Online hackathon helps companies move forward

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.”

Design thinking

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.”

Sabine Janssen at work during the hackathon day.

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. In addition, other entrepreneurs can find inspiration at www.umio.nl/hacking-corona, as we have published all the hackathon solutions there.

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.”

More information

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 s.janssen@maastrichtuniversity.nl.

We’re open! Reflections by Professor Piet Eichholtz

Fewer meetings are being held, education is being provided in a different way, and some scientific studies are affected by the coronavirus pandemic. But Maastricht University is open! Within the available opportunities, staff and students are doing everything in their power to remain active and productive. In the story series ‘We’re open!’ on the university website, you can read about these members of our community.

This week, Piet Eichholtz, Professor of Real Estate Finance at the School of Business and Economics, reflects on how the coronavirus crisis is ineluctably embedded in economic, political and ethical issues.

Read the full interview with Piet Eichholtz here.

The possibilities and future of online education

Online education has been on the rise in recent years, but the corona crisis has accelerated this development. In March, all educational institutions in The Netherlands, including Maastricht University, had to switch from offline to online education in no time. Before the virus turned our world upside down, we spoke with Dr. Boris Blumberg about the possibilities and future of online education.

Normally, Problem-Based Learning is central in the education of Maastricht University. Personal contact between students and between teacher and student plays an important role in this system. When the government announced that all educational institutions in our country had to close immediately, our largely offline university suddenly turned into an online university. Both technically and didactically, teachers and other employees had to adapt to a completely different way of working. Now that we are a few weeks later, it seems that students and staff are slowly getting used to their new daily routine. In studies that allow this, the university will continue to offer online education until the end of the academic year.

Flexibility

In early March, when everything was still ‘normal’, we spoke to Dr. Boris Blumberg about online education. As captain of MaastrichtMBA, he was closely involved in setting up and organising the EuroMBA Online Track. This online MBA programme has been part of the MBA portfolio of UMIO since 1 January 2020. The biggest advantage of online education is the flexibility it offers, Blumberg acknowledges. “By attending online education, students are not tied to a fixed location and can decide for themselves when to study and at what pace”, says the MBA captain. “This can be an interesting option for professionals with a busy job, but also for people who naturally prefer to sit behind a laptop than next to a fellow student. In addition, it offers opportunities for people who live in remote areas. We may not be bothered by that in the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium, but I know that, for example, Stellenbosch University in South Africa has many students who have to deal with it.”

Relocation of infrastructure

Do educational institutions themselves also benefit from offering online education? Is it, for example, cheaper than offering regular education? Blumberg thinks that nothing sensible can be said about that at this stage. “Replacing regular education with online education is actually a shift in infrastructure and therefore costs”, he says. “After all, you replace classrooms with server rooms, online platforms and other online facilities. And make no mistake, those facilities also cost a lot of money. I think it is currently still very difficult to make a statement about the difference in costs between the two types of education.”

EuroMBA Online Track

Lower costs are therefore certainly not the reason why Maastricht University started the EuroMBA Online Track on 1 January 2020. Blumberg: “Compared to the US and the UK, we are lagging behind in online university programmes in the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium. For the past 25 years, UMIO was a partner in the EuroMBA programme. When this programme was discontinued last year, we decided to create a new online MBA track to serve an emerging market. It was high time to start with this, because other markets have already developed much further.

Dr. Boris Blumberg.

Here, the megatrend of digitalisation comes into play. The opportunities to provide high quality online education have grown tremendously. The quality of video and audio is much better than a few years ago, as is the quality of online education platforms. And for our MBA target group it is very natural to communicate digitally; after all, they have been using mobile devices for most of their lives.”

The different nationalities of the students are a major strength of the EuroMBA Online Track. “The students all have different backgrounds and different world views. By discussing and exchanging ideas, they enrich each other’s thinking. That is very valuable. The personal approach is also a strength of our programme. There are 3 residential weeks in which the students come together at various universities in Europe. And within the online modules we work with small groups. We will never allow mass groups of students, because then we cannot guarantee personal attention. Last but not least, the education of the EuroMBA Online Track is of high quality. We work with top teachers and have maximum international recognition with our Triple Crown accreditation from the AACSB, EQUIS and AMBA institutions. Our track recently finished as the highest-ranked online MBA study in the Netherlands in CEO Magazine’s Global Online MBA Ranking. Globally, we finished in 13th place. That says a lot about the quality we offer.”

Blumberg is not afraid that the EuroMBA Online Track will keep students away from the Executive MBA Track of MaastrichtMBA. “I think it is important that students choose Maastricht University, and in that respect we have only increased the MBA options. So hopefully we will be able to bring more students here.”

