How to Hack - Erie Hack FAQs


Erie Hack 2.0 launches on February 7th, 2019 across the Lake Erie Basin. Got questions about how to participate in this 100k data and engineering competition? This is your guide: How to Hack.


What is Erie Hack?

Erie Hack is a multi-month $100,000 data and engineering competition that unites coders, developers, engineers, water experts, entrepreneurs, environmentalists, and activists to generate enduring solutions to lake Erie’s biggest challenges.

Who organizes Erie Hack?

Erie Hack is a program of Cleveland Water Alliance (CWA), a nonprofit that drives economic development through the expansion of the region’s water innovation ecosystem, or Blue Economy. It is a network of leading corporations, academic institutions, and public agencies in the Lake Erie Basin.CWA partners with Champion organizations in cities around the Lake Erie Basin who organize Erie Hack events within their own communities. Each city holds information sessions, team formation events, hacking days, and a quarter final event. These Champions include TechTown Detroit, WETech Alliance (Windsor), LaunchPad Incubation at the University of Toledo, Blackstone LaunchPad at the University at Buffalo, and the Innovation Collaborative (Erie).

The teams chosen from each city’s quarter final event will go to compete at the Semi-Final in Detroit. Teams who advance will go to Cleveland for the Erie Hack Finals! 


What cities participate in Erie Hack?

Erie Hack’s Champion cities are Cleveland, Detroit/Windsor, Toledo, Buffalo, and Erie. 

What if I don’t live in a city that has Erie Hack events?

If you don’t live one of the cities with an Erie Hack Champion, you can still participate! If you live in Ohio, New York, Michigan, Pennsylvania, or Ontario, you must compete in the quarter final event of the city within your state. (The exception to this rule is Ohio, you may choose between Toledo and Cleveland).

If you do not live in a state with an Erie Hack champion, you may still compete. However, you must have at least one person who is a local partner in one of the Champion cities. For example, if you and your classmates in California want to compete, you may compete if you find a person in Toledo who wants to be on your team.


When is Erie Hack?

Erie Hack 2.0 is a multi-month event. The official competition launch is February 7th. At this time, the full website will launch and begin accepting team and individual registrations.Each city will host a number of local events leading up to quarter final events at the end of March and during April. The Semi-Final is on June 5th in Detroit; the Final is on June 20th in Cleveland. 


Who participates?

Erie Hack is for anyone over the age of 18.Beyond the age restriction, there are no restrictions on who can compete in Erie Hack. Erie hack is for students, professionals, hobbyists, scientists, coders, activists, environmentalists, techies, entrepreneurs -the list goes on. Everyone has a place in this competition!Under 18? Email about getting involved in the High School Hack.


How do I enter the competition?

The best way to get involved is by coming to an Erie Hack event. We have Information Sessions in each city as well as Team Formation Meetups and Hack Days where you can find out more about the competition, meet other people, and seek out mentors, friends, and resources. Go to our website to see the list of events in your city.The next step is to register on the website after it launches on February 7th.

Required to compete:

In order to be eligible to win Erie Hack prizes, you must:

  1. Register as an individual on the website by March 31st.

  2. Join a team. Your team may have no more than five members.

  3. Select a challenge statement(s) to work on.

  4. Participate in your city’s regional Quarter Finals.

If you are selected to move onto the Semi Finals, you will participate as a team in Detroit on the 6th of June. Teams who advance to the final competition will give their final pitches on June 20th in Cleveland.


In order to ensure your success, you are encouraged to:1. Attend Information Sessions and Hacking Days in your Erie Hack city to find collaborators and develop your project.2. Work with Erie Hack expert mentors to support your team.3. Contact your Erie Hack support staff through the Cities page or Cleveland Water Alliance at with any material or technical support needs.

What if I can’t come to one of the events?

That’s totally okay! The only mandatory event is the Quarter Final. Note: if your team advances to the Semi Final and Final, those events are also required.

How can I stay in the loop about everything going on?

Sign up on our webpage. You’ll receive information about the competition, events, and opportunities to get involved. Additionally we encourage you to follow us on Twitter and Facebook

What do I get if I don’t win?

Even if you don’t win a cash prize, Cleveland Water Alliance believes strongly in helping participating teams with great ideas develop their viable solutions and connect with people who can help accelerate your idea. 

