Can independent developers make better use of company APIs than companies can themselves? Seven companies decided to put this to the test, by opening up their information to Dutch hackers. More than 300 developers signed up and started to build a new application in only one weekend. Here is an insiders guide to such a Hackathon.
The Dutch open Hackathon was, as far as we know, the largest Hackathon in The Netherlands. More than 300 ‘hackers’ entered the competition. Participants included students, recent graduates but also professional teams. The overall event was a great succes, with many dams able to build a working application during the weekend.
What is a Hackathon?
The idea of a Hackathon is very simple: instead of asking people for ideas and presentation, yougive people the time and resources they need to realize their ideas immediately. In a Hackathon, participants can work for one day or one weekend on building their idea, and then present this to the other participants and jury. It is an example of open innovation: no-one tells the participants what to do: they just get a set of building blocks to play with.
Companies that have experimented with this method of innovation have found it very fruitful. There is no debate anymore about whether ideas are feasible: anyone who says something can be done gets a chance to prove it can be done. The jury is merely there to judge whether the market is ready for it.
Unique Scale of the Open Hackathon
As we noted before in our announcement of the Dutch Open Hackathon, the DOH is unique in it’s scale. It was a coproduction between seven Dutch companies, and each company contributed one or more APIs. This made it possible for the teams to make unique combinations that are not possible outside the weekend. The enlarged scale made the weekend more challenging but also much more rewarding. During the weekend teams were working on at least four floors of the IJ-building: some teams stayed close to the technical rooms on the second and third floors, others moved to the two top floors for more privacy and better rooms. In each case, the participants worked round the clock to finish their app. I was helping teams as a pitch coach during the weekend. When I left at 11pm on Saturday everyone was still busy making their app working, and when I returned on Sunday morning 8am for breakfast, the same teams where again working with only a few hours of sleep.
For the organisation and jury the high number of participants was also a challenge, but with a few adjustments they made it work: instead of the usual two pitch coaches there were four (including David Beckett, inventor of the pitch canvas and main pitch coach of Startupbootcamp. ). Each team was instructed to make a two minute pitch, including demo of the product: this meant they really had to think about the main message of their product. The jury members, including management of all seven sponsoring companies, was divided into 5 subjuries: each jury selected the two best teams for the final, plenary pitch round.
For the participants, the biggest reason to participate was not the prize money or the free food, but the access to various APIs. All the teams had access to a development kit for the Philips HUE coloured lights. The test kit consisted of a wooden plank with 3 lights on it, but was used by the teams to show that the light can be used for location-aware games and for dynamic signs in buildings. Other teams could use the KLM and Transavia flight information API, the Albert and Bol.com product database, and the Fleet management from TomTom. To help the teams use the application, several experts from each company were present to help the teams with any technical questions. I spent an interesting 10 minutes talking to TomTom experts on how to capture vehicle data. Each team was challenged by the jury to use as many services as possible. One team managed to use up to seven services, building a planning website that would book hotels, flights and jobs in different cities. The idea was to make it possible for people to start travelling tomorrow by working in different countries. In theory this is possible already, but by combining APIs it is made easy for everyone.
The overall winner of the weekend was the welcome home box for travelers, developed by Team Caching. The team made a clever combination of flight information (KLM, Transavia) and APIs of Bol.com and Albert Heijn to make sure the right products were delivered at the right time to make people feel home again. A good example of combining multiple APIs.
A second prize was for Alberto, a new just in time delivery service. They built a platform so that unemployed or underemployed people could delivery groceries and other essential items just in time to people. The most interesting aspect was the social aspect: the team really looked at how this service could not just offer convenience, but generate real income and employment for many people.
The real winners of the Hackathon however are the corporates. One of the organising companies called it ‘brainsourcing’: by opening up your data, you get access to the minds of some very creative developers. Hopefully more companies will join the example of USG, Philips, TomTom, Albert Heijn, Schiphol, KLM and Rabobank.
Photo’s: Dutch Open Hackaton