ThinkBusiness talks to Janice Valentine, founder of Hack Access. Here she discusses how she drew the inspiration to start the brilliant program from her brother.
What did you work on before Hack Access?
In 2015 I set up Great Life Distillery to empower people to reach their potential through adopting a more purposeful approach to work and life. As part of this I ran the Startup Salon series of events. After immersing myself in the start-up community, I discovered the traits of founders were the kind that helped propel individuals towards living a more autonomous, creative and interesting life. I wanted to introduce people who were feeling disconnected and disengaged to the start-up community as a way to break out of their rut and discover how they could reach their potential. I also ran a variety of workshops, including STOW which was focused on supporting students interested in entrepreneurship to build their emotional intelligence to tackle the various challenges that can impede people from achieving big goals.
How did Hack Access begin?
It began because I knew how much technology and entrepreneurship could benefit people like my brother, who had muscular dystrophy, to live a higher quality life. Technology enabled him to work and be entertained when he wasn’t physically able to do things like play sports – instead he played sport via video games.
“I wanted to introduce people who were feeling disconnected and disengaged to the start-up community as a way to break out of their rut”
We both talked about setting up a business when we were feeling disengaged – the plan was that he’d look after the tech and I’d look after the marketing. These dreams gave us hope that we would someday make the kind of impact we wanted to make. He passed away before we could do something together. But when I came into the start-up community about five years ago, I knew he would have loved to be part of it too. Then I realised there was great power in many diverse, talented people coming together to create businesses or just explore entrepreneurship.
I thought I could use this power to solve the kind of problems that excluded so many people, just because their abilities were beyond what is deemed average or normal, from living a quality life. The environment and people’s attitudes essentially rob many people of the opportunity to realise their potential and engage in a quality life. So Hack Access Dublin was the hackathon that came out of pages and pages of scribbling about this idea. Now we are growing to make a bigger impact through partnerships and programs.
“It began because I knew how much technology and entrepreneurship could benefit people like my brother”
How did Google get involved as a host?
I took a chance on reaching out to a person in my network, who I’d met once at a start-up weekend event in Google. He knew someone in Google and I asked him would he connect me. I knew the venue would need to be special and associated with the start-up community so I really just spoke from the heart about how a hackathon focused on how accessibility and inclusion could do so much to create awareness about these problems in the start-up community in the hope that they’d embrace it and focus their energy on solving them. And four years later we are still there. They’ve been very supportive and I am very grateful to them for that.
What are some of the biggest accomplishments achieved so far?
What I’m most proud of is the people who’ve turned up and spent a weekend trying to get their head around some extremely complex challenges. They’ve been amazing. Very committed and engaged; not just during the hackathon but after. Many of our winners have spent time developing their solutions. And of course now there’s a great team of volunteers who help run the events and hackathons, which has allowed me to focus on growing it this year. Without these people we wouldn’t have generated some really interesting and clever solutions, which I feel, with the right support can really make an impact on the lives of all of us.
“It’s all about people of various abilities and talents coming together to solve problems and put the needs of those who’ve suffered incredible exclusion first”
The support from the start-up community has been amazing. They are the engine behind Hack Access. They are the technical whizzes and purpose driven humans powering us forward. I think their selfless attitudes and generosity really reflects the heart and soul of this brand. It’s all about people of various abilities and talents coming together to solve problems and put the needs of those who’ve suffered incredible exclusion first.
You have a diverse range of enablers and mentors. How do you choose these?
I try to have a good mix of male and female mentors with a diverse skill set and experience because I know hackathons can be quite intimidating and it’s important we make all participants feel welcome and as comfortable during the madness of a hackathon – having a good balance of mentors helps that. Mentors have been genuine advocates of diversity and inclusion and of course at the top of their game. They’re all there to serve the participants not their own agendas, which can sometimes overshadow events. I have a ‘leave your ego at the door policy’ and that applies to everyone who attends.
Hack Access are holding a hackathon in Dublin from Friday, February 21st until Sunday, February 23rd. For more details about the event, click here.
Interview by Barry Walsh
Repurposed: 28 January, 2020