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18 May

Solidarity, Creativity, Determination

by ASTP Board Member, Alessandra Baccigotti

Solidarity, Creativity, Determination: these are the keywords proposed by EC Commissioner Mariya Gabriel to define the spirit of the #EUvsVirus Hackathon, which took place from 24th to 26th April, as a fully digital event to connect civil society, innovators, partners and investors across Europe with the purpose to develop innovative solutions for coronavirus-related challenges. The Hackathon was hosted by the European Commission, led by the European Innovation Council, in close collaboration with the EU Member States.

Over 20,900 people from across the EU (and beyond) joined the #EUvsVirus Hackathon offering their talents and business ideas to contribute to Europe’s fight against the coronavirus, but also to the recovery after the pandemic. 2000+ innovative solutions (apparently a world record for a hackathon) were submitted in six areas including Health&Life, Business Continuity, Remote Working and Education, Social and Political Cohesion, Digital Finance and Other challenges.

Italy and Spain, the two countries most severely affected by the pandemic, submitted the highest number of solutions.

On the 30th of April the winners were announced: 7 overall domain winners, plus a winner and two runner-ups for each of the 37 challenges. Altogether, 117 out of 2160 solutions were selected according to impact potential, scalability, novelty/innovation, prototype completion and business plan (all results here).

A monitoring device minimizing physical contact between nurses and patients “to give nurses superpowers”, a digital solution to limit the number of customers in retail-stores and manage queues at the entrance, an online village platform that you can share with friends, family, teachers and peers for experiential virtual learning: these are just a few examples of the winning solutions that received a cash prize and an invitation to join the Matchathon taking place from 22 to 25 May on the new EIC COVID Platform. This platform has been especially designed to facilitate connections between innovators and end-users, such as hospitals, citizens, businesses, as well as to provide access to investors, foundations, and other funding opportunities within the EU.

The #EUvsVirus Hackathon also involved 2.600 mentors, 1200+ partners and a large community of volunteers: I was one of the 400+ volunteers that spent the week-end supporting the organization of the event behind the scenes.

When the coronavirus emergency started, apart from staying at home and abiding by the rules, I felt there was nothing I could do, not being a nurse or a doctor and not having any useful domain knowledge that I could apply in this situation. And this made me feel so helpless and powerless…So  the invitation to volunteer for the Hackathon was really a great push to do something, to be proactive and to support in the development of solutions that will hopefully save lives.

It was my very first Hackathon and honestly I had no idea what to expect. All I knew was that a Hackathon is usually an event where mostly software developers work for a limited period of time to develop solutions to address identified challenges (and what a challenge for the EUvsVirus Hackathon! To save lives and bring life during a global pandemic closer to normal…).

What I did not know is that a Hackathon is much more than that. From my perspective as a volunteer-team coordinator, being part of the Hackathon was about learning, sharing, quickly digitizing and becoming social media literate (I dare say even becoming Slack-addicted). It was about extreme agile working, extreme communication; it meant being online almost non-stop to support the teams, looking for answers to questions, checking info, checking deadlines, managing data, entering and exiting Zoom calls, looking for shared files that were never to be found. It was also fun: we had our relaxing musical moments, jiggling calls, the Hackathon soundtrack and even a virtual party with a lot of drinking and dancing.

At the beginning I (a person who loves organization, structure and time management) felt a bit lost and overwhelmed by the prevailing chaos – even though it was a more or less organized one – but I met amazing people, willing to help not only the teams participating in the Hackathon, but also the beginners-volunteers like myself. It felt so good to be part of this incredible virtual community coming from all over the world, so different and yet so similar in their determination to do something against Covid-19. And what struck me most was that after the 62-hour contest, little sleep and a fully online weekend, there was such a widespread and strong desire to keep the community alive; so much positive energy, resources and willpower were still there ….. I hope that all of this will stay on even once we have overcome the coronavirus, as there are still so many other challenges facing Europe and the world and more Solidarity, Creativity and Determination will be needed to tackle them.

 This article first appeared on The Guild of European Research-Intensive Universities.