I’m interested, but I don’t have all the skills I would need to form a potential pitch. How can I find other people to be on my team?

You don’t need to have it all! Erie Hack is about collaboration. In order to find others to be on your team to develop your pitch, we encourage that you come to Erie Hack events to connect with others who may be looking for a team as well. Additionally, once the website launches on February 7th, you can look for teammates there. 

I have an idea, but I need to talk to someone familiar with the issues who can help me hone my idea. What do I do?

Attending events is a great place to start. Additionally, you can email or your local Erie Hack champion to get connected with a Mentor. 


How can I learn more about Lake Erie and the problems it faces?

A good place to start is at the Challenge Statements. These Challenge Statements were formed after a series of ideation sessions facilitated in collaboration with the NASA Glenn Research Center. Over 150 key stakeholder organizations came together to identify the most pressing challenges facing the Lake Erie Basin. These issues were distilled into seven Challenge Statements. These are a great place to start figuring out what issue you would like to focus on.Additionally, we encourage you to follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and subscribe to our mailing list where we regularly share resources for tackling these issues.

What makes a great pitch?

Check out our judging criteria on the website.

Additionally, for a successful pitch we suggest:

  1. Talk more about your solution than the problem. Focus on what your solution is delivering. Why is it unique? What does it have that doesn’t currently exist? Judges will be familiar with most problems facing Lake Erie, so getting to the meat of your pitch is the most important part.

  2. Give thoughts to partnerships. Who would use your solution? Who could benefit from this? How would it live in scale in the future? Whose support could you leverage to move the idea forward?

  3. Connect with a Mentor - an expert in the area who can help you think through your pitch. To find a Mentor, reach out to 

What came out of Erie Hack in 2017?

Here are some of our favorite articles about Erie Hack and its competitors.NPR’s All Things Considered - “Hacking Lake Erie: Tech Competition Seeks Solutions to Water-Related Problems” - “Saving Lake Erie: 3 local teams compete in finals of Erie Hack competition”Crain’s Cleveland Business - “Aqua men and women put Akron on Erie Hack map”Crain’s Cleveland Business - “Let’s find smart ways to keep Lake Erie great”Toledo Blade - “Wayne State team using buoys to detect Lake Erie pollutants” - “A High School Entrepreneur invents Z Spools”

Additional Success Metrics:

  • 40+ innovative technology solutions generated

  • 100+ collaborating organizations engaged

  • 22 public events in 6 cities and 2 countries

  • 200+ participating innovators on 40+ competing teams

  • Press coverage in 39 states, DC, and Ontario from 150+ press outlets including TV, radio, print, and NPR’s All Things Considered

  • 50+ million impressions via online press, televised content, and other local, regional, and national news media outlets

  • 45+ million impressions across multiple social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Snapchat

  • Continued acceleration of 11 technologies including involvement in numerous projects, grant applications, and funding opportunities


I don’t want to compete - are there other ways I can get involved in Erie Hack?

Yes! There are three major ways that you or your organization can get involved:

1. Submit a Mini-Challenge

Erie Hack Mini-Challenges are short, specific water-related issues that our organizational partners would like to see addressed with innovative products or solutions in the 2019 challenge. By summarizing one of your organizations key water needs in a few sentences and tying it to our broader Challenge statements, you can recruit competing teams to solve it for you. Organizations may also choose to “incentivize” solutions to their challenges by offering a small challenge-specific prize awarded only to top-performing teams tackling your mini-challenge. You can submit a mini-challenge here.

2. Become a Mentor

By mentoring Erie Hack teams, your expertise will both enhance projects and steer them towards your particular space of interest. The time commitment asked of potential mentors is simple: participate as much or as little makes sense for you. If you’re interested in mentoring, you can register here.

3. Become a Sponsor.

Erie Hack provides high-value visibility for our partners as we execute more than 30 on-site events and promote the competition to local and national news. Our aim is to foster cutting-edge tech solutions to Lake Erie’s water challenges and create job opportunities in emerging global markets. If you’re interested in what sponsorship opportunities could look like, please visit the Sponsorship page on our website.

For more information and to sign up for updates, visit our Erie Hack website.

BlogSavannah Tracy