200 bright and talented master students from the Marketing Strategy & Innovation course at Maastricht University School of Business and Economics joined forces for 7 weeks and worked in 39 teams to provide outside-in, innovative ideas and solutions for one company: energy supplier Essent and E.On.
The teams were guided in a digital innovation sprint of 7 weeks, based on design thinking and coached by innovation trainers from UMIO’s Service Science Factory (SSF) and with live coaching moments with Essent professionals, resulting in a super powerful cocreation and explosion of fruitful ideas.
Click here to see the ideas of the 39 student teams, wrapped in video pitches and one-page summaries.
Stephan Segbers (COO Essent): “For me personally, it was not only a lot of fun but also very insightful. I am impressed by the quality of the pitches created and the digital skills exhibited.”
“A hackathon provides a powerful, co-creative means to accelerate innovation. Where businesses benefit hugely from the brainpower of 200 bright master students, their fresh thinking and outside-in perspective. The power pitches the teams prepared to convey their ideas to the company are very powerful and are captured in the idea vault in a webpage. This way the company can easily share the students’ output among colleagues and really build on the ideas of the various teams”, says Sabine Janssen, Head of UMIO’s Service Science Factory. SSF coordinated this hackathon and embedded it in the Strategic Marketing Master programme of Maastricht University School of Business and Economics.
Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Limburg are hit hard by the corona crisis. UMIO|Maastricht University came to the rescue of entrepreneurs by organising an online hackathon in collaboration with MKB-Limburg, the association for SMEs in Limburg. An army of 118 talented and creative master’s students from Maastricht University searched for viable innovative solutions for companies in the event sector (MECC Maastricht), tourism (Maastricht Marketing) and retail (Riviera Retro).
“A hackathon provides a means to accelerate innovation”, says Sabine Janssen. As head of UMIO’s Service Science Factory (SSF) she coordinated the online hackathon. “A hackathon is a design sprint in which solutions are found for business challenges with co-creation. That makes a hackathon ideal for helping companies during the corona crisis, but certainly also for the period after that. After all, many companies need an adapted business model to survive in the post-corona era.”
Interesting and accessible challenges
In the beginning of April, entrepreneurs could submit their business challenge via the MKB-Limburg Ondernemersplatform (platform for entrepreneurs). The hackathon organisation then selected three broadly supported challenges in the events, tourism and retail sector. Janssen: “Within those sectors, the challenges of MECC Maastricht, Maastricht Marketing and Riviera Retro proved to be the most suitable, because of the added value of students’ perspectives. They can easily relate to the relevant contexts and see many best practice cases around them.”
Spread over 24 teams, the 118 master’s students started on 22 April with the preparations for the hackathon, which took place a week later. How has the sector been affected? Who is the customer? What are the main needs and challenges of the organisation and the customer? These and other questions were examined in this preparatory phase. For each challenge, the students had to develop a customer-oriented and practical solution with the main question ‘How can we let business flourish again, during and after the relaxation of the lockdown, if the one and a half meter economy is the new reality?’
“During the hackathon day, the students worked according to the design thinking methodology”, Janssen explains. “This methodology helps to approach challenges from the perspective of the customer and the perspective of the organisation. The students also looked at the challenge through glasses of opportunity. How could the business model be adapted so that the company emerges from this crisis better, stronger and faster? Fresh, innovative and practical ideas were further specified and co-created with the challenge owners. The students were supervised online by five coaches from the Service Science Factory (SSF) and two marketing teachers from Maastricht University’s School of Business and Economics (SBE). In addition, the students could enter into a 1-on-1 conversation with the challenge owners in the afternoon, so that they could validate their assumptions and solutions and build on a solution together with the owners.”
Many innovative solutions
After the hackathon day, the students had a week to concretise their solutions based on the input of the challenge owners and to work on the storytelling of their pitch. After the presentations, the so-called student vote took place whereby the teams could vote among themselves on the different solutions. This resulted in a top two in each category. All entrepreneurs of MKB-Limburg and friends of UMIO could then vote on these solutions, which led to one winning idea per category.
The hackathon organisation and the challenge owners were impressed by the many innovative solutions that were submitted. The challenge of manager Jop Thissen of MECC Maastricht was to organise an attractive Limburg Leads event after the summer, despite all the limitations of the one and a half meter society. “One of the proposed solutions was to develop an app with which you can already link the entrepreneurs based on their interests”, says Thissen. “As a result, they will start looking for each other instead of just walking around in the hall. You can also indicate in the app where it is busy and where you should stay away for a while. A walking route like in IKEA was also a very good idea. Everyone can imagine that. But the most original idea was the goody bag. You hand them out upon entry. This includes, for example, a hand soap with logo and a mouth mask. That gives a positive feeling to the visitors because getting a gift is always fun.”
Inspiration for entrepreneurs
“It was unique and exciting at the same time to establish effective online collaboration in a hackathon of this size”, concludes Sabine Janssen. “Overall, I like the fact that this outside-in method has provided fresh, customer-oriented solutions with which the challenge owners can get to work.
