Before “crackers” turned “hackers” into what can only now be described these days as a pretty negative term, hackers were known as  programmers who created. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, for one, admires hackers so much that his company’s California headquarters are located at 1 Hacker Way. 

So an event this weekend at the American Underground is a gathering of good hackers who will be seeing to develop a product or a service within a mere 54 hours.

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Called the American Underground Hackathon, the event is being put on by Kristian Bouw, who runs Durham Internet startup Thryv.

And there are real prizes for the top hackers. The winners will receive guaranteed interviews for possible selection by the Triangle Startup Factory, which picks two groups of startups a year for $50,000 in funding, mentoring and support as well as the possibility and/or a spot in Groundwork Labs, a startup business accelerator.

“It’s a 24 hour hackathon open to all ideas, web or mobile,” Bouw tells The Skinny. “The only rule is that what you create must be done from scratch within the 24 hour time frame of the competition.”

The Hackathon ties in with the expected Sunday night arrival of a StartUpBus full of developers headed for the SXSW show in Austin. Development begins Saturday at 7 p.m, and there is no charge to take part.

So why do this event? The Skinny asked Bouw to share his story.

“This is technically my first time hosting, but not my first time attending,” he says. “While I was in [Washington] D.C., I had the opportunity to attend some of the local hackathons. Those experiences, coupled with the noticeable lack of actionable events in the Triangle area (not meetups), led me to organize the first AU hackathon with support from the Underground and sponsors. There is no connection between Thryv and the hackathon.”

Bouw wants to put on an event that unites “idea” people and marketers with code crunchers and creators.

“Over time (and experience), I’ve realized the importance of technical talent within a startup,” he explains. “If you’re the idea guy and you don’t have the technical talent to build the idea out, you’re left marketing vaporware. This event is to help identify key technical talent in the triangle area, in addition to providing a platform of support for those looking to make the step from part-timepreneurs to entrepreneurs.”

The Hackathon comes the weekend ahead of Startup Weekend where other teams will assemble. But Bouw sees a difference.

“With startup weekend (aside from the time difference), they focus on not just the idea, but the team. They allow designers, developers, marketers, product managers, and startup enthusiasts to join forces to conceptualize and build out a product in 54 hours,” Bouw points out.

“The AU Hackathon is specific to those who hack, designers and developers.

“Because this is one of the first locally curated hackathons, and one we plan to continue potentially bi-yearly, we didn’t have much information on how many designers/developers there were in the area, whether they worked on primarily web/mobile, or if there was a particular domain focus (sports, finance, etc).

“This is one of the primary motivators for excluding business development players.

“The last thing we want to happen is for five biz dev people to show up for every one developer or designer.

“This event is a stepping stone for us to find answers to these questions, allowing us to better structure future AU hackathons.”

Both individuals and teams can take part.

So what’s the bottom line?

“The ultimate objective is to help cultivate the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the Triangle,” Bouw says. “We’re surrounded by a depth of intellectual property, wealth of entrepreneurial resources, and pool of potential talent between four major universities (UNC, NC State, Duke, NC Central). The success of each company in the Triangle has a trickle down effect.

“Every success in the Triangle opens more doors for those following their footsteps, whether it be talent or capital. The more support we can provide to these emerging companies and early stage startups, the more exposure we’ll provide to the Triangle as an entrepreneurial hub.”

The StartUpBus stop in Durham helped set in motion the hackathon.

“Once we found out that the StartupBus was stopping in Durham on their way to SXSW, we set to organize this hackathon to coincide with their arrival,” Bouw says. “Judging for the hackathon begins just as the StartupBus is arriving, allowing them to see what the Triangle hackers have to offer, but also giving them a sounding board to practice pitching their own startups.”

Sounds like this will be an interesting 24 hours, indeed.