High quality education

Online courses are often criticised because there is little or no proper and regular interaction between students and teachers and students. As a result, students may not be able to learn at the same level as students in regular education. What does the MBA captain think about this criticism? “There is some truth in it, of course”, he begins. “You give lectures via the internet and have no influence on what the students actually do behind their laptop. In addition, you cannot simply cast your regular 1.5-hour lectures in the format of a webinar. After half an hour of screen time people drop out. It must therefore be shorter, without this being at the expense of depth and differentiated thinking. You have to be creative with that. On the other hand, current techniques allow us to monitor much better to what extent students have really learned. We can find out exactly how long they have been active within our platform and what they have contributed.

As I mentioned earlier, we keep the level of education high by giving students a lot of personal attention. In addition, we ensure that the assignments for students are of master’s level. This means that we do not work with multiple-choice answers and that we assess the result – be it a paper, presentation or video – with substantive feedback. So not only a grade, but also an explanation. The students learn from that.”

Online versus regular

Online education is the future, according to Blumberg, but that will never be completely at the expense of regular education. “There are always people who have a strong preference for face-to-face education. In addition, not every subject is suitable for online education. For example, an ICT course such as learning to code is very easy to set up online. However, that does not apply to a management course on leadership skills. Personal contact is very important in this. That is why we chose the balance between online modules and residential weeks on location at the EuroMBA Online Track.

Maastricht University has always been an innovative player within the Dutch academic playing field, and I think that we are now also confirming this reputation in the digital age.”


If you are interested in more information about MaastrichtMBA, then please visit maastrichtmba.com.

Webinar series | Moving forward together

Join us online in April and May for a live series of five webinars that address some of the most urgent and important questions for any individual or organisation dealing with the consequences of the current corona pandemic.

We aim to open up a dialogue with professionals and organisations to create a joined understanding of what would be the best way forward. Each webinar will start with a 15-20 minutes presentation by the speaker, followed by a 15-20 minutes live debate and Q&A with participants.

Register now!

You can register yourself here for the webinars you like.

UMIO werkt mee aan ondernemersplatform coronacrisis

De coronacrisis heeft een enorme economische impact, waarbij geen enkele sector buiten schot blijft. Om deze crisis het hoofd te bieden, is het cruciaal dat we elkaar helpen. Daarom heeft MKB-Limburg een interactief platform opgezet voor ondernemers in Limburg. UMIO is als expert betrokken bij dit initiatief. Met behulp van een forum, trainingen en andere activiteiten brengt het online platform ondernemers en experts bij elkaar. Deelname aan het platform is gratis voor alle ondernemers in Limburg.

Op het forum van het platform kunnen ondernemers en experts elkaar treffen om informatie uit te wisselen over verschillende onderwerpen. Hier kunnen ze van elkaar leren en elkaar inspireren.

Afgelopen maandag ging het online trainingsprogramma van start op het platform. Dit programma bestaat uit verschillende online trainingen die als doel hebben om in verbinding met elkaar de huidige problematiek het hoofd te bieden. Elke week komt een nieuwe module aan bod. De thema’s van de modules zijn: Inventarisatie, Crisismanagement, Netwerken & Samenwerken, Inspireren, Innovatie & Efficiëntie en Toekomstbestendig Denken.

Naast het forum en de trainingen kunnen ondernemers wekelijks deelnemen aan een live Q&A-sessie met experts, bestuurders, vertegenwoordigers van belangen- en brancheverenigingen en ervaren business coaches.

Aanmelden

Ben je als ondernemer actief in Limburg? Meld je dan gratis aan voor het platform via www.mkblimburgondernemersplatform.nl en doe mee!

We’re open! Mark Levels and social order in times of corona

Fewer meetings are being held, education is being provided in a different way, and some scientific studies are affected by the coronavirus pandemic. But Maastricht University is open! Within the available opportunities, staff and students are doing everything in their power to remain active and productive. In the story series ‘We’re open!’ on the university website, you can read about these members of our community.

This week, Professor Mark Levels of the Research Centre for Education and the Labour Market (ROA) talks about the influence of the corona crisis on his daily work. As research leader of the international consortium Technequality, he was due to speak last week at the AI Summit in Brussels organised by the journalism platform Politico. The measures to limit the spread of coronavirus threw a spanner in the works. Other than that, it’s business as usual for Mark these days – although his alarm clock is going off earlier than usual, and after-work drinks are now held online.

Read the full interview with Mark here.


Technequality

The UM-led consortium Technequality, set up by Mark Levels and Raymond Montizaan, brings together a multidisciplinary group of experts from prestigious HEI’s around Europe to work with policy-makers to address AI and robotisation’s impact on the labour market. The research is funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 programme. Go to technequality-project.eu for more information on Technequality.

Putting the humanity back into technology – 10 skills to future proof your career

This article originally appeared in Ambition, AMBA’s thought leadership publication (in print and online), and has been republished on this website with the permission of AMBA.

Author: Dave Coplin

Our future success as individuals will hinge on our ability to be able to use technology to help make whatever we do better, says Dave Coplin.

For the last three decades I have been working with the world’s largest technology companies helping people to truly understand the amazing potential on offer when humans work in harmony with the machines.