I would like to thank MKB-Limburg as a partner in this hackathon, and in particular project leader Karin van der Ven of the MKB-Limburg Ondernemersplatform for making this collaboration possible.”
Do you want to know more about the concept of hackathons and what it can do for your organisation? Then please contact Sabine Janssen at the Service Science Factory (SSF) via email@example.com.
And the 1-day Hackathon race began, bright and early on Monday morning, on the 20th May. 130 Master’s students from the Digital Innovation and Marketing course at SBE, were streaming into the Aula to hear about the real-life business challenge which demanded the focus of their bright, creative ‘digitally native’ minds. UMIO’s Service Science Factory innovation coaches facilitated the event and helped set the scene, introducing Design Thinking methodologies and the various prototyping stages into the mix.
Making solutions come alive
The two-fold challenge was presented by the Department of Orthopaedics at Zuyderland hospital: how can the new clinic optimally organise digital information provision to their patients and their environment, and how might they create and foster ambassadorship among satisfied customers to attract new customers and grow the business. Their aim is for this to be implemented by 2020. As a representative from Zuyderland commented, “we are excited to see your solutions come alive”. Their goal is to be the best focus clinic in Europe, so the bar was set high, and in this spirit, the challenge began!
The students were organised into 24 teams, each with a focus of either creating awareness or fostering ambassadorship of the Orthopaedic clinic. Design Thinking helped the teams to develop their understanding of the context of the challenge and to put themselves into the shoes of the target audience. This enabled them to start thinking of meaningful, effective solutions. They all had 7 minutes to pitch their ideas to the other 4 teams and then vote on the favourite. The 5 teams who went through to the semi-finals went onto pitch to the whole group in the Lecture Theatre at the end of the day. The day was mapped out with military precision, with pitching sessions scheduled just 4 hours after the initial introduction. In that time, the Service Science Factory innovation coaches were on hand to help the teams ideate their solutions, prioritise decisions and help them build a rapid prototype using innovative Design Thinking methodology.
The atmosphere in all the rooms was one of intense and focussed concentration, but it wasn’t without an element of fun too. David Northeok, A German student working on the raising awareness challenge, noted that because they were all familiar with each other already in their team, this helped with the process and dynamics. They all bring with them a unique perspective to the problem and he added that one of their group was from Spain, so came with a different approach to thinking about the way in which patients might interact with these services and want to use this digital technology. The international perspectives of the student cohort, is part of the strength of this particular hackathon formula.
Looking through the eyes of a patient
One of their biggest challenges for the students, however, aside from the time pressure, was getting into the patient mindset. This was a common theme across the teams, how does a master’s student in their early 20’s who may have never known anyone who has needed to use the services of an orthopaedic clinic before, get into the mindset of a typical orthopaedic patient in their late 60’s? Tackling the need for the personal connection between the patient, the GP, the Physio, is an important part of the process when looking for solutions to this challenge, and not only thinking of the technology, but also the unique benefit of the patient using these digital solutions. To help the students address this problem, there were patients from the Orthopaedic clinic present throughout the day making themselves available to the students and answering their questions. When asked what social media platforms they used, the teams were a little surprised by Connie’s nonchalant reply, “ yes I use facebook and instagram”. So, perceptions were constantly being adjusted and the need for a human-centred mindset in this type of situation, was clearly shown, something of which the Service Science Factory team are pioneers. Technology fuels innovation. Disruptive services and products are shaping the world. Human behaviour evolves with this kind of disruptive meaningful innovation and so does the business context. In such an environment, it is a delicate balance of empathising with consumers to design services for them and building a profitable business. That’s where a Hackathon plays its part.
What’s in it for my business?
A hackathon presents an effective innovation formula for businesses and provides the scaffolding for a challenge like this one to be realised effectively within a tight timeframe, with implementable and practical solutions. A hackathon is designed around the principals of working together. It is about understanding the problem before creating solutions. Most importantly, formulating the right design challenge is what makes a hackathon valuable.
For the students, it’s an opportunity to apply their academic knowledge and learning into a real-life business problem with all that entails, the ups and the downs. Some ideas hit the mark and some miss it, but the advantage of a bottom up approach, is that you get to find out quickly whether it works or not, and that’s how we innovate. This is a 1-day design sprint which takes no prisoners!
..And the patients’ response?
Henriëtte Mulders, a Primary school teacher who had undergone an operation on her knee last year and who had been a patient at the clinic, appreciated the input and work from the students and everyone involved in the day saying, “if there had been these ideas when I was recovering post-op, I would have really appreciated and welcomed them”. Connie, agreed, she was “very inspired” by the ideas presented.
The 5 finalist teams presented their pitches at Zuyderland in Sittard to a panel of medical and business professionals on Monday 27 May. The panel were impressed by the quality and innovative, meaningful solutions. All the winning teams highlighted the unique building blocks in their solutions and it will be a combination of all these ideas, bringing the best ingredients together, which Zuyderland will take forward for their business plan.