Conroe EDC Uses Hackathons to Build Conroe Entrepreneurship Ecosystem

20 Jun 2018

The Conroe Economic Development Council (Conroe EDC) is enhancing local economic development by attracting aspiring entrepreneurs through a unique leadership initiative to create an entrepreneurship ecosystem in Conroe. The entrepreneurship ecosystem uses “hackathons” to develop resources and a support system to encourage entrepreneurial skills and build a stronger, more talented workforce.
Ramon Lozano, an entrepreneur consultant and owner of SoftIntel Ventures, is mapping an entrepreneurship ecosystem for Conroe. Lozano explains that creating the ecosystem requires buy-in from local business and industry partners who help provide resources and individuals who contribute to the development of new ventures.

“Building this ecosystem guides aspiring entrepreneurs. Developing an entrepreneurship ecosystem begins by creating self-awareness among local industry,” Lozano explains.

Lozano is engaging Conroe businesses and their employees as entrepreneurs through Raspberry Pi Hackathon events. Aimed at teaching current Conroe industry representatives new skills in the areas of computing and problem-solving, Lozano hosted talented and self-driven employees from local Conroe companies such as Gearn Offshore, Bartletts Distillery, LUC Urethanes, Medivators, and McKesson for the Raspberry Pi Hackathon event. The Raspberry Pi is a credit-card sized, single-board computer used to teach basic computer science. The hackathon work of building, coding and applying the Raspberry Pi that was completed in the four-hour event showed off the skill and potential of Conroe’s industrial leaders.

The exercise began with the attendees assembling the Raspberry Pi. Next, they built a traffic light through coding of the Raspberry Pi. Finally, the traffic light was applied to social media, by way of a Twitterbot. By programming the Twitterbot, the traffic lights would turn on when the word “Conroe” was mentioned on Twitter. While social media may not have been the core job responsibility for those in the room, it was remarkable to see the group work through problems and succeed.

Code Park, a Houston nonprofit that provides hands-on computer science education for underserved students in the greater Houston area, served as the instructors for the Hackathon event. Founders Wanjun Zhang, Neeraj Tandon, and Amanda Shih helped guide the participants through the Raspberry Pi hackathon.

Lozano plans more Hackathon events to develop and show off the technical skills of Conroe workers with the intent of building greater awareness of the entrepreneurial environment in Conroe.

“The goal would be to include future small classes for industry to teach other platforms that could provide industry representatives with completely new perspectives in problem solving and prototyping,” said Lozano.

Lozano also explains that the cross-pollination that occurs would be a critical benefit for Conroe businesses. “Industries (medical, oil and gas, IT) have their own internal problem-sets. Having a diverse industry base present in these classes facilitates cross-pollination and discovery of how others are probably solving the same problem sets,” added Lozano.

As Conroe continues to grow and become a more attractive place for industry, the need for employees with entrepreneurial skills becomes greater. Lozano believes that taking the extra step to cultivate entrepreneurs will help distinguish Conroe and help with recruiting businesses here.
“Very few EDC’s get into entrepreneurship development. It takes time to build entrepreneurs, and it positions you very well for attracting companies,” Lozano said.

“In many ways, the Conroe EDC is on the cutting edge of economic development,” Lozano added.