Startup TO – Interview with AngelHack Toronto Organizer JJ Beh

Startup TO - AngelHack Toronto. Photo via


AngelHack, the hottest buzz in travelling hackathons/incubators, just wrapped up its latest event this past week in Toronto on December 1-2.   With 11 city stops in total, AngelHack’s last destination was Sunny Los Angeles.

The cities may all be very different but the overarching goal of it all is the same – to unite developers around the world to brainstorm new business ideas and hack them together, for a chance to be one of a lucky few winners to be flown to pitch VC’s/Angels in Silicon Valley; the startup big leagues. Not to mention winning prizes and possibly funding from the VC judges during the event.

I had a chance to catch up with JJ Beh, one of the geeks of Hackernest, the group responsible for bringing AngelHack to Toronto.  I wanted to hear his thoughts on the event’s success and secrets behind AngelHack’s momentum.

JJ Beh of AngelHack Toronto

To start, how would you sum up the event in one sentence?

The whole event was a total geek out weekend.

What was AngelHack Toronto’s turnout like?

We had over 250 attendees and 67(!) hacks created! I really have to thank everyone for coming out and helping to make it such a magical event.

How was the traction in Toronto compared to the other largest cities AngelHack stops in?
The Toronto startup environment is growing and quickly catching up. We definitely need a more cohesive tech community, but it is so much better than it was two, five or even 10 years ago.

What makes the AngelHack event so enticing for geeks?

Events like AngelHack and hackathons are great – they compel folks to put pen to paper (egad, that’s like a 90’s colloquialism) and build something – fast. They can finally test out an idea, with a little more vigor, to see whether the idea is executable or not, and if it is, how it ends up potentially iterating into. Worst case, learn that their idea was interesting but is shit on the everything scale, so thank goodness they only spent a weekend on it and a couple of bucks.

Why do you think AngelHack is so successful as a hackathon?

Besides having a global reach, the actual exercise itself is fun and team-based, albeit 24 hours and very intense. It’s a great way to introduce a ‘hack’ idea you have to an entire audience of all types of business people and professionals – in the case of AngelHack Toronto, 400+ sets of eyeballs at a demo. And on top of that, the potential to win a trip to the Bay Area to pitch angels/VCs.  Something most people wouldn’t normally have access to, so that’s pretty compelling for many.

Besides being stressful as hell, what moments really stood out for you?

We had a great panel of judges attend and work through 70 mega-quick two minute pitches. They did an immense job scoring and picking winners.

Also, seeing hundreds of hackers put everything aside, and devote 24 continuous hours turning idea into prototype and then shaking the hands of people, some of which I still hadn’t met, saying how much it meant to them that we volunteered to organize something like this so that they could take a crack at building something new.

Did you just drowse off?

I haven’t really slept since last week.

Before I let you get some sleep, what’s next for your team?

For us, well, we’ll take what we learned from the AngelHack hackathon in stride, and continue to build Hackernest and its vision of uniting our tech community to a greater depth.

We’ve already built an event series of monthly tech socials that consistently draw 250+ ppl yet maintains a high level of transparency/chill-ness/openness/acceptance. We want to address community in more ways – tech founder matching, have more laid back tech-centric friendship building (without the greasy networking feel) cozy events and develop greater alliances with movements like enterprise Toronto.

Thanks to JJ, AngelHack and Hackernest for the interview. AngelHack just goes to show you where a little bit of dedication can take you. You just never know.

Ashley Huffman
Ashley Huffman
Startup, technology and girls in tech evangelist. Can be found behind the scenes at Nano Magnetics Ltd getting things done. Professional @Nanodots builder and Guinness World Record holder. Fan of life hacks, Scrum and WOW, in no particular order. Self proclaimed Twitter addict.

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