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, 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

The Power of Hackathons – From Disruption to Innovation


Technology fuels innovation. Disruptive services and products are shaping the world. Human behaviour needs to evolve with this disruptive innovation, as does the business world. In this environment, it is vital to empathise with consumers to design services that work for them and build profitable businesses. That is where a Hackathon comes in.

Powerful Collaborations

A Hackathon is a fast-paced design sprint, which helps companies solve their business challenges in a pressure cooker environment within a very limited time frame. The purpose is to bring a tightly focused outside-in perspective to the company involved. The best ideas are often the result of powerful collaborations and a Hackathon is an example of how the School of Business and Economics not only links students with national companies, but also with ‘local heroes’, to strengthen the link with local entrepreneurs and the region.

“In business you have blind spots, and you’re not aware of any other solutions.  Students have new views, they can open your eyes” Arno Reiniers, Business Manager at Geba Trans.

Mine Kafon – A Success Story

Mine Kafon, (  a demining company, is living proof of how a Hackathon can bring tangible benefits to business. Mine Kafon was set up by two Afghan brothers, Massoud and Mahmud Hassani, who grew up in Kabul, Afghanistan – literally in a minefield. Many years later, in the Netherlands, the brothers have developed Mine Kafon: a drone system for detecting landmines.


Their demining system is now ready for large-scale production. The next step is marketing. “We participated in a market research project called Value-Based Marketing. Our system is ready and we know it works. But how do we get in touch with potential customers?”

Hakathon Innovation Day

Mine Kafon, along with 6 other companies, took part in a Hackathon day organised by UMIO in February. Each company presented their business challenges to the ‘army of problem solvers’, the 150 International Business master’s students who then worked with the companies as part of the project to come up with a package of innovative solutions.

“Students are motivated and driven by new and existing ideas that they want to put into action. We’re very pleased with the results”, says Mahmud. “Essentially, we received six useful sets of insights. We’re now drawing up a strategy and taking the next step. 2019 will be a make-or-break year for Mine Kafon. This is an excellent example of how universities and industry can work together.”


Find out more? 

If you want to innovate in a quick and budget-friendly manner, it is Hackathon time!

Find out more about how a Hackathon can help your business innovate into the future.

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