Photo: Top 10 finalists and judges share the stage during the wrap-up of Hack the North at the University of Waterloo.

The biggest hackathon in Canadian history finished on a high at the University of Waterloo’s Hagey Hall on Sunday, as 10 winning teams were chosen from 200 projects.

The 1000-participant Hack the North event brought some big-name sponsors like Bloomberg, Apple and Uber, as well as Sam Altman, president of Y Combinator, to Waterloo.

Altman, whose accelerator program in Silicon Valley is arguably the most influential in the startup world, did not hold back in his praise for the event and its host community.

“Waterloo is probably the best up-and-coming startup city in the world,” said Altman, who called Hack the North one of the best hackathons he’s been to.

The event, which began Friday night and wound up Sunday afternoon, lured students from as far away as China, South Korea and Brazil, as well as 300 from the United States.

Like most startup ideas, those at Hack the North all came down to validation from the audience.

“Nobody until an hour ago asked us what the prizes are,” said Kartik Talwar, one of the event’s organizers and a physics and math student at the University of Waterloo.

“It kind of validates the idea that we had a year ago, that people are doing this for fun,” he said.

And participants clearly had fun with the ideas they presented.

The judges, who included Vidyard’s Michael Litt, Kik’s Ted Livingston and Pebble’s Eric Migicovsky, were split into five groups, each with the tough job of selecting two teams from about 40.

The final 10 included:

  • Open Pokemon, a GPS-enabled Pokemon game that uses Thalmic Labs’ Myo technology and voice command
  • Botscape, a complex multi-player artificial intelligence game
  • Lend, the Airbnb for things, which lets you rent items from people in your area and pay online with a credit card or Bitcoin.
  • Remember All, which stores and automatically categorizes your images and video. Advanced search capabilities use image and audio recognition algorithms.
  • Space Bowl, a virtual bowling game that uses the Thalmic Myo and an Oculus Rift
  • Silicon Man, a team of one that strapped an iPhone to the face and hacked together an AI reminder, flashlight, binoculars, and boom box app, all controlled without touching the screen
  • Flock, a smart lock that integrates with Facebook and allows your Facebook friends to enter your home if they scan their Facebook profiles when entering.
  • Guava, which allows hospitals to upload genome scans and cross reference the Human Phenotype Ontology for accurate diagnoses
  •, a web-based app that sends a link to your GPS location without a login or requiring personal info
  • Sign Lang, which uses Leap Motion technology and Thalmic’s Myo to recognize the different gestures of sign language

There were no “prizes” but rather each person on stage got to choose from an impressive lineup of tech gadgets, including an Oculus Rift, any smartwatch (including the unreleased Apple iWatch), an iPad mini, Xbox, PS4, Wii, Kindle, any AR Drone, or a Nexus 5. All winners also received a signed copy of Peter Thiel’s Zero to One.

“We focused on the experience that the students would get instead of the event itself,” said Talwar, who was running on six hours of sleep since Wednesday.

And Hack the North definitely delivered on all fronts.

Students had access to the best technology for the weekend, like Pebble watches, Arduino boards, Oculus Rift headsets and 50 Myos provided by Kitchener-based Thalmic Labs.

Technology aside, students were powered through the 36 hours of hacking with 1,000 cans of Red Bull, 3,000 cans of pop and help from 200 volunteers.

“The students were from different countries around the world, so we wanted to give them a Canadian experience,” said Talwar, adding that, “We gave them Timbits at midnight . . .7,000 of them.”

Add a meal of poutine, bouncy castles and giant slides, and you’ve got one fun-filled dev event.

“I think [Hack the North] is bringing more and more awareness to the exciting things that are happening here in Waterloo; the quality of the students and their capabilities and skills, but just also showing people the community,” said Mike Kirkup, Director of University of Waterloo’s Velocity program.

It’s that community that Talwar credits for pulling off an event of this magnitude.

“The community was really supportive,” he said. “We had so many local companies help us with fundraising, sponsorship in general, marketing and even just helping on the day of. Everyone just believed in it because of the goal of the event, not because of what the outcome would be for them.”

It’s that authenticity that Altman found refreshing.

“I was wondering why Waterloo produced such good startups,” he said. “I sort of think I know now, and I hope that we can spend a lot more time out here.”

With the bar set high as a successful first event wrapped up, it’s safe to say we will see Hack the North 2.0

“Hack the North Round 2 is in the works and we’re hoping to make this an annual event going forwards,” said Kevin Lau, one of the event’s organizers.