Beh reveals his purpose is long-term: enable local tech communities to create sustainable paths to development in impoverished parts of the world. “Economic development through technological proliferation,” as they put it.
“Passion is largely emotional … I’m not sure having a passionate job is something you can maintain over a long period of time.”
It seems, after trying stints in everything from copywriting to private equity, cartoon voiceovers to development work, Beh has finally found his purpose in HackerNest, the small startup nonprofit that’s bringing local tech communities together in a sort of vehemently-anti-networking networking environment. (And also trying to tackle dementia, but more on that later.)
“If I were going for a PhD, HackerNest would be my thesis – it’s how to save the world…. The gap between rich and poor is massive, and the difference is technology.”
HackerNest serves three functions.
First, the aforementioned Tech Socials draw like-minded individuals together for no explicit end goal other than to enjoy “nerdy” conversations and to make friends. Beh acknowledges that employment or funding opportunities may result, but he is insistent that agenda-free attentiveness is just a better way to interact.
So successfully crafted are the events that they’ve been replicated in 24 cities (14 countries across five continents), from Manchester to Manila to Melbourne. Beh and his team (which includes co-founding brother JJ Beh) train new chapters’ community-builders on event management, branding and “tricks” they adopt to make the experience comfortable. The goal is to have the socials’ success be mirrored in more and more developing cities.
Second, they are working on HackerNest Unite, a platform to bring the tech community together. It consolidates relevant resources, job posts, events, and news into a single hub to bolster the local tech ecosystem.
“If you were looking to get into the industry, you probably wouldn’t know where to start. There’s no ‘home’ for Toronto tech at this point, no go-to place for information, for knowledge, for advice.”
“Building these communities is the first step,” he explains, alluding to his larger goal of facilitating economic development.
Finally, as its name might suggest, HackerNest holds hackathons – an industry trend that brings together developers, designers and problem-solvers to address issues or topics by working in teams within a defined time span.
“I’m a little biased, but we run the world’s best hackathons,” Beh says. “It’s the spirit of the event; the quality of projects that emerge; how well thought-out it is.”
While their upcoming CourtHack will include a U.S. Supreme Court Justice on their judging panel, it’s the team’s most recent initiative on Dementia, backed by Facebook and the U.K. government, that has garnered the most attention, earning coverage in The Globe and Mail, Maclean’s, CBC and The Independent.
DementiaHack, which took place in Toronto last November, is unique in several ways. To treat the topic respectfully, the team consulted with clinicians, caregivers, and people living with dementia to uncover the most endemic issues, and then created challenges around some of those.
“Packages of solvable things,” Beh says.
Five-hundred people attended the last DementiaHack, resulting in over 70 projects, and judges acted as mentors to the teams in advance in order to ensure that viable ideas and companies resulted from the weighty event. There is another planned for New York this year.
DementiaHack is Beh’s proudest achievement thus far. “It was a monumental event,” he says. Winners from 2014 are going into clinical trials and one team from 2015 was just acquired by a public company.
“The feedback we’ve gotten has been universally positive…. Everyone had fun; people came out feeling really inspired and really fulfilled. And hopeful.”
Beh expects good outcomes but he’s in no hurry.
“The success of HackerNest will be visible in 10-15 years,” he says.
“We have enormous plans for this planet.”