The story behind the success of Cluj’s biggest hackathon: a journey of community and innovation


The inaugural Cluj Hackathon, the first hackathon in Romania focused on Artificial Intelligence, and Generative AI took place between June 16-18, 2023, at the Bosch Engineering Center Cluj. More than 115 participants, organized into 43 teams, enthusiastically joined the hackathon, making it one of the most successful events of this kind in Romania.

For three days, the participants had the opportunity to build and develop revolutionary applications and platforms, with access to high-quality mentoring, a wide range of resources, and networking opportunities, with participants from across the country. 

Remarkably, the youngest contestants in the hackathon were two boys, aged only 12, who independently acquired coding skills at home. Motivated to learn new things and connect with like-minded individuals, they opted to participate. With the guidance of mentors, they successfully developed an AI story generator. “It feels immensely gratifying when you code something and witness its functionality. That’s what drives me,” expressed Prisăcaru Thomas, one of the youngest participants in the hackathon.

The youngest contestants in the hackathon were two boys, aged only 12.

The inception of the hackathon took shape when Adrian Vlasiu discovered the boundless potential of ChatGPT. His early engagement with OpenAI’s groundbreaking technology evoked a “deja-vu” moment, similar to the iPhone’s initial market launch. Fuelled by this profound insight, Vlasiu resolved to orchestrate a hackathon, thereby providing a platform for others to explore and harness the transformative power of this remarkable technological advancement.

Adrian Vlasiu, founder of the Cluj Hackathon.

“I wanted to organize the biggest hackathon in Cluj. And I wanted to organize the Untold Festival of hackathons to set a new standard in terms of satisfaction for the participants, satisfaction for the sponsors, and the whole overall experience of the competition. The engaging format of the Cluj Hackathon proved to be a winning recipe because the participants saw a different hackathon format. It’s not just about the competition or the prizes; it’s all about building community, engaging with each other, and succeeding by helping others succeed. We had very generous sponsors and top-class companies like Bosch that enabled us the hackathon location within Cluj-Napoca at the Bosch Engineering Center Cluj, one of the smartest buildings in the office scene in Romania. Untold Festival and Banca Transilvania supported our initiative, giving us a huge boost of confidence. And, of course, we had a scorching topic, artificial intelligence, and ChatGPT.”, said Adrian Vlasiu, founder of the Cluj Hackathon.

Out of the 43 teams which took part, team TestBusters emerged triumphant as they won the first prize in the hackathon. Their creation, an AI-powered solution for automated software testing, showcased ingenuity that pleased all the judges. There were other outstanding projects, and eventually, the score was tight. However, when measured against the hackathon’s primary objective of delivering a functional product within the allotted time, TestBusters stood firmly at the forefront, embodying the essence of the event.

Team TestBusters emerged triumphant as they won the first prize in the hackathon.

“We have created a solution that uses artificial intelligence to test applications automatically, but not only does the test, it also creates tests automatically. With artificial intelligence, it’s possible to automate more and do more. Basically, those tests are needed in every software or manufacturing firm, so we can solve them by automating them. The goal of this kind of application is ease of use. The product manager or the product owner can use it because it’s very simplified; you don’t need to know how to code; you need to fill out a form, and the computer will be able to understand what you want to do.” explained their solution, Gaëtan de Smet and Stan Ciprian, two of the members of the winning team.

The second place was awarded to the Tech Titans, who worked on detecting anomalies in a dataset from a sensor system (car batteries). Their project underscores the importance of data analysis in solving real-world issues. And, not to be overshadowed, Brainiax took the third spot for their effective solution for detecting potholes on the road. As one of the lead engineers from Bosch pointed out, detecting and analyzing potholes on the road in real-time is one of the toughest engineering challenges in the auto industry today.

A team of mentors from diverse backgrounds in technology and entrepreneurship extended unwavering support to the hackathon participants. Their invaluable expertise and guidance catalyzed innovation and critical thinking, nurturing an environment where teams could thrive and unleash their true potential. Through their mentorship, these seasoned professionals empowered the participants, enabling them to transcend boundaries and realize their ideas.

“We started with 43 teams. I was amazed by how motivated they were and how fast they developed a functional prototype that fit the purpose they created it for. It was an excellent start for the participants, and I think that maybe all the startups should go through a hackathon at some point to kickstart their idea.”, said Smaranda Ignat, mentor.

“I’ve seen some great ideas, for example, one team taking care of the blind people and trying to integrate them in society by offering an easier integration in the digital world, like websites that can be translated into Braille, using speech-to-text. I’ve learned a lot from the teams. I believe this mentorship experience happened from both sides. I hope to see at least one or two of the teams hopping to the next stage and talking to some investors.” added Victor Dinică, mentor.

Mentorship during the Cluj Hackathon.

The host for the hackathon was none other than the Bosch Engineering Center Cluj. Renowned for its cutting-edge work in developing software and hardware solutions for automated, electric, and connected driving technologies, the center boasts an end-to-end approach. Bosch Engineering Center Cluj is a pivotal software hub in the realm of automated driving innovation, from crafting the software integrated within the vehicle to the cloud-based software that facilitates seamless connectivity.

“We’ve hosted the Cluj Hackathon to enable the community to grow because AI is a promising technology. Reflecting on our collaborative internal working environment, one of our goals as an engineering center is to develop with the local and international communities. We cannot do a one-man-show these days, it takes teams to build big things, and as a reflection of that, we want to be part of the community, the ecosystem and develop together with the universities, other companies, and startups.”, said Cătălin Golban, responsible for the Department developing Computer Vision technology for automated driving at Bosch Engineering Center Cluj.

The host for the hackathon was the Bosch Engineering Center Cluj.

When considering productivity enhancements, implementing AI can yield significant optimizations across various job domains, encompassing software development and testing. However, the realm of technology development is also profoundly impacted. Notably, Bosch has been harnessing the power of AI for an extensive duration, commencing a decade ago with the ambitious objective of assembling a team specializing in computer vision for automated driving. The outcomes of this endeavor have been truly remarkable, with millions of cars worldwide currently equipped with AI-based technology crafted by the Engineering Center situated in Cluj-Napoca.

“For us, AI is not new, but we see more and more new models emerging, which help us solve problems that previously were either unsolvable or maybe were solved by rather traditional algorithmic methods. The ecosystem consisting of startups and companies needs to adapt, it needs to professionally convert people in the software area to get familiar with using AI when developing features and as productivity tools. I think we should, as a community, not miss that train.

I also think such hackathons’ social and learning parts are essential. People came here to learn not only about technology but also how to pitch ideas and present what they think. I believe that big things can be done in teams, through collaboration, by sharing know-how and exchanging ideas; this is how the community will grow. Events like Cluj Hackathon are a big boost for the community.”, added Cătălin Golban.

With their sights set on the future, the organizers expressed their aspiration for the Cluj Hackathon to become an enduring tradition, extending its legacy into the upcoming year. Driven by an unwavering commitment to excellence, they seek to elevate the standards of hackathon organization, aiming to amplify the event’s quality and the unparalleled value it delivers to participants. By striving for the maximum return on investment, the organizers are relentlessly creating an even more remarkable and rewarding experience for all involved.

Founder, editor in chief of Startups&TheCity.