This spring, Steven Gates helped organize HAkron, the weekend long hackathon hosted at the Bit Factory for students. Gates has built quite a reputation as a hackathon warrior.

A Hungarian immigrant who came to the U.S. when he was just 3 years old, he grew up in Stow and attended his first hackathon when he was a senior in high school, tagging along with his older brother.

Now a senior at the University of Akron, Gates is up to 12 hackathons (four in the past semester alone). He has become such a veteran that he now acts as a mentor to the students and even hosts workshops to share some of his programming knowledge, insights and experiences to help them with their ideas.

Gates spent so much time at these events that he finally got sick of the infamously slow internet connections. To solve the problem of hundreds of hackers all fighting for the same bandwidth at once, he partnered with Cameron Sinko to create a locally hosted repository of software tools that participants can use to build apps and code called Software Lab and worked with the University of Akron’s EXL Center to deploy it at events across the nation.

With this kind of resume, you’d think Gates might have already been snatched up by some hot tech company looking for a problem solver. But that’s not quite how this story goes. Despite his technical qualifications, and his wealth of real-world experience, Gates applied to more than 80 jobs without ever finding the right fit. This is when he first noticed a problem in the hiring process for tech talent.

At the same time, two other local programmers, Nick Crawford and Russell Ratcliffe, were experiencing similar issues. So, the trio linked up and participated in the I-Corps program with the goal of developing a better way for companies to find qualified talent.

Enter DeepHire, a cultural assessment tool that helps match qualified applicants with companies looking to hire based on finding the right culture fit.

Gates and his co-founders originally had internships lined up this summer at established companies, but they’ve decided to go full time with DeepHire, which is now a client of the Bit Factory and getting mentoring help from entrepreneur/mentor James Hilton.

Gates and his team recognize that they bring a lot of technical experience in both front-end and back-end development, but they have a lot to learn about business and they need to learn fast. So their immediate short-term goal is to build a pilot and roll it out as a beta to get feedback from potential users.

“At the end of the day, it’s not a software problem; it’s a people problem,” said Gates. “The DeepHire team is very talented, and we are really enthusiastic about the product. Artificial intelligence is the future, and DeepHire’s inclusion of AI to help companies has awesome potential.”

This fall, Gates will graduate from the University of Akron with a double major in applied math and computer science, and he intends to continue to work full time on DeepHire.

“What excites me is the potential, the vision and the scale of how many people we can help,” he said. “I think I will learn more from this than just going out and getting a programming job.”

To other budding tech entrepreneurs out there, especially the students, Gates offered some advice.

“Even if you don’t know much about business, don’t worry about it. Go to hackathons. Have fun. If you like programming and solving problems, a startup is a natural fit. It feels really good to do something for yourself vs. being one piece of a big machine.”


This post originally appeared in Crain’s Cleveland Business on June 12, 2017