Student guides team to first place at HackDFW in Dallas

By Izbel Torres

Ambitious. Persistent. Driven.

These are the words used to describe Simal Adenwala, a second-year finance, real estate and law student at Cal Poly Pomona. These characterisitics are what set him apart.

As the current treasurer of Poly Founders, an entrepreneurship club on campus, Adenwala helped organize CPP’s second annual HackPoly event.

The experience he had with HackPoly influenced him to attend HackDFW, a 24-hour invention competition in Dallas, Texas. According to The Dallas Morning News, more than 500 high school and college students from across the United States, Mexico and Canada participated.

Adenwala and his team won first place for their virtual reality simulation, Dino World. Through the use of Oculus Rift, the program creates and displays a dinosaur ecosystem simulation for students to explore the past and learn about evolution.

“He’s really ambitious and persistent,” said Amy Ta, a third-year marketing student and Poly Founders member. “I feel he really embodies what CPP is about, which is hands-on learning and doing stuff for yourself.”

Several setbacks prevented Adenwala from arriving in Dallas in time for the event. Weather restrictions in Dallas caused multiple flight delays, and many members of Adenwala’s team were unable to attend due to those delays. With diligence and determination, Adenwala managed to obtain a last-minute flight the day of the event. He arrived in Dallas several hours after the event registration, and was fortunate to join a team he met at the airport.

“Simal is actually a courageous and bold character,” said Bryan Thornbury, a fifth-year computer science student and co-president of Poly Founders. “He is the kind of person who is not afraid to go up and talk to somebody he doesn’t know, and he’ll introduce himself. Almost always, when he goes somewhere, he’ll tell us that he met [someone] and [will suggest] that we bring [him or her] in for [an event].”

At the event, Adenwala helped facilitate ideas and did the pitching and marketing for Dino World. In the finals, he spoke in front of big name judges, such as investor and Shark Tank star Mark Cuban and NFL Hall of Famer Michael Irvin.

Adenwala attributes part of his team’s victory to a bold move he made while on stage.

“We were last, and I was pitching,” said Adenwala. “There were 15 seconds left. I just said ‘I have a special request for Mr. Mark Cuban. Please come on stage and explore the future with us.’ [Cuban] tried it on for like 30 seconds before [calling the other judges on stage]. I wasn’t supposed to do that, but it goes to show that you have to make your own luck. I think that’s why we won, because I got them to try the product. No one did that.”

The first place win was a bit unexpected for Adenwala, as this was his first hackathon.

“After we found out we made top seven, that was the height of my excitement,” said Adenwala. “When we pitched our idea and we found out we won first place, I just had no emotion. I just didn’t feel anything. It was weird. But it hit me about one to two weeks after.”

Adenwala and his team’s success was obvious to Ta, who attended the event.

“As soon as they finished presenting, I knew they were going to win first place for sure,” said Ta. “I was really excited for Simal. It’s a pride thing; he’s from our school and he’s a friend of mine. He’s representing not only himself, but also all of us here at CPP and our club. I think he was just thinking outside the box, and that’s what makes Simal awesome.”

Adenwala is now headed to Global Hackathon Seoul in Korea this summer, and plans to attend more hackathons in the future.

“Simal makes some moves that are impressive,” said Thornbury. “He’s not afraid to bend the rules a little bit. In Poly Founders, that’s what we love to see. Enterprising is the word I like to use. He’s always going for something.”


Courtesy Simal Ademwala


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