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

Erasmus+ Grant for developing executive study module on Service Design Thinking

Implementing Service Design Thinking at the highest level of organisations; that is the goal of the study module that the Department of Marketing & Supply Chain Management (SBE) and the Service Science Factory (UMIO) will co-develop. A consortium that also consists of Tallinn University, Stockholm School of Economics and design consultancy firm Brand Manual received an Erasmus+ Grant to realise this study module. On behalf of SBE and UMIO, Prof. Dr. Dominik Mahr and Damien Nunes are involved in the initiative. They explain what the project entails.

“As a consortium, we have submitted a proposal aimed at developing an executive study programme in the field of Service Design”, says Damien Nunes, who is (Strategic) Service Designer and Innovation trainer at UMIO’s Service Science Factory (SSF).

“In short, Service Design means developing new services or improving existing services using creative design tools. As a methodology, Service Design always starts with a customer-centric approach: who belongs to the target group, what needs do they have and how can we serve them better? Recognisable examples of Service Design results are the self-scanner at Albert Heijn supermarkets and the digital way of ordering that is standard nowadays at McDonalds.”

Creating awareness at a higher level

As Service Design is new to many organisations, they often do not know where to start. In addition, design disciplines are generally not represented in the highest layers of an organisation, while customer experiences do affect the entire organisation.

Nunes: “Therefore, we must create awareness at a higher level. That is why we are going to develop this study module for executives. It will be a programme at a strategic level, where you must be able to manage and inspire. Executives who will complete the programme, understand how to implement service design projects, what is needed for that and how they can inspire other teams to get started. They also know how to ensure necessary funding at the highest level. This will be a unique programme with a lot of depth; it will not just be another masterclass.”

Representatives of the consortium during the kickoff of the project in Tallinn. Maker of the selfie is Dominik Mahr, Damien Nunes is standing behind him.

Strong academic base with practical experience

Tallinn University is the initiator of the project and the main applicant for the grant. They decided to contact Prof. Dr. Dominik Mahr, because of his expertise in Service Innovation and Design at the Department of Marketing & Supply Chain Management of Maastricht University’s School of Business and Economics (SBE). This department is a worldwide authority in the field of Services. Stockholm School of Economics (the branch in Riga, Latvia) and design consultancy firm Brand Manual also joined the consortium.

“It is a nice combination of a strong academic base with the more practical experience of the Service Science Factory (SSF) and Brand Manual”, says Mahr, who is also Scientific Director of SSF. “Our department is top notch when it comes to service innovation, but that is not enough. We need to find out how it ties in with the actual problems that organisations have when it comes to Service Design. SSF helps us in making the course operational.”

“Although Tallinn University contacted our department, we would not be able to optimally participate without SSF, which is part of who we are”, Mahr continues. “With the combination of research, education and practice, we have a unique triangle at Maastricht University of which I am extremely proud. Ten years ago, we wondered: if we know so much about services, how can we bring that out to the world? That is how the idea of SSF came up. Ten years later, our department and SSF work closely together on innovative forms of knowledge creation and dissemination. People and the inspiration to develop new activities are the connectors. I am happy that it worked out like this, because SSF is shining brighter than ever.”


The programme of the Service Design Study Module consists of six educational weeks that are spread over a period of six months. Each university organises two separate educational weeks, which means all participants travel to Maastricht, Tallinn and Riga twice. As part of the grant, each country will recruit six participating organisations, half of which must come from the public sector and the other half from the private sector. This creates a great mix for learning.

“We very much believe in the combination of learning with head, heart and hands”, explains Nunes. “This means that we will not only teach the necessary theory; we also let the participants experience the relevance of (Strategic) Service Design emotionally. In addition, we let them work on different personal and generic cases in which they apply their new learnings in practice. Their personal case work will already be the first organisational change that we hope to achieve through this executive course. That is why it is very important that we have a full buy-in from senior management to invest in this customer-centric transformation that is fueled by Service Design.”

