Fueling innovation with hackathons

A couple of weeks ago I represented LoQutus in the first global public transport hackathon Global Public Transport Hackathon, organised in Montréal Canada by Youth for Public Transport.

I’m also proud and humbled for being part of the winning team Ditch. Ditch is an educational & gaming tool to motivate kids towards sustainable transport. With an international team from Greece, Columbia, Chile, The Netherlands, Macedonia and Belgium, we delivered the pitch, prototype, design and business model that got us the top spot.

Using predictive analytics, LoQutus won the DynaCity Data Challenge in Ghent, an initiative from the VIM in collaboration with Y4PT, earning our ticket to participate in this global event. In this blogpost I’d like to share a bit of the journey that got us there, and how hackathons are part of the LoQutus vision & approach for innovation.

Hackathons

What surprised me is that a lot of people still ask me what a hackathon is. I could understand the worried look of my grandmother, but I got the question a lot at clients and from friends.

So basically a hackathon is a short event, typically one to three days, where teams collaborate intensely to design & deliver innovative solutions. The ‘hack’ part refers to the explorative design approach, not to breaking in other computers (important part for my grandmother). The design could be anything from a blueprint, to a prototype, to real software or hardware.

Typical judging criteria of the solutions include the innovation & impact of the idea, the product or solution design and user experience, and the business model for delivering and developing the concept further.

Y4PT Hackathon Experience

The Y4PT hackathon was a unique event. First local hackathons were organised in 22 cities around the globe, and the winners of each of these hackathons met for a final two-day hack in Montréal.

With all the representatives from the 22 hackathons, and the people joining in Canada, we had 37 people from 33 nationalities there. Collaborating intensely over that short period was like visiting all those countries in just a couple of days.

Each local hackathon winning team presented their winning idea, and from those ideas 7 were selected to work on during the final hack, and teams were formed.

Coaches and experts were available to motivate us (sometimes with a little help from Kid President), help us with our pitch, and work on our business model.

In the end, innovative solutions showcased chatbots, pollution scanning hardware, augmented reality apps, virtual bus stops and more.

During the three day conference after the hackathon, we had a chance to meet with operators, authorities, and potential investors. The Global Public Transport Summit included the unveiling of world premieres (cool self-driving buses), exhibitions of cutting-edge transport technology, and presentations from new mobility players. Over 2500 participants, 13000 visitors and 330 exhibitors it is a major event in the public transport industry.

And the great thing is that by winning the hackathon, we can participate in the next hackathon and conference in Stockholm in 2019!

LoQutus & Hackathons

At LoQutus we believe that hackathons, or more general design sprint events, are a key part of fueling innovation. Hackathons create unique circumstances where people are excited and motivated, collaborate, and focus on delivering a minimal viable product in a short time.

It’s an approach we also integrated in our innovation lab, where short sprints and working prototypes are key elements in our framework. We compete in a couple of hackathons a year. Hackathons are an ideal way for us to explore new technologies. Applying a new technology to a real problem is one of the fastest ways to try and test it before considering it for clients or project work.

We use hackathons for teambuilding too. The best way to get new team members on board is the friendly pressure of a hackathon competition! It’s also our way of contributing to initiatives that we support. We participate in the AppsForGhent hackathons organised by the city of Ghent to promote its open data platform. It brought us from hacking libraries to creating local sports dashboards local sports dashboards!

Conclusion

Hackathons are one of the ways to kickstart innovation. For us it is a key element in keeping up to date with technology evolutions, staying agile in developing new solutions, fostering team work and collaboration, and learning new skills to apply at our clients and projects.

Do you have a challenge where our experience could add value? Contact us!

Further reading

https://uitpsummit.org/2017/05/15/first-ever-global-transport-hackathon-reveals-bright-future-sector/

http://www.uitp.org/news/Y4PT-hackathon-ghent

Thomas Michem