Hackathon at Home





Why are we putting on a virtual hackathon despite the pandemic?

By Florian Appel, Jean-Christophe Gay and Marc Müller-Stoffels

We live in a hyper-connected world. Most of the time, we take this for granted, and quite often we just forget about it and accept the conveniences. Here, in the Rhine valley, nestled between the Vosges and the Black Forest, crossing the traffic of the border for leisure, art, culture, to do some shopping or even to go to work is part of our everyday life. Now, suddenly, with the pandemic, it stopped.

Most of us are old enough to remember the Europe with borders. A time when a trip to the nearest town in the neighbouring country would entail standing in line at the border to have your papers, belongings, and vehicles checked – twice, to leave and to come back. Today, we have come to appreciate the Europe where this is not the case anymore. Suddenly, what we thought was “normal” has been drawn into question, not by numbskulled right-wing dogma or ignorance, but by a force of nature that cares little about our borders. These imaginary lines are used to create an illusion of control and order.
Just a few days ago, we found ourselves in an odd situation. Our friends and colleagues who live across the border were told to stay home away from work, shopping and leisure – to stay behind this imaginary line. It feels rather crazy! But it also reminds us that these lines remain in the head of many people as a point of separation, and that just as much in the region that rightfully claims to be the very heart of Europe.

The reason for drawing lines in these times is not something we want to diminish. On the contrary, all the lines we draw in this time of crisis will have to be more or less arbitrary. One of the more logical ones is to work from home, whenever it is possible and support work in virtual teams. To some of us, this is not new at all. As the hyper-mobile worker with a laptop and timezones from Moscow to San Francisco in their heads have been around for a long time. However, for many companies and people around us, the New Work paradigms and the use of associated technologies are still a challenge — now put on top of the challenges of an already somewhat ailing economy and the uncertainty created by the current crisis.

We therefore asked ourselves: how can we strengthen the essence of the cross-border community at the heart of Europe; how can we help demonstrate how we can work together leveraging technology to remain close to each other (vs creating more social distances); and how can we help face this crisis bringing solutions for those that need them the most — maintainers of critical infrastructure, those at elevated levels of risk, and our administrations that are trying hard to stay abreast of developments, yet need to leap forward in their used of collaborative technologies.

Hence, we decided to do what we do best — spur innovation and work in distributed teams — by calling you to participate in a virtual innovation event designed to bring people together and create useful solutions to remedy this crisis. We will kick off this project with an intensive two days on ideation and formation of teams. We will be guided by expert mentors that will provide us with insights on aspects of NewWork and the guiding framework of Megatrends and technology developments. Tools that are and will become available to us over the coming decade.

This intensive initial work period will transition into a four-week long phase of refinement in teams formed and reconfiguring as we go. Solutions to pressing issues will be developed to quickly be turned into useful products. Finally, the best projects, as determined by peers will be invited to perform an elevator pitch in front of a real-life crowd – so we hope – when this crisis is mostly over. Successful projects will be invited to a Pitch Night event co-organised by Alsace Digitale and Startup.connect.

About the authors:

Florian Appel leads startup.connect, the award-winning startup center of the Wirtschaftsregion Ortenau. Florian helps startups to develop their business ideas and supports innovation transfer at SME. He is an HR, marketing and communications expert with over 10 years of experience in the automotive industry.

Jean-Christophe Gay is the Secretaire of Alsace Digitale. European franco-deutsch – (e-)entrepreneur – e-commerce ninja. Currently running the only pure-player kitchen e-commerce platform : https://www.casata.fr/

Marc Müller-Stoffels is a technology geek and a digital worker through and through, and also a true believer in the European project. Marc is the founder and CEO of denamics GmbH, a company that, together with its partners, is focused on developing solutions to foresight and innovation management that work.