Maastricht University’s contribution

In October this year, Mahr and Nunes were present at the kickoff of the project in Tallinn. Together with the other initiators within the consortium, they discussed the content of the study module. Maastricht University is responsible for week 3 and week 4 of the programme, in which the topics Strategic Service Design and the Future of Digital Services will be covered.

“For the two educational weeks in Maastricht we are responsible for the entire cycle”, says Mahr. “We will develop and teach the content on the two subjects. However, as we are a main content contributor to the project, we will also advise our partners on the other subjects. Furthermore, we try to bring in the more innovative, leading edge pieces by involving other colleagues from Maastricht University.”

Digital teaching platform

In addition to the study module, the consortium will also develop a digital platform. “We think it is important to create a free platform where people can teach themselves about Service Design”, says Mahr. “This platform will present all the teaching materials from the study module. As the participants will work on actual cases during the module and will apply them directly into their work practice, it is also our plan to add these cases to the platform. It will be very interesting to see how the different ideas and projects work out in the end. Did it turn out to be a success story or was it a failure? It is very useful to have many of these cases on the platform to see what works and what doesn’t. That will be a valuable output of this programme as well.”

Contact details:

UMIO’s Service Science Factory onderzoekt draagvlak voor tweetalig onderwijs

Is er in Limburg een voedingsbodem voor het aanbieden van Nederlands- én Duitstalig onderwijs op vmbo-niveau, nu en in de toekomst? Dat onderzoekt Service Science Factory (SSF) sinds begin oktober in opdracht van Provincie Limburg. Begin december presenteert het verantwoordelijke projectteam de onderzoeksresultaten.

Waarom dit onderzoek?

Duits is een belangrijke taal in Limburg. Werkgevers aan beide kanten van de grens zitten verlegen om tweetalige werknemers. En waar elders in Nederland het vak Duits afneemt in populariteit, blijft het in Limburg een stabiele factor binnen het middelbaar onderwijs. Op sommige Limburgse scholen neemt de populariteit zelfs toe.

De invoering van tweetalig onderwijs binnen het vmbo zou op termijn kunnen zorgen voor een betere aansluiting van vraag en aanbod op de Euregionale arbeidsmarkt. Aangezien Provincie Limburg een goed onderbouwde beslissing wil nemen over dit vraagstuk, is Service Science Factory (SSF) gevraagd om het te onderzoeken. 

Wie voert het uit?

Service Science Factory (SSF) is onderdeel van UMIO, de onderwijstak voor professionals van Maastricht University’s School of Business and Economics. SSF is uniek vanwege zijn eigen methode om innovatieve oplossingen te ontwikkelen, genaamd Double Diamond. De oorsprong hiervan ligt in de Design Thinking-methodologie. Double Diamond bestaat uit vier fases: Discover, Define, Develop en Deliver. Tijdens dit project voor Provincie Limburg wordt vooral gewerkt in de eerste twee fases.

SSF heeft een projectteam samengesteld dat onder anderen bestaat uit masterstudenten van Maastricht University en studenten van de Hotel Management School Maastricht. Ook dr. Trudie Schils van de School of Business and Economics maakt deel uit van het team. Als projectexpert houdt zij zich onder meer bezig met de kwaliteitsbewaking en de analyse en interpretatie van data. Provincie Limburg legt als verbindende partij de contacten met scholen en andere stakeholders.

Hoe wordt het onderzoek ingevuld?

Het projectteam pakt het onderzoek holistisch aan. Dit betekent dat deskresearch wordt gecombineerd met uitvoerig kwalitatief en kwantitatief onderzoek. Deze aanpak levert een volledig en onderbouwd resultaat op.

Alle belangrijke stakeholders worden bij het onderzoek betrokken. Denk daarbij aan leerlingen, ouders, scholen, Nederlandse én Duitse werkgevers en grensinformatiepunten.

Wanneer zijn de resultaten bekend?

