BRITE Energy Innovators

Taking Collaboration Virtual: BRITEhack 2021

In 2018 we launched our civic hackathon as a way to work with the community to source solutions to problems faced by our neighbors. That first hackathon saw us partner with the City of Warren’s wastewater treatment department. That year, the winning team brought together innovative ideas team members would later help the City of Warren implement. In the end, the improvements proposed & implemented will lead to a cost savings of $400 thousand over 10 years for the City of Warren. This inaugural event validated the reason we created such an event (now called BRITEhack): we would leverage our network to bring together creative thinkers and help other organizations in the community and in the region.

This year’s iteration was not much different from our original vision. In this third year of our hackathon, we partnered with Trumbull Family Fitness (TFF). Started in 1928 as a YMCA, TFF’s roots date back almost 100 years, as does its building. In recent years, regular maintenance, while necessary, has not been enough to keep the building in an optimal state. With an old building and equipment wearing out, TFF faces rising costs amid the question of what improvements can be made to improve the facility’s energy efficiency, reduce costs and improve the maintenance & day-to-day operations of the building. 

We at BRITE knew a little about TFF’s struggles, and we reached out to them to see if they were interested in being the subject of our annual hackathon. After discussion about the process and learning some more about Trumbull Family Fitness, we agreed to work together and began putting together the necessary information we would need to make such an event a success. After getting all the data together, one thing stood in our way: a global pandemic. 

In years past, the hackathon relied on an in-person format: facility tours, working together on teams and presentations all took place in person, whether things were at BRITE or elsewhere. But this year, with restrictions reducing the size of events and safety on our minds, we knew it would be impossible to host BRITEhack as we had in the past. We had to go virtual.

Taking BRITEhack virtual brought certain challenges, but after some careful thought we set about making the event a success. To this extent we setup a dedicated Discord server for participants to chat and video chat; we made a webpage where hosted TFF’s data and a virtual tour of the building and we coordinated Zoom meetings throughout the day of BRITEhack. (One notable upside to this year’s virtual format was that participation was no longer limited by geographic boundaries, allowing BRITEhack to have its first participant from China!)

Ultimately, the event was successful, and after a day of working together under a tight deadline to prepare plans and pitches that could address TFF’s issues head on, four teams brought forward unique approaches to address the problem at hand, as well as others. One team recommended the implementation of a proprietary solar rack system that could drastically reduce TFF’s need for energy procured from utilities. Another team brought forward a comprehensive plan to address critical areas of TFF’s operations that could be improved, with the emphasis that updating their lighting systems could pay for itself in just a few years.

At the end of the day, the teams and participants of BRITEhack brought forward big ideas and great plans that can help TFF make significant changes for the better. We want to thank all the participants who put in the time and hard work to make a difference. We would also like to thank our sponsors who made BRITEhack 2021 possible: PNC Bank, WFMJ, FirstEnergy, Cortland Bank, Covelli Enterprises, AVI Foodsystems, WRPA and The Richard and Rhonda Thompson Foundation.

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