Online payment company PayPal launched its second BattleHack coding competition Thursday in Tel Aviv, hoping to tap into the city’s vibrant tech community, and help developers tap into its resources.
For over 24 hours, some 200 developers work in groups to develop new apps using PayPal’s application programming interface (API), enjoying massages, pizza and beer along the way. This year’s crowd included not just a mix of programmers, but two dogs and a toddler as well.
The winners of each hackathon in ten cities around the world go on to compete against each other for a $100,000 prize in Silicon Valley.
Last year’s Tel Aviv winners, who developed an app that would fine constantly tardy friends for being late, ultimately came in second place, losing to a Russian team. Perhaps unsurprisingly, both Tel Aviv and Moscow stood out for their hard work ethic, global director of PayPal’s developer network John Lunn told The Jerusalem Post.
“The quality of the developers that we found here when we came last year was huge,” he said. Only in Moscow and Tel Aviv were the programmers “hardcore” enough to stay up all night last year.
That’s one reason that Tel Aviv was chosen to kick off this year’s tournament.
While the competition is certainly a boon to the developers, who receive guidance and mentorship during the event, it is also one way that PayPal keeps its finger on the pulse on the market.
“By observing how they interact with our APIs, we can go back and make them better,” Lunn said.
Keeping ahead of the curve among developers is particularly important as new technologies continue to change the face of the online payment market.
Last year’s winner, for example, showed how charities could use low-powered Bluetooth while passing through an area soliciting donations, so that onlookers could instantaneously donate with their phones and see the current tally on a large screen.
With the rise of mobile wallets, that’s precisely the kind of innovation PayPal is trying to tap into and test. PayPal is making no bones about trying to stay ahead of the game; it is already advertising its solutions for making payment in outer space.
“It’s not so far-fetched. You should check out Mars One,” said Lunn, referring to a not-forprofit foundation trying to establish a permanent human settlement on Mars.
But PayPal is not the only game in town. Hackathons have exploded on the scene in recent years.
Microsoft’s Israel startup accelerator on Thursday also launched “Challenge Cup” alongside 1776, a Washington, DC-based incubator platform.
That competition, spanning 16 cities, tasks developers in the fields of health, energy, education and “smart cities” (urban improvement), and will send its winners to compete for a prize in Washington in May.
“We are thrilled to officially open the competition and start fielding applications in our last four cities,” said Donna Harris, cofounder of 1776. “Challenge Cup will shed light on startups addressing the most pressing global challenges, and help to forge new connections and close gaps within the global startup ecosystem. Let the competition begin!”