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Six things participants need to know about the 2017-2018 RJI Student Competition

Story by Jennifer Nelson, Reynolds Journalism Institute

The 2017-2018 RJI Student Competition will differ in two ways from past competitions: Students from outside the University of Missouri are eligible to participate and teams may address any issue facing the news industry.

The annual technology competition is sponsored by the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute at the Missouri School of Journalism. Past winning products include SafeTrek, a public safety app.

This year’s competition kicked off Sept. 19 at RJI with an informational meeting. If you weren’t able to attend, here are six things participants need to know:

1. Tiger Hacks, which will be held Oct. 13-15 at the University of Missouri, will be a good opportunity to meet potential teammates. During the hackathon, students will compete to win prizes such as Amazon Echos, drones, Surface tablets, Go Pros and Raspberry Pis. The hackathon is being judged by representatives from several tech companies, including AT&T, Microsoft and Cerner. This is a potential networking opportunity for those seeking internships and job opportunities at these companies. Tiger Hacks begins at 5 p.m. Oct. 13 at Lafferre Hall at the University of Missouri College of Engineering. There is no cost to participate. Free food will be available throughout the weekend. Register now.

2. Friends from other colleges or universities are welcome to participate in the RJI Student Competition. However, in order to take part in the competition, any non-University of Missouri students must attend the hackathon first. Eighteen-year-old high school students are also eligible for the RJI Student Competition if they attend Tiger Hacks.

3. Form your diverse group of teammates by Oct. 27. Finding students from various academic disciplines and skill sets will be necessary because teams will not only develop a prototype, but create business and marketing plans as well. As you look for team members, you’re encouraged to spend time with people to see if you can work well together and come up with similar goals for the competition, said Reuben Stern, a competition mentor and deputy director of the RJI Futures Lab. This competition is open to all experience levels, so embrace the skills and knowledge you already have and be ready to learn and grow more, he says.

4. You’ll need to come up with a product that will address a need and people will use. 

Here are five media topics to get you started: 

  • Audience engagement.
  • Fake news/accuracy/transparency.
  • Media trust.
  • Advertising blockers.
  • Revenue generation.

Here are six technology platforms to consider: 

  • Artificial intelligence.
  • Mobile devices.
  • Social media.
  • Wearable technology.
  • Voice-controlled devices like Amazon Echo.
  • Virtual reality and augmented reality.

5. There will be plenty of people to help you along the way. Organizers will conduct a brainstorming session on the first night of Tiger Hacks. There’ll also be technical workshops during the hackathon to help students with iOS and Android development and machine-learning development skills. RJI will offer mentorship at Tiger Hacks and throughout the RJI Student Competition process. Mentors include Stern; Mike McKean, RJI associate director; Shawn Moore, RJI lead programmer; Dale Musser, MU College of Engineering associate teaching professor and RJI chief technology adviser; and Ebony Reed, director of innovation and the RJI Futures Lab. Boot camps will be held during the student competition season to help students develop their presentation, marketing, legal and business strategy skills.

6. The RJI Student Competition could help you in your post-college careers. Some student teams continue developing their products after graduation. Others apply the skills they learned in the competition to their current career endeavors.

  • The safety app SafeTrek won the 2013 competition and went on to become a successful startup that recently raised $3.2 million.
  • Interviewing and transcription app Recordly won the 2015-2016 competition. The Recordly team is preparing to launch its app next month in the Apple Store.
  • Members of the event-mapping startup Maply, which received the Technical Merit Award during the 2015-2016 competition, are now working full time on the app in Austin, Texas, raising money and acquiring more customers.
  • Tony Brown, who was part of the 2008-2009 winning team NearBuy, went on to build mobile apps for Newsy with his teammates. He is now vice president of product at Newsy.