Begin december presenteert het projectteam de onderzoeksresultaten in de vorm van een rapport. De belangrijkste resultaten worden ook op deze website gepubliceerd.

Speculative Design: What if we imagined the day after tomorrow…?

Imagining possible futures through extreme scenario planning isn’t a typical day in the office.  The participants attending UMIO’s Breakfast Booster on Thursday 20 June however,  know that these sessions do not fall easily into the typical mould of corporate training.  The event took place in (King) Arthur’s Auditorium at Brightlands Chemelot Campus,  a fitting location for this particular ‘round table’, where the search for the holy grail of ‘future vision’, was the order of the day.

Service Innovator, trainer and coach, Damien Nunes from UMIO, lead the session.  With a background in engineering, architecture and design, he introduced these concepts in the context of innovation within organisations.  The session’s raison d’etre, was about ensuring we stay relevant in the 21st century.  The interactive element of these sessions, together with creating the space to influence and build networks, is a large part of the success of these Breakfast Boosters.

Reactive predictions vs proactive visions

Traditional strategies which create future scenarios by prediction is no longer adequate.  Rather than always reacting to an uncertain predicted future scenario, we need to explore the key ideas around the complexities of uncertainty and ambiguity.  The crystal ball idea of looking into the future may no longer be necessary if we can change our mindset and learn how to get better at our own proactive vision.

‘If you are working on something exciting that you really care about, you don’t have to be pushed. The vision pulls you.’  Steve Jobs.

Extreme scenario mapping

Damien introduced the concept of Speculative Design which is about looking at how things could be and imagining possible futures by asking ‘what if’ questions.

‘It is a form of design that can help us to define the most desirable futures, and avoid the least desirable.’

– Anthony Dunne & Fiona Raby

This approach opens the debate and allows for discussion about the kind of future people want and don’t want. The group was tasked with some ‘agile doing’ and needed to come up with their own extreme visionary thinking using a Speculative Design approach.  They were divided into smaller groups of 4 and 5 and armed with colourful post-it notes, markers and worksheets, they put into practice what they had learned.

Damien gave each group a case study outlining an extreme scenario in opposites.  Half of each group then considered the scenario from that perspective.  One group of 4, for example, had the Ernst and Young case study and one pair focussed on the extreme scenario of high income.  This scenario outlined a future where there is an extreme shortage of digital skills, so wages rise. They had to consider what the implications of this might be in terms of politics, people, economics, new tech, environment and legislation.  The other pair were focussed on the same organisation but from a ‘mincome’ scenario. This future was one where everybody gets a minimum income from the government and likewise they had to consider these scenarios.

Sharing and converging

The participants worked on these scenarios individually and collectively, before sharing and mapping interventions for each one.  There was a high level of engagement amongst the groups.  The discussion focussed on the challenges and opportunities of what if x happened, the company would need to deal with, strive for, make use of, these different things.  There was also an intrinsic need to consider other people’s perspectives and take account of a perspective that you might not necessarily agree with.

Surprising takeaways

It was interesting that although each group had opposing scenarios, the outcomes were often similar. There seemed to be more of a converging of outcomes, than a diverging.  What does this tell us about our current approach to strategy and planning for the future?  Perhaps we can learn to do this in a different way, a way that takes into account all the possible futures that could be.  These possible futures are lenses used to better understand the present, and what we want and don’t want to see in our future as a society.  (Dunne and Raby)  To paraphrase designer and engineer, Buckminster Fuller, the best way to predict the future is to design it.

This thinking outside of the box, was something that Roger Heijmans, an innovator from the T2 Campus, said was one of the reasons he was there. ‘It’s not about asking the what, but the why.’  Lous Balk, Project Manager from DSM, agreed, ‘that’s the reason we’re here, we care about what happens the day after tomorrow’.