I have written two books, I’ve worked with businesses and governments all over the world and recently I’ve been inspiring and engaging kids and adults alike, all with one single goal in mind, which is simply to help everyone get the absolute best from technology.

After thirty years of working at the bleeding edge, I know that the only really important thing about all of our futures, is not the technology itself nor how it will develop but instead is simply about how we as humans can evolve and adapt to make the most of the incredible potential it offers us every single day.

In an age where algorithms answer our questions and robots do much of our ‘heavy lifting’, what we really need is a way of combining the best of technological capability with the best of human ability, finding that sweet spot where humans and machines complement each other. With that in mind, here are my top ten skills that will enable humans to rise, to achieve more than ever before not just at work but across all aspects of our lives:

Creativity

When it comes to creativity, I absolutely believe that technology is one of the most creative forces that we will ever get to enjoy. But creativity needs to be discovered and it needs to be nurtured. Our future will be filled with complex, challenging problems, the like of which we will never have encountered before. We’re going to need a society of creative thinkers to help navigate it.

Empathy

While the machines are busy crunching numbers, it will be the humans who will be left to navigate the complicated world of emotions, motives and intentions. In a world of the dark, cold logic of algorithms, the ability for individuals to understand and share the feelings of others is going to become a crucial skill. Along with creativity, empathy will be one of the most critical attributes that defines the border between human and machine.

Accountability

As well as teaching ourselves and our families to be confident with technology we also need to be accountable for how we use it.

Just because the computer gives you an answer, it doesn’t make it right. We all need to learn to take the computer’s valuable input but crucially combine that with our own human intuition in order to discover the best course of action. Our future is all about being greater than the sum of our parts…

Curiosity

One of creativity’s most important companions is curiosity – it is the gateway to the best way to be creative with technology. We walk around with a device in our pockets that has access to every bit of knowledge, every opinion our society has collected over the past couple of millennia and it’s right there at our fingertips. But how often do we think of it in those terms? And what do we choose to do with all that knowledge? Two words, “cat videos”. I’m being playful of course, but part of the solution is to help all of us, especially kids, be curious about the world around us and to use technology to explore it.

Critical thinking

Critical thinking will be the 21st century human’s superpower. If we can help individuals both understand and apply it, we can, over time, unleash the full potential of our connected world. With every single piece of content we consume, from whatever source and on whatever topic, we need to be asking ourselves as to whether we should believe the content to be true rather than simply assuming it is.

Communication

One of digital technology’s key purposes is to connect humans with each other. Communicating with others is as essential to our future survival as breathing and yet we’re often just not that good at it, especially when we’re communicating with others who aren’t in the same physical space.

Learning to communicate well (and that includes really effective listening) regardless of whether that is on-line or off-line is one of the basic literacies of our digital world.

Collaboration

Building on our communication skills, collaboration is the purpose for much of the reason behind why we need to communicate well. Technology enables large numbers of people to come together, aligned around a common cause but we can only harness the collective power of people if we can find the best way to work together to unleash our collective potential.

Lifelong learning

The future doesn’t stand still and now more than ever, that means neither can we. While we used to think about education as a single phase, early on in most people’s lives, the reality is that learning needs to be an everyday occurrence, regardless of our age or stage of life. Thanks to new technologies like artificial intelligence, skills that are new today will be automated tomorrow and this means we can never afford to stand still.

Resilience

The by-product of a rapidly changing world is that we need to help people learn to embrace the ambiguity such a world presents. More traditional mindsets of single domains of skills and single careers will have to give way to the much more nebulous world of multiple skillsets for multiple careers. In order to make the transition, people are going to need to find a way to preserve and develop enough energy to be able to embrace every new change and challenge so that they can both offer value and be valued by the ever changing society they are a part of.

Digital confidence

As a technologist, and an optimist, I am convinced that our future success as individuals will hinge on our ability to be able to use technology to help make whatever we do better. Regardless of the career we choose, our and our children’s lives will be better, more successful, happier and more rewarding if we are confident in how we can use technology to help us achieve more at work, in our relationships and in how we enjoy ourselves.

None of these skills were picked by chance, or because they give us hope for a more human future irrespective of the development of technology. They were specifically picked because they are the very qualities that will complement the immensely powerful gift that technology brings us. Better still, these are the skills that, despite what Hollywood or the media may say to the contrary, will remain fundamentally human for decades to come.

But if we are to make this happen, we’re going to have to think very differently about the potential of technology in our lives and the relationship we currently share with it. We owe it to ourselves and our kids to help ensure we don’t just learn to survive in the 21st century but instead we learn how to thrive. If we can get this right for ourselves and our kids, we are going to get some amazing prizes as a result.

The rise of the humans starts with us, and it starts now…

Dave Coplin is former Chief Envisioning Officer for Microsoft UK, he has written two books, worked all over the world with organisations, individuals and governments – all with the goal of demystifying technology and championing it as a positive transformation in our society.