High school sophomore Joy Liu’s frustration was mounting.
A few months earlier, she had approached Hack Club with an exciting idea: to run Central Pennsylvania’s first high school hackathon, bringing together hundreds of local students into a 24-hour coding festival where they’d learn to build apps, websites, and games.
She got busy assembling the parts, including a motivated, talented group of student organizers, community donors, and us: a national organization dedicated to supporting student hackers with programming and expertise. It would be the first and largest high school hackathon in the state outside Philadelphia.
Everything was finally starting to fall into place. They secured their venue, Facebook had just signed on as one of their first sponsors, and they had even launched their website for attendee registration.
But now it was starting to fall apart.
And the reason why was terrible: Joy was too young to have a bank account so she couldn’t accept sponsorship or access funds.
Joy wasn’t alone. She was one of hundreds of students calling Hack Club with their ideas and initiative about to die before getting off the ground due to being unable to open bank accounts or acquire nonprofit status, a process that can take up to 40 hours of a lawyer’s time. Too often, these calls came from students from low-income families who couldn’t reach into parents’ deep pockets or afford to hire attorneys to help them.
As the executive director of Hack Club, a nonprofit network of high school programming clubs, I had already been watching with frustration as students with the best ideas and energy failed for the pettiest reason: our financial system locks out young people. Too often, I saw students’ ideas killed by the very institutions — schools and government — meant to support and encourage them.
The underlying message from grown-ups to students was one they were all too familiar with: you aren’t mature enough to do this. Wait until you’re older. The system isn’t set up to empower you—it’s designed to block you.
Today, Hack Club is changing that. We’re launching Hack Club Bank 1.0 and opening sign-ups to the public for the first time.
With Hack Club Bank, students running events can choose to store their money with Hack Club, meaning they get access to:
- A bank account backed by Silicon Valley Bank
- 501(c)(3) nonprofit status through our legal entity, so donations to events are tax deductible
- Invoicing software that allows sponsors to pay via debit card, credit card, wire transfer, and ACH
- Debit cards that can be issued to team members, even if they’re under 18
- G Suite accounts, so everyone gets a custom email address like firstname.lastname@example.org
- A dedicated point-of-contact with a best-effort 12-hour response window
- Custom pre-written liability and photo releases for attendees
- Automated end of year tax filings, so organizers can focus on running a great event while we take care of compliance
We are building on our first year of success. We first announced our beta of Hack Club Bank in June 2018 (see post) and have since worked with over 40 events totaling 2,000+ unique attendees, crossing $250K in transactions.
We’ve collectively spent hundreds of hours on calls with hackathon organizers learning their true needs and how Hack Club Bank can better serve them. We’ve even pulled organizers from events to be involved in building the platform, like Theo Bleier from MAHacks.
Over the past month, we’ve taken everything we’ve learned and re-designed every single page and feature of Hack Club Bank to focus on what organizers need most.
- Invoices have been drastically streamlined and now send instantly
- Organizers can now see funds from paid invoices that haven’t hit the bank account yet
- Transactions can now be searched and broken down between revenue, fiscal sponsorship fees, card transfers, and reimbursements
- Issuing debit cards is now free through our partnership with Emburse
- Team management has been completely overhauled with a new interface and new features, like canceling sent invites and removing teammates
What’s more, sign-ups are now open for every student-led high school and collegiate hackathon in the United States. Hack Club Bank previously required an invite from an existing event or staff member to apply.
We’re also opening sign-ups to our network of hundreds of high school coding clubs. Now, if you run a Hack Club, you can get a bank account through Hack Club Bank to collect sponsorship, buy food for meetings, and run events.
For students like Joy, this will make all the difference. Fortunately, her hackathon, Hack Pennsylvania, had access to our beta.
She exchanged ideas on Hack Club’s Slack community, where she found co-organizers and learned from others how to raise money. The local hardware store gave $1000. The second check came from a local university.
She saw examples of how to send emails to national companies, like Facebook and Google. In the end, they raised nearly $15,000.
The narrative was simple: we’re a group of teenagers that believe coding changes lives, and we want to bring this opportunity to our community. The local church agreed to host the gathering. After weeks of advertising, including hundreds of outreach emails, 250 people signed up.
A few days before the event launched, storm clouds gathered—literally. The biggest blizzard of the year hit. As the snow fell, Joy and others feared it would be a disaster. But people still showed nonetheless: there was a line out the door an hour before the event, and more than 100 attendees checked in, myself included.
93% of attendees had never attended a hackathon before. 45% had never written a line of code before. Nearly half the event was young women.
As the temperature dropped and the second foot of snow came down, I found myself helping a 7th grade girl building a minimalistic clone of The Sims, her favorite game, in p5.js.
It was her first time writing code and she was having a blast.