Interns demonstrated solutions for the future of retail with the launch of the Walmart Technology all-night hackathon. The top prize? Invaluable mentorship and entrepreneurial know-how.
At Walmart Technology, mentorship and open-ended creativity are a means to innovation. To further the entrepreneurial spirit that emanates throughout the organization, Walmart held its first-ever companywide intern hackathon. The goal of the event was to provide the 99 participants with real-world experience working in teams to solve real business problems.
The theme of the hackathon focused on time as a crucial currency, with participants creating a variety of innovative business solutions leveraging big data, location services and mobile e-commerce.
After a sleepless 14-hour stretch of ideation and building on July 21-22, the 19 participant teams were each allotted 3 minutes to demo their prototypes, followed by 2 minutes of Q&A. Finalists then made presentations of 10-15 minutes on July 27 for judges who included Karenann Terrell, executive vice president and CIO for Walmart; Helen Vaid, vice president of customer experience; and Michael Bender, executive vice president and COO of global e-commerce.
The winning team created a module for the Walmart Pay app designed to streamline the process of returning merchandise to a brick-and-mortar store. Alexander Sofronas of the winning team explained that the idea for the app came out of their own frustrating experiences returning items at Walmart and other big box retailers. Their solution, called Fast Back, expedites the process by aggregating information into a QR code that would otherwise be conveyed verbally.
“All you have to do is show that QR code and the associate scans it. Instead of having to say all of these pieces of information, it’ll be prepopulated onto the computer,” Sofronas said. “Saving a minute might not sound like a lot, but the real value comes when you compound that over 10 or 15 people.”
As a reward, Sofronas’ team received an expense-paid invitation to participate in the 2016 Walmart Technology Open Call on October 6, where startup technologies from around the world pitch Walmart leadership. The team will also be able to network at October’s Northwest Arkansas Technology Summit with a roster of speakers and technology workshops.
Sofronas and his team also receive mentoring from Startup Junkie Consulting, a company that helps small businesses and startups innovate in retail, consumer-packaged goods, supply chain and data analytics. A two-month mentorship program preceding the Oct. 6 Open Call event focuses on presentation skills, engineering and user-interface design. After the students work with Startup Junkie and members of the entrepreneurial community in Arkansas, they’ll be better equipped to join the ever-evolving startup world.
Tom Douglass, director of Walmart’s Lab 415-C, summarized the value of the hackathon in shaping future leaders in retail technology: “It really gives you a lot of inspiration in what’s coming down the road with the next generation of folks that are going to be in the workforce,” he said. “They have such a fresh outlook, and they really have a great way of working with one another. It’s going to be exciting times as they enter the workforce.”