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Hackathon Works to Close the Digital Divide

The ConnectAnacostia Business Model Hackathon brough community members together to solve a key local challenge.

The Challenge

Date: 

October 19, 2023

Tagged: 

Addressing the digital skills gap is crucial for the holistic development and resilience of communities. Without these skills, Anacostia residents numerous challenges, including economic disadvantages, educational disparities, limited access to information and services, inequity exacerbation, the erosion of cultural identity, reduced civic engagement, and social isolation.

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The Project

An exciting one-week long DC Business Model Hackathon to spur innovation among teams of participants ranging from technology, community, and local government background.

Key Takeaways

  • An issue-based hackathon can catalyze needed innovation by convening key information, resources, people, and incentives.

  • Diverse skills and backgrounds on each team was key to developing a solid business model.

  • Strong mentorship ready to be deployed for guidance and support made the difference for many teams.

  • The first-place winners’ business model focused on Anacostia residents’ need for reliable high-speed Internet. The team proposed building their own municipal node network, called AnaMesh to deliver no-cost Wi-Fi access to residents and advisory services to DC. This would diminish the reliance on Internet Service Providers and expand Internet connectivity to those who need it most in the community.

The Anacostia BID continues to do the vital work of strengthening DC’s Ward 8 businesses and residents through partnerships and out-of-the-box thinking that provide community centered professional programs like the Connect Anacostia Business Model Hackathon.

Kristina Noell, Executive Director of the Anacostia BID

The Project in Detail

After a 12-hour hackathon and pitch, judges crowned the Anacostia Community Internet Solutions team as the winners of the Connect Anacostia Business Model Hackathon. Their group, consisting of Olorunfemi Adisa, Lyric Prince Harris, Rylinda Rhodes, Laura Thomas, and Yemi Adewunmi, was one of six teams consisting of local small business leaders, community members, and entrepreneurs tasked with creating a business model to upskill Anacostia residents.


The judges also selected the Fresh Start Digital Financial Key team for second place. First place winners received 10,000 Amazon Web Services credits each and $2,000 and second place winners received 10,000 Amazon Web Services credits each and $1,000.

The first-place winners’ business model focused on Anacostia residents’ need for reliable high-speed Internet. The team proposed building their own municipal node network, called AnaMesh to deliver no-cost Wi-Fi access to residents and advisory services to DC. This would diminish the reliance on Internet Service Providers and expand Internet connectivity to those who need it most in the community.


“Anacostia is full of talented folks, but because of the historic lack of reliable and affordable Internet access in the neighborhood, some residents have fallen behind in digital skills and literacy – the skills required to engage in critical aspects of the modern economy,” said Catherine Forrest of US Ignite. “For Anacostia residents to truly thrive in entrepreneurial endeavors, business leaders need to build the community’s digital skills through innovative models like the ones proposed by the winning teams.”


“The Internet is a vital public utility that all constituents need. We see students complete homework at fast food places because they don’t have access at home,” the winning team stated. “We see residents unable to connect to tele-healthcare services and emergency services delayed. We came up with the AnaMesh solution to ameliorate all of this and empower our community to thrive.”The runner-up team focused their business model on giving formerly incarcerated, undocumented, and under-banked residents access to digital financial products and digital literacy training through a digital financial key called Fresh Start. The team proposed partnering with banks and financial institutions in a private-public-partnership model to increase banking in this niche community.


The teams received coaching and mentorship from experts and executives at AWS, Anacostia BID, AreaProbe, Build Within, CivStart, Capital eXperience Group, DC’s Office of the Chief Technology Officer (OCTO), DC Department of Small and Local Business Development, George Mason University, George Washington University, JessBe Creative, K Street Capital, Columbia Capital, Manifest, Model b, Astra Capital Management, EducationSuperHighway, Product Savvy Consulting, Conways Field & Court, University of the District of Columbia, Institute for Defense Analysis (IDA), Enlightened, Inc. and US Ignite.

This hackathon was made possible by the leadership of US-Ignite and InnovateDMV, and the sponsorships and support of many others mentioned above.

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