Which startups emerged from hackathon projects
# EUvsVirus hackathonHacking in the Crisis
After the Federal Government's WirvsVirus Hackathon, the EU is starting its own online hackathon: 60,000 participants from all over Europe are expected at the EUvsVirus Hackathon this coming weekend. From Friday to Sunday, the participants should develop technical solutions for problems related to the corona pandemic: How can medical protective equipment be produced quickly and how can knowledge be exchanged between countries?
The best teams should receive coaching and funding opportunities through the European Innovation Council. With the hackathon, the European Commission also wants to network with “innovators, doers and start-ups”.
Hacking for the common good
The EUvsVirus hackathon falls into the category of “civic hackathons”, explains Codrina Lauth, scientist at the Bavarian research institute for software-intensive systems. For her dissertation, she identified more than 400 different hackathon formats. She examined how hackathons can be used in traditional industrial companies.
According to Lauth, civic hackathons are characterized by their openness: Not only programmers participate here, but also people with a social science or economic background. The goal is to achieve the greatest possible impact, ie to achieve something concrete.
Sustainability is measurable
How influential and how sustainable a solution is can be measured, explains Lauth. That goes well beyond the actual hackathon weekend: "If you look at how many hackathon results have been implemented in the long term, you notice: some incredibly interesting ideas weren't even considered at first, but after half a year that's the big hit." , so Lauth.
Often, however, the same hackathon formats are offered over and over again, on which similar applications are created. Although the teams advertise their apps as "sustainable" during the hackathon in order to put themselves in the limelight, the results are not really followed up. Jürgen Vollmer from the Baden-Württemberg Cooperative State University adds: "Around 70 percent of software costs are maintenance and care - and not new developments". But it is precisely for this that there is often a lack of funding.
More is not necessarily better
The Federal Government's WirVsVirus hackathon focused above all on speed. The idea for the programming weekend came up just five days before implementation at the end of March. The organizers had to coordinate almost 43,000 registrations in a very short time. Nevertheless, she would do the same thing again, explains Anna Hupperth from Tech4Germany, one of seven initiatives behind the hackathon.
“It has to be well thought out which roles exist in a team,” says Hupperth. "Any number of participants is manageable if you have a correspondingly large number of moderators and mentors who manage the participants." At the WirVsVirus hackathon, almost 3,000 mentors supported the participants and around 1,000 moderators coordinated the digital channels. If the support is right, Hupperth sees no problem in the fact that around 60,000 participants are expected at the EUvsVirus hackathon.
So far everything has been voluntary
Over the weekend, more than 1,000 projects were created, 130 of which were selected to further support them in various implementation programs, as we have already reported. However, almost four weeks after the hackathon, there was still no money, reported Tagesspiegel Background.
According to Hupperth, the organizers of the hackathon are still talking to the groups in order to look after them and to provide them with experts. In addition, the first projects are now to be financed through the existing “Prototype Fund” program, says its director Adriana Groh, who was also involved in the organization of WirvsVirus.
Open source projects receive three to six months of money from the Federal Ministry of Education and Research - from which projects from the WirVsVirus hackathon could also benefit. The ministry is still examining which projects are eligible. The "Prototype Fund", which is managed by the Open Knowledge Foundation, is particularly suitable because the infrastructure already exists here. In addition, according to Tagesspiegel Background, the Chancellery wants to provide a "five-digit sum".
Pandemic as an exceptional situation
Scientists warn against having too high expectations of a hackathon. It could “not replace a complete development process for complex software,” emphasize practice-oriented researchers such as Daniel Görlich from the SRH University of Heidelberg. Hackathons are much more useful, in order to quickly collect different solutions for a problem and to build prototypes.
A hackathon like WirvsVirus can be an emergency solution in times of the corona pandemic, emphasizes Groh. Against the background of the corona pandemic, it is important for them that the solutions can be implemented as quickly as possible - "but really only in this one case for this one hackathon!" Because the situation is currently changing very quickly, nobody can say which tools would be needed in three months. This is why, for once, sustainability comes second for Groh.
First the architecture, then the app
Otherwise she sees it differently and makes it clear how important sustainable infrastructures are: “In an ideal world we have a free, decentralized infrastructure and open interfaces and then there is a corona crisis and you can work super decentralized with free software. But it's not like that. ”This also frustrates the volunteers at the Open Knowledge Foundation. Although they see that quick solutions are needed at the moment - this is precisely why they insist on open databases and interfaces.
Only when data is available under an open license can applications build on it. So if you collect data in your app, you should make it available again: For example, if shops enter their address and opening times in an app, this data should be freely licensed and thus compatible with OpenStreetMap. This is the only way they can be used sensibly and are not lost if an app is no longer used.
With knowledge of real innovation
Innovation also arises from the fact that what is known is reassembled over and over again, explains scientist Codrina Lauth. Groh also understands that a hackathon hardly offers the opportunity to deal intensively with existing projects in order to build on them: "Then it is simply a reality that participants do not spend half a day studying what is already there."
However, opportunities such as the EUvsVirus hackathon can be used to collect existing ideas and build on them. The European hackathon offers to develop projects from previous events. Proprietary solutions are also welcome. This contradicts the demands of civil society, which, with more than sixty signed initiatives in an open letter, advocate, among other things, the principle of “public money, public good” as a consequence of the crisis. Only software that is openly accessible and reusable should be supported with public funds.
Long-term support ensures quality
Scientist Lauth misses accompanying research. As a result, the quality of the results deteriorates: “I also notice the jury's tendency to take people who do the most advertising for themselves. And then I notice that the formats are always the same. You have to be careful who is offering what and in which environment a hackathon takes place, ”says Lauth. You can see that at many hackathons: "Some teams are already well established, have the solution ready, are looking for three new people and then keep offering the solution that they have already offered at the last ten hackathons."
Digitization needs more than a hackathon
Everyone agrees: a hackathon is a good opportunity to get to know other people, build networks, work together on project ideas and learn from each other. Nevertheless, the results of the hackathons can only temporarily fill the gaping gaps in the digital infrastructure. After the crisis, more long-term structures are needed.
Anyone who really wants to advance digitization must not rely on quick innovation promises, but must bring knowledge and expertise into their own company in the long term and involve civil society. The approaches from the civic tech area and the projects from the WirVsVirus hackathon show: There are good ideas, but they have to be financed reliably over the long term.
Disclosure: The author is actively involved in several projects of the Open Knowledge Foundation Germany, including Code for Germany. However, she was not involved in any of the hackathons mentioned or in publications about them.
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