U.S. Chief Technology Officer Todd Park posted these two tweets, among others, about his INNOV8 experience in Lafayette last week: "Silicon Bayou — aka Lafayette, Louisiana — is the best kept secret reservoir of innovation mojo in America." "Massively inspired after spending time a #cajuncodefest — amazing competitors; go innovators go!"

Ending childhood obesity was the mission of CajunCodeFest, an INNOV8 Lafayette event that took place Friday and Saturday at the Picard Center, Abdalla Hall and LITE on the UL Lafayette Research Park campus. With a grand prize of $25,000, the event attracted software designers and engineers, undergraduate/graduate students, health care policy leaders, hospital administrators, wellness/nutrition experts, researchers and entrepreneurs who  have a stake in improving kids’ health care. Twenty teams comprised of more than 125 participants competed, with more than 260 people attending. The event was “completely sold out,” says Ramesh Kolluru, director of UL Lafayette’s Center for Business and Information Technologies. “[We] turned away over 60 people.”

The center partnered with U.S. Health and Human Services, Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, FiberCorps and the private sector on the competition. The two-day coding competition transformed health care data into innovative technology solutions that address childhood obesity.

Public sector leaders in attendance included Park, who was recently appointed chief technology officer of the U.S. by President Obama, and Bruce Greenstein, secretary of the Louisiana DHH. Park helped create healthdata.gov, a publicly accessible health data website, in addition to hosting code-a-thons like CajunCodeFest across the nation. It was Greenstein who stepped up to make Park’s participation happen, Kolluru says.

In the past 1.5 years, code-a-thons resulted in more than 50 products, including apps and websites to help patients locate doctors and better manage medications, and launched startups that commercialize those technologies. Joining CajunCodeFest from the private sector were Jay Walker, founder of Priceline.com and curator of TEDMED; Sean Nolan, who runs the HealthVault team at Microsoft; Jose Ramos from Northrop Grumman; and Lafayette native Jared Quoyeser from Intel Corporation.

Competing teams had just more than 24 hours to analyze data, brainstorm ideas and create digital prototypes. The stakes were high: the winning concept and team, “PlayFit” by team BE CAMP VB, received $25,000 and entry to the invitation-only U.S. Health Datapalooza competition.

BE CAMP VB created a system to manage “pickup” games and events, targeting at-risk kids and engaging community groups like churches and the YMCA. “In today’s world it’s much harder to wander downtown and find folks to play ball with — I love that they’ve revived a concept that has both physical and emotional benefits,” Microsoft's Nolan wrote on his blog.

The other cool thing about this team was that they didn’t even know each other before the event. “I matched them up and they just clicked,” Kolluru says.

“The Eating Game” by team Flying Fighting Mongooses were the surprise student team winners, taking home $10,000. Microsoft's Nolan, who served as one of the judges, wrote of the students’ concept: “In one sense this was a classic diet-based challenge system. Eating choices are awarded points, and students and classes in schools compete to get the most points. What I loved about this solution was the details. The team really honed in on how to make this relevant to schools. They knew their market and they had laser-focus. This is so often missing, and it’ll kill a startup. They also took a novel approach to the problem of “cheating” — designing a game that was still effective at education even if kids do cheat. These kids rocked, and I really hope they’ll work with the Lafayette Parish School System soon to pilot their program in the school system.”

“Health Hero” by team PixelDash won “best use of Microsoft technology,” taking home some Xboxes and HealthVault-connected pedometers, plus tuition to attend the new gaming academy in Lafeyette. “This was the first ever nutrition “game” I would actually play,” Nolan wrote. “They used the Kinect to build a grocery bagging game, forcing you to identify quickly-approaching foods as ‘fruits’ or ‘veggies’ and putting them in the right bag. Imagine ‘high fat’ vs. ‘low fat’ and other categories here. The gameplay was fun and engaging, kind of like a physical version of the old Diner Dash. This isn’t easy to do, and especially not in 36 hours.”

Read more from Nolan, a Microsoft "Distinguished Engineer"-turned-honorary-Cajun, here.

The talented team members:

BE CAMP VB included people who didn’t know each other, except through email intros Kolluru made.  
Alla, Vamsee This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. - Dept. of Veterans Affairs, Berlin, Conn.
Burriss, Christopher This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. - InfiniEDGE Software Baton Rouge
Molnar, Peter This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. - Clark Atlanta University Atlanta
Oriade, Banjo This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. - Bethany College Lindsborg, Kan.
Rowe, Jackie This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. - Southwest Louisiana AHEC, Lafayette
Tanory, Betty This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. - Independent, Prairieville
Tanory, Robert This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. - Amedisys Inc., Baton Rouge
Warner, Meredith This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Womans Surgical Specialty, Group Baton Rouge LA

Flying Fighting Mongooses were students from UL Lafayette (grad and undergrad)
Champagne, Jarad This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Deshotels, Luke This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Hefner, Daniel This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Higginbotham, Brady This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. - VCExperts.com, Lafayette
LeDoux, Charles This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Miles, Craig This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Spear, Phil This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Pixel Dash (from Baton Rouge-based companies)

Caro, Dane This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Harvey, John This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Smith, Evan This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Tate, Jason This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

New Old Schoolers won the best start-up potential award.
Ashworth-Sides, Luke This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. - independent, Lafayette
Bain, Josh This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. - independent, Lafayette
Jelveh, Reza This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. - Flying seagull consulting, Hamburg, Germany (came because he wanted to develop a startup in Lafayette)
Miller, Bob This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. - independent, Lafayette
Webb, Keven This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. - independent, Lafayette
Woerner, Tyler This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. - PixelBrush Studios, Lafayette

"There is no problem America can't invent its way out of," an enthusiastic Park told the participants at the opening of the competition, calling CajunCodeFest an "epic event."

"You came out of nowhere to make this happen," he continued. "This is why I'm so optimistic about America."

Let’s just hope Park took his excitement back to D.C. He certainly is in a position to make big things happen for Lafayette.

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