded to the most viable and helpful ideas. First, second and third place teams will each receive $2,500, $1,500 and $1,000, respectively. The winners will be evaluated based upon a rubric that assesses each team's 4-6 min. oral pitch as well as its written proposal. Mock-ups, semi-functional products or minimum viable products will be weighed but not as a highly determinitive factor.
  • A separate $1,000 prize will go to the team with the strongest functional prototype. This will be evaluated independently of the pitches and proposals.
  • Although the general theme has been announced, a more specific challenge will be assigned at the event kickoff. So, no getting a head start for anyone!
8 expert judges
100 ticket limit
$6000 in cash prizes
1.5 days of hacking

Form your own team, or be assigned to a team upon arrival based on an equal distribution of skillsets at the event kickoff.

Register Now

Hackathon Myths

It's all about the product

When the term hackathon comes to mind, we tend to think solely of which team has the strongest deliverable. At their core, hackathons are about devising a feasible, effective, smart solution that involves far more than programming neat software. They require a strong pitch, a clear competitive advantage, and an in-depth analysis of the solution.

Everyone who attends is a 'computer' person

This myth couldn't be further from the truth, and it creates a dangerous self-fulfilling prophecy when people opt not to participate simply because they don't know how to CD into the root directory and CHMOD the file permissions to 755. For true success, especially in a civic hackathon, a diversity of skillsets will be needed. Just because you can't write a complex JavaScript app using Angular 2 doesn't mean you can't contribute to the team's project meaningfully.

It's all about winning

Hackathons are ideal learning environments, testing your critical thinking skills and ability to solve problems creatively under tight deadlines. And if you haven't put much critical thought into why you would build something a certain way, it doesn't matter how sleek it is to use or what fancy new JavaScript framework it uses.

You have to pull an all-nighter and/or stay up overnight.

While event volunteers will be at Bull Street Labs to assist teams in shifts throughout the entirety of the night, teams by no means have to stay at BSL or go without sleep to finish in time. Sleep is important. It makes the brain function quicker. Go home and rest Saturday night if you can. At the very least, get a quick shut-eye on a couch at BSL, if nothing else!


Representatives from Coastal Georgia's government agencies and entrepreneurial community.

Jill Gambill
Jill Gambill
Coastal Commmunity Resilience Specialist, Public Service Faculty Member, UGA Martine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant.

Jill Gambill serves as the Coastal Community Resilience Specialist for the Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant at UGA, where she is Public Service Faculty Member. She authored Georgia's first and second municipal sea-level rise plans, earning her national recognition. She has worked with communities across the Southeast to prepare, respond and adapt to flooding, sea level rise and other coastal hazards for more than seven years.

Jill Bjers
Jill Bjers
Executive Director/Brigade Co-Captain, Code for Charlotte. National Advisory Council, Code for America.

Jill Gambill is a self-described "organizer and cat-herder extraordinaire," a skill she says comes in handy with her family, tech community, and cats of all kinds. Being a founder, community advocate, and travel junkie has helped her fill a passport or two, as well as shape a unique experience. She has worked to organize countless events of all sizes from Olympics to DNC to monthly meetups. Currently honored serve as Co-Founder and Executive Director of Code for Charlotte and working to bring civic technology industry to Charlotte. Jill is a leader and spokeswoman for technology, community organizing, entrepreneurism and civic engagement around the world and loves sharing her message. She serves on CfA's National Advisory Council.

Dennis Jones
Dennis Jones
Director, Chatham Emergency Management Agency (CEMA)

Dennis Jones is the director of Chatham Emergency Management Agency, the official emergency management agency for the Coastal Georgia region. He has more than 28 years of emergency management experience, coordinating response and recovery efforts for hundreds of high-risk situations and crisis events. In addition, he is recognized as a Nationally Certified Emergency Managemer, a Georgia Certified Emergency Manager and a Certified Professional Emergency Manager.

Mary Landers
Mary Landers
Environmental Reporter, Savannah Morning News

Mary is an award-winning environmental journalist at Savannah Morning News and, arguably, among the most experienced and nuanced environmental reporters in the state of Georgia. She has covered issues ranging from planned expasion of Plant Vogle, to sea-level rise in Coastal Georgia's barrier islands, to analyses of Georgia's top polluting companies. Mary has also been a leading voice in the ongoing discussion of the need for more resilient coastal communities that can withstand the effects of storm surge better.

Travis Schuff
Travis Schuff
Senior Systems Analyst, Chatham County Government

In his more than five years as Senior Systems Analyst for Chatham County, Travis has developed custom software systems to improve or automate government operations and erved as a technical and business consultant for several county departments to assist in discovering cost effective solutions

José Mallabo
José Mallabo
Startup Catalyst Manager - Advanced Technology Development Center @ Georgia Tech

José is a veteran entrepreneur, longtime marketing executive for companies such as LinkedIn and eBay, and ATDC 's new Startup Catalyst for Savannah. Mallabo is also the co-founder and CEO of Vireo Labs. He knows the ins-and-outs of building successful products that scale.

Christopher Nichols
Christopher Nichols
Product Manager @ geothinQ; GIS Department Manager, Thomas & Hutton

Chris leads the team for geothinQ, a Savannah-based startup that offers users a web application that offers users an on-demand geographic land mapping and data visualization platform that is accelerating smart data-driven decisions about valuable land. Chris is also the GIS Product Manager for Savannah-based firm Thomas and Hutton.

Chelsea Sawyer
Chelsea Sawyer
Emergency Management Specialist in Community Outreach, CEMA

Chelsea serves as CEMA's Community Outreach Lead, educating the public about disaster preparedness and training the agency's rescue and aid volunteer team. Although Chelsea joined CEMA only a little more than a year ago, she has already amassed a great deal of on-the-ground experience, having helped manage communications an relief operations during both Hurricanes Matthew in 2016 and Hurricane Irma in 2017. She holds a Master's degree in Public Administration.

