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Father and Son Team Up to Win $10,000 Prize in Hackathon Competition

Bow Valley College’s Entrepreneur-in-Residence, Craig Elias, recently teamed up with his 14-year-old son and five talented, big-hearted and open-minded hackathon goers to help freelancers and side-hustlers put more money in their pockets.

The side hustle culture is booming with people doing freelance work to pocket some extra cash. But for many, this megatrend is not just about making a few dollars here and there to support their lifestyle. For 30 per cent of those with a side hustle, it’s about earning money to support basic necessities. 

The growing gig-economy led to an original and ambitious business idea that took home the top prize at a recent ATB Financial Hackathon in Calgary, and Bow Valley College’s entrepreneur-in-residence was part of that winning team. 

Craig Elias says once the group he was a part of came up with a concept, key statistics helped to convince the team, and the judging panel, that developing an app to support side hustlers is a worthwhile and potentially lucrative venture. Elias says their research found that there are more than 57 million ‘hustlers’ in the United States, and that number is projected to grow to more than 85 million over the next seven years. Research also suggests almost two-thirds of Americans would like to have a side hustle. 

After conducting random interviews at a Calgary mall and gathering results from an online survey, the group found that hustlers would welcome an automated way to compile things like their receipts, and to keep track of the tax implications of their extra income. And that is how the app “Eli” and expenserobot.com came to be. “It allows you as someone who does a side hustle to get paid by QR code, and instead of having to have a merchant account, now you get rid of all your merchant fees,” says Elias. 

The app would see users sort their business and personal expenses and get tax deductions automatically. You would swipe left for personal expenses and right for business. The three developers and data scientists on the team built an app in just hours for the Hackathon competition. 

While the team came with a wealth of knowledge, it was also made up of a 14-year-old boy – Craig Elias’ son, Liam. And it turns out the eighth-grader came up with a potential stumbling block, that then inspired a key feature of the app: a button to report fraudulent activity. “My son had this crazy idea about, well, what if that's not me? Like what if this is fraud? And they went, oh, good idea,” says Elias.

The winning team took home $10,000 for its prototype and presentation and is now discussing plans to move ahead with the business idea, potentially selling it to individuals, accountants, and banks. “Based upon what I saw these guys do in 24 hours, imagine what would happen if they had 24 weeks?” Elias says the next steps would be to get access to data and investigate opportunities. “The first thing we're going to do is see if we can find someone to come along with us to make this work.” As for Liam, he is bowing out and taking his share of the winnings to pay for an upcoming school sailing trip. 

Elias plans on building upon this experience by organizing a Techathon at Bow Valley College this spring. Calgary tech companies and participants under the age of 25 will be invited to take part in the event. “They're going to come up with either a new product for the local existing technology firms or come up with a new feature for an existing product that these firms actually have,” says Elias. All of the details for the Techathon on May 9, 2020, are being finalized, but Elias believes his Hackathon success is a terrific starting off point.
 

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