Wing Bowl for Nerds Taking Over Wells Fargo Center

Philly is hosting the largest collegiate hackathon in the country.

Techies at a previous PennApps hackathon. (Photo courtesy of PennApps.)

Techies at a previous PennApps hackathon. (Photo courtesy of PennApps.)

Techies from all over the world will descend on the Wells Fargo Center for a weekend-long hackathon. Called PennApps XII, the event is expected to draw 2,000 people from all over the world from Sept. 4-6, competing for more than $30,000 in prizes. Organizers are calling it the largest collegiate hackathon in the country.

It’s kind of like the nerd version of Wing Bowl (minus the barbecue sauce and strippers.) Student teams will have just 36 hours to build innovative software and hardware products. A select few will be chosen to demo their innovation on Sunday at 10 a.m. Sleeping during the weekend is optional.

“People usually catch a few naps during the weekend. They do chug a lot of Red Bull, but it’s hard to stay up the whole time,” said Pranav Vishnu Ramabhadran, PennApps director. “There are always a bunch of air mattresses, and sometimes people have their own sleeping bags and lay them out on the floor.”

Since 2009, the biannual hackathons were held at the University of Pennsylvania‘s engineering building with students setting up shop in classrooms, computer labs and even hallways. What started out as a gathering of just a handful of students has continually grown in size. Now it’s moving to the Wells Fargo Center after securing a title sponsor partnership with Comcast.

“We’ve gone from 17 students who wanted to work together for a weekend to being able to accept only a small fraction of the people that apply to come to PennApps,” said Ramabhadran.

After drawing applicants from 30 different countries last year, the event saw grand prize winners that developed a smart-watch app that helps first-responders perform CPR; a crowd-favorite project involved hacking an Oculus Rift virtual reality headset to automatically block ads in the real world. The event has even created new startup companies like WayUp (formerly Campus Job) and Pagevamp.

This year, representatives from Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft will be in attendance, said Ramabhadran, as well as folks from smaller tech startups. A full list of sponsors will be on the PennApps website early next week.

The group is also focused on helping the hackers build their businesses — and hopefully keep them in Philly. It’s got a partner organization called the PennApps Accelerator to help streamline the idea and business plan. It also has the PennApps Fellows program which helps college students get internships at Philly startups and connects them with venture capitalists and entrepreneurs.

“We try to bring in a lot of local mentors from tech companies and startups in the area,” said Ramabhadran.