Collins College Hosts AI Hackathon with Alumni-Owned Company

April 5, 2024

The Lesley H. and William L. Collins College of Professional Studies recently partnered with Headstarter Inc., an Artificial Intelligence (AI) startup cofounded by St. John’s University alumnus Faizan Ahmed ’22CCPS, ’23GCCPS, to host the Headstarter AI Hackathon, a competition that challenges students to create AI projects addressing the company’s business needs. 

“This event highlighted the value of alumni involvement in inspiring current students and showcasing the benefits of academic clubs like St. John’s student chapter of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM),” said Joan E. DeBello, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Mathematics and Computer Science, and Chair, Division of Computer Science, Mathematics, and Science.

Mr. Ahmed earned a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science and a master’s in Data Science from the College. During his time at St. John’s, he led ACM’s student chapter and published research on deep learning with Fazel Keshtkar, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Division of Computer Science, Mathematics, and Science. These experiences led to internships at Bloomberg and Amazon. 

His passion for teaching and AI inspired him to establish Headstarter with Yasin Ehsan. Since its inception, Headstarter has secured substantial funding, hired full-time employees, partnered with Intel, and assisted numerous students in entering the tech industry. Its AI agent is designed to simplify learning algorithms and interviews by processing code, speech, memory, facial emotions, and whiteboarding inputs, providing instant voice and code responses based on past interactions. 

“This platform evaluates users not just on coding skills, but also on communication, collaboration, problem-solving, understanding, and professionalism—essential qualities for aspiring software engineers,” Mr. Ahmed explained. “Headstarter aims to democratize learning algorithms and interviewing through its AI agent, which interacts like a real, one-on-one tutor.”

The winning team received a sweatshirt and a two-month subscription to Headstarter and will intern at the company for three weeks this summer. Second- and third-place winners received a two-month subscription to Headstarter.