London Business School (LBS) has an extensive network of successful entrepreneurs and a long history of sparking ideas among corporate business lea ders. Capturing the entrepreneurial spirit of the School and reinforcing it as a place of ideas, was the first ever student-led Hackathon event held in May.
If you’ve never heard of a Hackathon, that’s not surprising. But as an increasingly popular way of finding new solutions to problems, while showcasing the best in team collaboration, it’s likely they’ll soon be common knowledge. Coders, designers and business minds come together to build, pitch and win with their original ideas. The growing movement of global Hackathons provide software engineers and experts in design and product development with an opportunity to use their skills to 'hack' – or realise – game-changing ideas.
Jeff Skinner, Executive Director of the Deloitte Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at LBS points to the electric entrepreneurial atmosphere: “The Hackathon format seems to generate so much fruitful creative energy that verges on chaos. It's that combination of competition, impossible timescales and unlikely mixture of disciples. And vast amounts of caffeine, pizza and chocolate.”
Why hack at all?
Hackathons bring together a unique mix of people who give their time to create something great. So what was different about the LBS Hackathon? There was an emphasis on the business need: the why should I care element? Participants asked: why build a prototype, where’s the market, how will we make money from the idea? It’s this level of scrutiny that other Hackathons sometimes lack and, along with meeting savvy business minds, is exactly why seasoned Hackathon pros came along to the event.
Who hacked it?
Hatched from a business plan on three pieces of paper – the ultimate back-of-the-envelope idea – the LBS Hackathon came to pass in just two-and-a-half months spearheaded by Sheng Huang, an MBA2016 student. Sheng recently won a Bain Impact Award, an award given to the LBS student who’s made the most impact at the School over the past year. The event saw 80 people attend: around 50 per cent from the LBS community and 50 per cent from outside. It hosted 10 mentors from venture capitals, accelerators and start-ups and proved so popular that from the over 100 student applications, only 30 per cent were accepted onto the marathon idea and product creation weekend.
The event saw Hackathon veterans (coined ‘Hackathon junkies’) attend the event, along with designers, engineers and business minds. They flocked for different reasons. Entrepreneurs benefited from networking with engineers: “If you can get an engineer to work on your idea, you’re saving money,” says Sheng. The business thinkers learnt about cutting-edge developments and prototype methods and a better understanding of communicating with the technical specialists.
What was in it for the engineers? “For them it’s more like – I want to build something cool and learn from others,” says Sheng. “The Hackathon junkies thrive in the collaborative environment.” This is exactly why the Hackathon is so powerful says Sheng; it brings the scientific and technical talent from around London together in one place. And there are tangible benefits to LBS too. Based in Regent’s Park, a stone’s throw away from the start-up scene in east London, the School opened its doors to Facebook employees, data scientists and code engineers from investment bank Blackstone.
The entire effort was a lesson in collaboration. The student Design and Entrepreneurship clubs joined forces with the support of The Deloitte Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Startup Manufactory and Sussex Place Ventures. There were participants from 10 different institutions including UCL, Imperial College and Oxford University, and technical schools such as the Royal College of Arts. To complete the mix, Microsoft Ventures, Seedcamp and Techstars joined in the weekend’s activities.
They came together to embrace ultimate-collaboration, and the chance to achieve something extraordinary.
As a Deloitte consultant turned self-confessed Silicon Valley veteran, Sheng knows a thing or two about trends. In fact, his career trajectory has been to follow the latest trends; during the renewable energy boom Sheng worked at solar and bio-fuel start-ups. And he’s seen first-hand how Google retains talent and ideas as he worked at the firm’s internal start-up, Niantic Labs, alongside the founder of Google Earth, on augmented reality gaming for mobile. “I feel like Silicon Valley needs to look outside itself,” he says, adding that it lacks the global aspect London brings. “I wanted to see how entrepreneurship was being done in other parts of the world.”
Other than selfies, today’s trends include things like pre-ordered food boxes, caring for the environment and tech-led solutions. The Hackathon channelled these ideas but other trends emerged. “I really liked the team ‘Change for Change’, as they sent a social message, which we know is so important to the Gen-Yers.” Here he’s talking about the team whose entire mission was to help homelessness by providing a better way for people to donate money through their smartphones. The second big trend of the weekend was from the ‘PeakFit’ team, born out of the Apple Watch sensation; it was a sensor-led fitness app to promote both wellness and wearable tech.
Everyone loves a life lesson. It’s the age of mindfulness, meditation and the ongoing pursuit of happiness. Welcome to FumbleBrag, the Hackathon winning team, made up of four members: two students; Pat Eskinasy EMBALS2015 (the business lead) and Aditya Damani MBA2016 (the design lead); and two external Hackathon participants offering technical and content expertise.
FumbleBrag is a community platform where people share their failures. The idea came from the belief that there’s no better way to learn than from other people's mistakes, an idea that’s applied to the School’s teaching curriculum with real-life business case studies.. Riding the wave of short content popularity it lends itself to being shared, is mobile-friendly and more often than not, fun. If you’re unsure of the cultural dos and don’ts about shaking hands in the boardroom, FumbleBrag offers real-life fumbles and more importantly insightful fixes.
Team member Pat said, “Our hypothesis was to grow site traffic and engagement by structuring information and simplifying the way people share their stories." She explains why it proved successful: “Every fumble follows a structure: the story behind the fumble (explaining what exactly happened) and #thefix (things that you would have done differently as not to fail).”
The hacking future’s bright
“Lots of impressive people and great ideas. The team brought together 80 people from LBS and a wider community. Aside from being a great event for the school, as a graduate and employer this was probably the most valuable ‘reconnection’ to the school I have had since I left. In my mind they showcased the best of the school.”
Written in a note to the Dean, Professor Sir Andrew Likierman, these are the words of alumnus Aidan Neill EMBALJ2013 Co-Founder and CEO of BitPoster. This adds to the reasons Sheng’s confident that the Hackathon will take place annually going forward, adding: “It sends a strong message. LBS students are serious about executing on their business ideas and LBS is serious about fostering an entrepreneurial environment that brings diverse talent in.”
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