Finnov8 Hackathon: Redefining finance in the digital age

Finnov8 Hackathon: Redefining finance in the digital age

Q&A with Fernanda Sesto

April 5, 2023 | By Bret Ellington


Led by Simon business analytics student Fernanda Sesto ’24 (MSBA), Finnov8 is a new virtual finance “hackathon” event that recently challenged over 100 registered students from all over New York State. These participants were tasked to revolutionize private equity (PE) and venture capital (VC) using technology. Registration has closed for this year, but you can learn all about it for next year in this Q&A with Fernanda below.    

Q: What is Finnov8? 

FS: Finnov8 is a virtual student-led finance hackathon for college and graduate students in the United States on a mission to solve the most pressing issues in the financial services industry. This first year's challenge was centered around “How can we revolutionize private equity and venture capital using technology?” Specifically, how can we use technology to identify and qualify potential investment opportunities more efficiently? Students were provided with a dataset with startup data and trained predictive models to provide investment recommendations. 

Q: What inspired you to create this event?

FS: I've been passionate about startups and venture capital since my first year of college. I've had internships in the industry and saw how manual and subjective the investment process can be in private markets. I also have a background in computer science and feel strongly about making the fundraising process for startups less biased. At the same time, there's been an increased interest in automating tasks in VC/PE and more and more firms are hiring data scientists and data analysts. If we look at the broader financial industry, the number of data science job postings in the financial industry increased by 41%! Additionally, 85% of financial services organizations are currently using AI in some form. I wanted to participate in an event that would teach me more about this topic, but I couldn't find any. So, I decided that it would be great to host one and also give others the opportunity to learn more! 

Q: What can participants expect from the Finnov8 competition?

FS: Just like this year, in the years to come students will be provided with the dataset and more details about the deliverables 24 hours before the competition starts. The accuracy and precision of the models will be evaluated using Kaggle. Teams will be submitting a one-pager with details about their recommendations and how they reached that result to the judges. Judges will choose five finalists and they will have the opportunity to present a demo/pitch of their recommendation. Judges will choose three winners. 

There will also be a discussion panels. This year, there was a panel about data-driven VC (DDVC) featuring University  of Rochester Alumnus and Flowlie founder, Vlad Cazacu; Carta software engineer and VC Gabriella Uwadiegwu; and Salesforce Ventures  data scientist Brian James Murphy. 

We also had student mentors who have experience in VC support the teams on the first day of the competition. Simon Professor Jonathan Shipley hosted a pitching workshop for all teams to learn about presentation skills. 

This year the judges were: Simon Alumni Brad Banikowski, Simon Alumni Charlie Smith, Simon Alumni Prakash Goswami, and Dustin Doucette (Rochester local and Director of Operations at Upstate Venture Connect) 

To avoid bias, the judges never know which schools the teams are part of.  

Q: Who participated in the last Finnov8?

FS: We had over 100 students registered from all over New York State! 

Q: How can students get involved? 

We're always looking for student leaders who would like to host another edition of the hackathon next year! Please contact me at

Q: What sets "Finnov8" apart from other case competitions? 

FS: Even though we have been calling it a hackathon, I would say that Finnov8 is a mix of a hackathon and a case competition given that students are able to present their recommendations to judges. It's not only coding and not only business! It's both! 

Q: How do you envision "Finnov8" impacting participants? 

FS: I hope that students walk away with a better understanding of the VC/PE industry and would like to use their hard skills to develop solutions that tackle the inefficiencies most firms experience. I also hope that students have fun and for those that sign up without a team, that they get to make new connections with other business analytics/ data science students! 

Q: Any final thoughts you'd like to share?

I'd like to extend my gratitude to the Ain Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation and the Goergen Institute for Data Science for supporting the planning and organization of this event, as well as my Co-Host Edmund Sepeku (MSBA '24).

Bret Ellington

Bret Ellington is a senior copywriter and content creator for the Simon Business School Marketing Department.

Follow Simon Business School News for the latest articles in this series at Simon News & Highlights.


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