Source: Cornell

Hilton and the Leland C. and Mary M. Pillsbury Institute for Hospitality Entrepreneurship (PIHE) at Cornell University's School of Hospitality Administration (SHA) joined forces to bring students from across the University together for a two-day Hackathon on the Cornell campus in Ithaca. The Hackathon focused students on creating personalized digital customer journeys to deliver world-class, differentiated experiences.

Among the students that competed at the event, more than 40% were "hotelies," students at the industry leading Cornell Hotel School, while more than 50% came from other academic disciplines at the University, including Computer Science, Engineering, Arts & Sciences and the Johnson Graduate School of Management.

Steven Longstreet, Senior Director of Data & Analytics Strategy Hilton, said, "The power of the Hospitality Hackathon came through connecting students from all schools and majors with top industry and academic talent to create something amazing. Students were challenged to meet new people, build cross-functional teams, ideate with industry experts, build and pitch their concept in just over a 24-hour period. To a team, the Cornell students exceeded expectations with a range of innovative concepts with fresh perspectives."

Source: CornellSource: Cornell
Source: Cornell

Lee Pillsbury said, "Today more than ever, the industry is being shaped by young professionals who understand the complex interplay of technology and decision-making as guides for hotel profitability, innovation, and a great guest experience. The Pillsbury Institute is a unique laboratory for that discussion, as well as others that are literally shaping the future of the industry. I am delighted to see the engagement between PIHE and Hilton, as they encourage this student leadership - and look forward to supporting many more collaborations in the future."

Winners of the hackathon received cash prizes and two nights stay at any Hilton brand hotel around the world. Students representing the group "L'Hospital," captured first prize. Traditionally hotels matched guests to room types, but L'Hospital layered on digital data to build in experiential preferences to room selection to both improve the guest experience and optimize the room cleaning order to better align with predicted guest arrivals.

Alongside the technology competition, students participated in workshops conducted by Hilton professionals, with support from Cornell faculty and mentors, including:

  • "Building a Successful Product"
  • "Accessing, Manipulating and Understanding Data"
  • "Effective Storytelling - Building a Strong Pitch"

The Pillsbury Institute plans a robust schedule of industry engagement opportunities throughout 2020 through Thought Leadership Roundtables, Entrepreneur in Residence Program, and Hospitality Pitch Deck and Business Plan Competitions.


Launched in 2006, the Leland C. and Mary M. Pillsbury Institute for Hospitality Entrepreneurship (PIHE) at the Cornell School of Hotel Administration (SHA) teams students with seasoned faculty and accomplished entrepreneurs to help them develop the knowledge, skills, and practical experience to pursue innovation in hospitality. The Pillsbury Institute is also a source of information on creating a hospitality business, managing a small and family-operated business, purchasing a franchise, developing a corporate venture, funding new ventures, and the science of innovation.

The institute guides the experiential learning process by creating programs that focus on business planning. These programs help students gain experience while reinforcing learning. The best plans provide a foundation on which to grow a business—the driver of economic development and generator of innovative ideas in hospitality.

The Pillsbury Institute engages with students, faculty, alumni, entrepreneurs, and innovators—stakeholders who have a direct tie to the hospitality industry. With the support of the Advisory Board members and through the Entrepreneurs in Residence program, the institute drives outreach, guarantees programs are relevant, and embraces current trends in hospitality. PIHE was named for the generous gift from Lee '69 and his wife Mary. The Pillsbury's gift of $15 million to SHA was the largest single gift ever made to the school and one of the largest ever in hospitality education.

About the Cornell Nolan School of Hotel Administration

The Cornell Peter and Stephanie Nolan School of Hotel Administration is the premier school for hospitality education in the world. As an integral part of the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business, the school is leading the world in teaching and researching the business of hospitality—marketing, finance, real estate, operations, and more, all applied to the world’s largest and most exciting industry. Top faculty, industry leaders, alumni, and students work together to generate new knowledge for the hospitality industry and form the premier network that shapes the industry every day.

Michael Frenkel
+1 201 317 7035