Kevin Lawver
Kevin Lawver
Chief Technology Officer @ Planted

Kevin Lawver is the Chief Technical Officer at Planted, where he helps connect people with jobs at startups using code. He’s the co-founder of TechSAV, organizer of the local RailsBridge chapter, runs Refresh Savannah, helps out where he can, advises startups on all kinds of stuff, and likes to bake.

Yvonne Joffrault
Yvonne Joffrault
Founder/CEO, TourBuddy Apps. Co-Founder, Flye. Principal, Blue Canyon Investments.

Yvonne is an institutional investment professional, turned tech entrepreneur, investor, and community catalyst. As CEO of TourBuddy Apps, she built a world class technology company that allows visitor destinations to easily create mobile app guides to improve their visitors' experience. Integral role in all company activities.

Cam Mathis
Cam Mathis
Director of Information Technology, City of Savannah

Cam directs the IT Department for the City of Savannah, and plays a vocal role in selecting which government technology vendors the City hires. She has been with the City of Savannah since 1995.

Scott Craig
Scott Craig
Webmaster, Chatham County, Ga.

Scott is the Webmaster for Chatham County Government, a position he's held now during both Hurricanes Matthew and Irma. He also serves on CEMA's External Affairs Disaster team, and has assisted in aid and recovery efforts after the storms. He holds a degree in computer science, and has worked in IT for more than a decade.

Nick Palumbo
Nick Palumbo
Founder, Smart Growth Savannah. President, Ardsley Park Neighborhood Association.

Nick leads the Ardsley Park Neighborhood Association, and is the founder of Smart Growth Savannah, an all volunteer organization dedicated to the promotion and development of great neighborhoods in Savannah and a Coalition partner of Smart Growth America.

Frequently Asked Questions

Answers to questions you may still have

If you don't have a laptop and would like to borrow one to use for the Hackathon, shoot an email to yall@opensavannah.org no later than Oct. 16. We will make every best effort to procure for you a loaner computer to use.

We won't reveal the precise challenge until the Friday evening kickoff event, but we will reveal the hackathon's theme – urban resilliency and disaster response. That's all we can say. For now. Keep checking Slack, Open Savannah's forum and social media for easter eggs.

Bull Street Labs is located in the Starland District of midtown Savannah. If taking public transit, the closest bus routes include the 4 Line, which stops at Barnard and 38th Streets, and either the 14 or the 11 lines, both of which stop at Abercorn and 38th Street (one block away).

If driving, be sure not to park in the lot directly opposite the building, as that is a private lot. Generally, there will be plenty of street parking available that no street cleaning will take place on during the weekend, and you should have little trouble finding a spot near the location.

Absolutely not! We do require that all participants under the age of 21, however, allow organizers to place a bracelet on their arm during the reception denoting their underage status, and that any participants under the age of 16 have a parent or guardian sign off on their participation.

You have absolutely nothing to fear, and only knowledge to gain from participating in the hackathon. No one starts out in this world as a programming whiz; each of us has to learn somewhow. If you don't form a team ahead of time, we will make sure to place you with teammates with complimentary levels of technology acumen, pairing up new coders with professional developers and assigning dedicated Team Mentors to assist in the learning process.

Open Savannah aims to create a safe space for participants of all skill levels, sexes, races, creeds, political beliefs, sexual orientation and gender orientation. If you fear at any point that anyone in the hackathon is 'looking down on you' or not valuing what you have to contribute because of your skillset or because of any other reason, be certain to consult our Code of Conduct, and report any and all potential violations to the Core Leadership team by emailing yall@opensavannah.org. The report will be dealt with in a swift, discrete and professional manner.

Great question! We're still actively scouting out local restaurants to provide in-kind donations for the meals and snacks for the weekend, so if you know a local restauranteur or you are one yourself, don't miss this opportunity to give to a forward-thinking civic cause and help out a fast-growing community of nearly 200 residents.

Alternatively, if you support our core mission of restoring civic engagement through technology, open data and digital inclusion and want to help defray event costs, we welcome donations of all sizes, and we'll publicly acknowledge your contribution with your consent. All donations are tax-exempt.

Yes, it's welcomed, in fact! Throughout the weekend, beginning with the Friday evening panel, we plan to have subject matter experts (or anyone with particularly relevant personal experience with crisis response) deliver short 10-15 min. talks to help spur creative thinking among teams. If you're an urban planner, a community organizer, a neighborhood association president, a meterologist, a researcher, an environmental engineer or just a super well-informed citizen with a unique POV who's not already signed up to speak, just fill out this super quick form and we'll be in touch within 24 hours to confirm your speaking time.

Our Sponsors

About Our Sponsors

Become a Sponsor

Interested in helping be a part of Coastal Georgia's first ever civic hackathon in its history? We're still seeking donations and in-kind contributions from local businesses, especially local food service establishments and restaurants.

View Sponsorship Playbook Get Started Today

Bull Street Labs - Main Venue

Bull Street Labs fosters creativity and innovation through casual events, enticing lectures, while providing you with collaborative workspaces. We have a range of levels that anyone can access, whether you are in dream mode or growing your small business. Bull Street Labs is proud to be the home to the many movers and shakers that make all of this possible for the Savannah Community. If you have any questions, you can reach out to each of us directly on our social media or through our contact form below. We will get back to you within 24 hours with some solid answers and get to know how you are making this community shine.

(912) 447-8457

Open Savannah at Bull Street Labs

2222 Bull St., Savannah, Ga. 31401

Coco Papy, Community Manager, coco@creativecoast.org