The Inaugural Hack-Homewood Was a Success

One of the most exciting events of this fall season was Hack-Homewood, a competition for undergraduate students created and led by Cobalt Consulting Group – a student-founded and led consulting organization. Sponsored by Deloitte, the first-ever Hack-Homewood was a resounding success, with hopes to grow next year.

Hack-Homewood ran from September 13 to 17, and gave Hopkins undergraduate students regardless of their major, the opportunity to create real and implementable solutions for University issues that have been proposed directly by leadership at JHU. After a consultation with the University leadership, the hackathon had a highly timely topic at its core – energy conservation and sustainability at Johns Hopkins. And the important task? Increase the laboratory freezers sustainability throughout the university.

“Sustainability is currently one of the largest long term priorities for the University and our event addressed this directly from the angle of the “Freezer Challenge” which is actively being addressed by many working groups on campus such as the Green Labs initiative,” said Alex Kernagis (KSAS ’23), Managing Partner at Cobalt Consulting.

After a week of screening many proposed solutions, 6 teams were selected to participate in a live, guest-judged, process which included a 15-minute presentation with 5 minutes of Q&A from our guest judges. The top team was awarded a $300 prize and the 2nd place team was awarded a $200 prize. The solutions of the top teams involved a “centralized, rent-based, system for purchasing lab freezers to reduce energy consumption combined with a unique PI incentivization program” and “the creation of a multi-leveled student response team to implement sustainable practices for lab freezers by creating a registry of all freezers, defrosting and cleaning freezers and assisting in long-term freezer replacement.”

“It was also exciting to witness the range of pragmatic and creative solutions that were presented from the various undergraduate submissions. Both of these solutions were remarkably unique and took into account the many different layers of hurdles associated with overcoming the laboratory sustainability challenge specific to JHU,” said Jake Pearson (KSAS ’22), Partner at Cobalt Consulting.

Run by Cobalt Consulting Group, Hack-Homewood 2021 was a result of input from various groups and departments inside the JHU. Organizers used advice and data from the Provost’s Department, JHU Green Labs initiative working group, the Bloomberg School of Public Health, and the JHU Sustainability Leadership Council to craft the guidelines and background for the event. Deloitte was their corporate sponsor for Hack-Homewood 2021, and their guest judge panel included Amritpal Bhohi (Deloitte Senior Manager) and Lauren Roedersheimer (Deloitte Senior Manager), as well as Ryan Weeks and James Leatherman of the JHU Green Labs working group.

“Some of our guest judges work directly with Green Labs and so our solutions were analyzed from the perspectives of individuals that are actively working towards increasing laboratory sustainability across the JHU campus. These folks understand how the laboratory system works specifically at JHU, but also how difficult it can be to push the needle with the amount of various groups and bureaucracy involved to create and implement change. This lent us to have some great conversations between our contestants and guest judges during our panel, allowing for an open discourse about how to approach different aspects of solutions,” said Kernagis.

Cobalt is a consulting student organization with a strong focus on healthcare and life sciences. It was founded by Alex Kernagis, Rayna Saldanha, Andres Melendez and Jake Pearson in 2020 and acts as a bridge between the business world and the scientific aspect. They currently have 17 members in the consulting team and 8 members in the operations team, who are all JHU undergraduate students. Nearly half of the team comes with experience in the biomedical Engineering Department, the top BME program in the nation, while the rest of the team comes with work experience from top consulting firms. The balance between business and science enables the organization to reach out to target customers, develop innovative solutions, and present them to customers professionally in order to bring actionable solutions into the conversation. The mission of the Cobalt Consulting Group is to provide professional consulting services to life-sciences, healthcare, and technology companies. They provide lasting, meaningful, and succinct recommendations to their clients, while at the same time being an impactful organization that attracts and retains motivated, determined, and eager students.

“It isn’t every day that undergraduates get to witness first-hand the technologies of billion dollar biotech corporations and simultaneously work through obstacles with biotechnology executives first-hand. As of November 2021, Cobalt will have worked with over 10 companies ranging from rapidly expanding medical technology ventures to extremely established leaders within biotechnology,” said Andres Melendez, one of the founders of Cobalt.

Cobalt was co-founded in 2020 by (pictured from left to right) Alex Kernagis, Rayna Saldanha, Andres Melendez and Jake Pearson

Although founded only last year, Cobalt has already closed out engagements with firms valued at $32 billion in collective market capitalization while also advising rapidly growing ventures bringing in over $200 million in total funding to date. Their previous clients include Personal Genome Diagnostics, Smith detection, and Accelerate Diagnostics. In the academic year of 2020-2021, Cobalt received almost $20,000 in donations, a portion of which it used to fund a student prize for a FastForward U student entrepreneurship event, the startup accelerator run through Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures.

“Looking ahead, our intention is to give the undergraduate population at Hopkins the opportunity to not only explore a career in consulting but various sectors within life-sciences and medicine that could potentially change the course of their careers,” said Rayna Saldanha (KSAS ’23), Partner at Cobalt.

Andres Melendez remains hopeful as Cobalt continues to go forward with their mission to create a real-life consulting experience for Hopkins students: “Into the future, we want to continue to harness the brightness of our undergraduate student body to create pragmatic and impactful proposals for the University. By communicating with leadership before and after Hack Homewood, we get a sense of issues that the University wants addressed and also potentially witness the real, local and relatable implementations of the solutions put forth by the student body. Along with these types of events, the rest of the work we do primarily comes from our consulting engagements with actual companies. This has given our members an incredible extracurricular experience as they have been able to work through realistic problems and research objectives that they would likely face if they were working full-time at these firms.”

Cobalt is excited to welcome all Johns Hopkins University undergraduates, regardless of major, to apply to join Cobalt. Members can gain invaluable experience working with companies and collaborating with team members, allowing them to build professional skills for success in a multitude of careers and industries. The application to become a Cobalt consultant is open as of the fall of 2021 and will simulate the interview process that most consultants have to undergo when recruiting for full time roles in the industry. 

You can learn more about Cobalt Consulting and how to become a part of its team on their website: https://www.cobaltconsultinggroup.com/.

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