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Students win top prize in NYC financial hackathon

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Melissa Osgood

Cornell undergraduate and graduate students took part in a financial technology hackathon organized by Entrepreneurship at Cornell Nov. 11 at Cornell Tech in New York City.

The students were joined by graduate students from Cornell Tech, Howard University, New York University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for a weekend of “coding, camaraderie and creativity” as they worked on solutions for problems in two categories – detecting money laundering and financial inclusion.

“We wanted to take a weekend to get students thinking about ways their skills can be applied for the greater good,” said Ami Stuart, tech events manager for Entrepreneurship at Cornell. “There are so many ways to have a huge social impact even if you don’t work at a nonprofit or on the front lines.”

The event brought together engineers, business students, designers, entrepreneurs, communicators, economists and students with other interests, she said.

The grand prize of $2,000 went to Cornell’s Team Old School, which developed a simplified web user interface for the 10 million elderly people who use the internet but don’t use online banking to manage and monitor their finances. The interface allows users to enter bank account information that will alert them to suspicious account activity.

“Seniors are approaching 20 percent of the population, and control the vast majority of wealth in the economy,” said Kit Moody, MBA ’17, a member of the team. “They are also increasingly subject to financial abuse by family members, caregivers or online phishing scams.

“Many are either unaware or not willing to report based on their low level of awareness and engagement with banks (who focus their attention on engaging younger demographics). Our idea was to empower this generation to identify and report fraudulent activity the way that they would like to engage, and give them peace of mind that they are the only ones enjoying the money they have worked hard for in their lives.”

Other team members included Young Kim ’20, Tae Kyung Kong ’20, Laura Lin ’20 and Jia Wei ’20.

Students arrived at the hackathon Friday, Nov. 11 in time for keynotes from speakers involved in both anti-money laundering and financial inclusion efforts. On Saturday, students pitched ideas, formed teams and spent all day (and into the night) developing their ideas before demos at noon Sunday.

Students were encouraged to form diverse teams. “Everyone has a different story, a different experience,” Stuart said. “Those unique perspectives shape the best ideas and create the most well executed products and services.”

Working with an MBA student was critical to the experience for Kim, one of the four freshmen on Team Old School.

“Taking the time to develop and perfect our idea was crucial, both in creating a business plan and showing the judges that we had considered all possible solutions before deciding on ours,” Kim said. “Rather than pushing a solution onto a problem, we approached the problem with many different ideas – checking all avenues before deciding on ours.”

The hackathon is one of six Stuart has planned for this academic year, with five of those happening in the city.

“The hackathons help to bridge the gap between students on main campus and in NYC, as well as create connections to students at other universities,” Stuart said. “Students don’t just meet other people, they make real connections and observe the value in diversity firsthand. This broadens networks, creates friendships and is an opportunity to directly apply academia to the professional world.”

Kathy Hovis is a writer for Entrepreneurship at Cornell.


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