The sharing and networking opportunities in this kind of session were also key takeaways for many of the participants.  Although as several members of the group admitted, they don’t like ‘networking’ in a formal capacity and yet, these sessions make it easy to feel as if this is just a gathering of interested minds.  It is an informal learning opportunity, and to be welcomed with a delicious breakfast at a great location for 2 hours on a Thursday morning, what’s not to like!

Are you ready for more challenging thinking?

Then why not come along to UMIO Insights Event, on 2 July 16.00 – 19.00?

Our last chance before the summer break to meet, exchange, inspire and be inspired by professionals and academics in your field.  Sign up now to reserve a place at the sessions of your choice!

For more Customer-Centric Innovation and Design Thinking,  our 3-day Maastricht Summer Experience on 24-26 July is the perfect opportunity for you!

Do you want to identify business challenges and potential innovations, and make them tangible? We offer customised service innovation provision, please get in touch with us to find out how we can help your organisation stay relevant for the the day after tomorrowService Science Factory (SSF)

Introducing our MaastrichtMBA students to Service Science

Innovative thinking is an important part of the MaastrichtMBA programme, in particular through the module ‘Sustaining Competitive Advantage’. In this module, UMIO’s Service Science Factory (SSF) provides participants with the necessary mind-set, processes and tools to improve the innovation capacity of their organisation. This is far from a theoretical exercise. Because participants practice service design tools and experience all stages of the innovation process during these sessions, they become empowered to implement processes and tools in their own organisation.

Bridging academia and practice

This is typical for the approach of SSF: it bridges academia and practice, facilitating companies to gain sustainable competitive advantages through service innovation. SSF has realized the potential of service innovation in different organisations through more than 50 projects, using a state-of-the-art project approach, making use of proven service design tools and multi-disciplinary teams that stimulate co-creation.

The right perspective

As a method, (Service) Design Thinking addresses complex challenges, by embracing the perspective of the end-users, when creatively prototyping new product or service offerings. Industry leaders such as Apple, McKinsey, and Mayo Clinic, place this approach at the centre of their business activities, and IBM even proclaims it wants to become “the world’s largest and most sophisticated design company”.

Practical results

The MaastrichtMBA innovation module consists of five sessions. During the final session, the teams present their innovation ideas and underlying business concepts to an expert panel, which provides practical tips for improving and implementing the ideas. The best ideas were rewarded with a panel prize and an audience prize.

Get in touch

There are several ways SSF can support you and your organization in exploring the value that ‘Interaction Design’ can provide. For instance by facilitating innovation projects for the improvement or development of new services which incorporate the ‘Interaction Design’-perspective.

Learning opportunities

There is a range of educational trajectories available where we train professionals to incorporate the ‘Interaction Design’-perspective into their daily work and specific projects.
As an introduction to the world of ‘Interaction Design’ we have developed a hands-on inspiration day for professionals, where you will work on a case, take the customer perspective and start designing interactions for delightful experiences. Feel free to contact us for more information.

Session Instructors

Dr. Dominik Mahr, Scientific Director Service Science Factory
Dominik is an Associate Professor at the Marketing and Supply Chain Management department of Maastricht University. As Scientific Director of the Service Science Factory (SSF), he is responsible for a wide range of services that create new and improve existing offers of companies.



Dr. Elisabeth Brüggen, Professor of Marketing
Elisabeth (Lisa) Brüggen is Professor of Marketing at Maastricht University School of Business and Economics (SBE). She is an internationally recognized expert in services marketing and financial well-being, particularly regarding pension communications.




Damien Nunes, Service Designer Service Science Factory
Damien has a background in design and is currently project leader and service designer at the Service Science Factory (SSF). He facilitates projects, workshops and inspires creativity within (project)groups to develop new innovative service concepts.



Sabine Janssen, Msc, Project Leader Service Science Factory
Sabine has a background in strategic marketing and business experience in corporate communications, strategic consultancy and innovation management. Her focus as project leader at SSF is design thinking, service innovation and project management and educating professionals in these respective fields.



Download the complete Experience Report