Benefits of participating and supporting hackathons on social challenges – experiences from YEBN during the #EUvsVirus

Alexandra Nothnagel,
Vice-President of the YEBN

A pan-European hackathon was hosted by the European Commission and led by the European Innovation Council in close collaboration with the EU member states.

A hackathon (a portmanteau of hacking marathon with  “hack” in the sense of exploratory programming, not as a reference to computer crime.) is a design and production-oriented sprint-like event in which mostly programmers and others profiles involved in software development (graphic designers, interface designers, project managers, domain experts) collaborate intensively on software projects. 

The event typically starts with presentations especially about the specific aspect addressed, if any. Afterwards, participants bring in their ideas to form teams respecting individual interests and skills. The main work is then conducted during a predefined time period from several hours to several days. The goal of a hackathon is to have the teams create functioning software or hardware by the end of the event.

Source: Pexels

Hackathons were organized all over the world to save lives during the Covid-19 crisis

Hackathons already exist for around 20 years (since 1999) in the computer science community, especially used by companies and venture capitalists as a quick and cheap talent show or platform to develop new software technologies and to identify new areas for innovation and investment. During the Covid-19 crisis this innovation tool got instrumentalized not only by companies, but also by governments to address urgent social challenges. These hackathons are focused on a topic of common interest rather than on techniques and aimed to connect volunteers with various profiles from “civil society, innovators, partners and investors across Europe in order to develop innovative solutions for coronavirus-related challenges”

As an association interested by fostering innovation on a European level, bridging science and targeted to European society, YEBN decided to support the dissemination and follow-up of the #EUvsVirus :  

With YEBN, we focused during #EUvsVirus on one out of six challenges that fit best our expertise : Health and Life 

With YEBN, we focused on one out of six challenges that fit best our expertise : Health and Life addressing a broad range of health initiatives like cheap and rapid tests, protective equipment, ventilators/respirators, protection of medical personnel, real-time communication and prevention, scaling telemedicine, contact tracing/containment strategies and fragmentation of current efforts to ensure that all countries can e.g. locally produce one ventilation machine instead of the 65+ open versions currently being designed/built? Also the mapping in research, e.g. of covid literature with perspectives of tests/medication/vaccination development.

Source: EU vs. Virus

(Check out more about it here

Does this mean, hackathons are not only for software developers? No, they can be for everyone!

Hackathons are not only for developers as for a complete development circle there are many more skills and profiles needed : project managers and coordinators leading the team, writers who can translate tech concepts into practices, designers for preparing charts and graphics, marketing and videoclip experts, financial specialists and business analysts, possible fundraisers, testers and end user representatives, subject experts. Each different feedback and skill can give valuable insights and a perspective you may not have considered. In the coronavirus-topic especially doctors, scientists and bioleaders are crucial team members with crucial knowledge.

Source: Pixabay

As YEBN vice-president, I got the chance, supported by the YEBN team, to join this challenge as a civil society representative and check out, what YEBN and its members can contribute to make proposed solutions for coronavirus-related challenges a success : around 800 partners from civil society had the same intention during the Hackathon and thus, very enriching interdisciplinary discussions started on our common goals and strengths we as Non For Profit Organisations have that can catalyze projects with sustainable and social impact on our society. What a dynamic group with impressive knowledge and networks and inspiring ideas ! 

I got the opportunity to support many teams with advice and specifically join two already existing projects that specially attracted my attention : 

  1. Corozone :
  2. The Health Manager :

These projects and the work with the teams were so much fun, inspiring and motivating.. Check out their feedback and needs : 

My name is Sebastian, I am a biophysicist from Frankfurt in Germany, where I met Alexandra first in an iGEM team. For the past month I have participated in #wevsvirus and #euvsvirus hackathons to work on Corozone, an all-in-one app for people in quarantine to do groceries, track symptoms and contacts and get help when needed. It was a very exciting experience to learn so much in so little time and bringing an idea in your head to life. A hackathon can be whatever you need it to be. It sets a deadline for you to finish “something”, that usually means a two minute video about whatever you want to show. I already had a prototype of an idea a week before #wevsvirus, the German hackathon, was announced. After the hackathon several winners in different categories are picked, but the competition starts much earlier: The competition for ideas and skills. Developers, designers… aren’t paid to code anything, so if you have an idea they think is bad they just won’t join your team. To me there is something magical about bringing an idea to life, but in a team you also need to make compromises and sometimes part of the original idea gets lost.

Currently I am looking for people with Android devices who want to share grocery lists with family and friends and even get help from neighbours, a feature that can be very useful in quarantine and to reduce contacts in supermarkets (Development Version). Your feedback will be included in a matter of days and you are also invited to join the effort with development, marketing, encryption, UI or legal skills and follow the progress on GitHub

Please contact Sebastian via LinkedIn or Twitter if you are interested in supporting his project.

Laura Moro, PhD, who volunteered in YEBN communication, also participated at hackathons commented on LinkedIn about “The Health Manager” project: 

“#euvsvirus #hackathon,…, a true representation of the #collaborative spirit and #solidarity of #European citizens (and not only European) aiming to tackle pressing #covid19 issues. I hope that many of these solutions will find a real-world #application.

This is my first time joining a hackathon as a participant, and it has been a truly motivating, fun and inspirational experience. I am amazed to see the amount of #ideas, the potential for #innovation, and the power of an international #multidisciplinary team that has never met before.

I have been contributing to #TheHealthManager project (you can learn more about it in the video below), one of the winners of another hackathon 2 weeks ago where I had the pleasure to be a mentor. I am glad that this time I joined as part of the team!

Thanks to Daniela Marzavan and Sophie Gruboeck for being an inspiration and establishing a great team, and to Prabitha Urwyler, Afonso Porto Pessanha, Alexandra Nothnagel, Hannah Suarez for their great work this weekend!” 

Please contact Daniela Marzavan and Sophie Gruboeck on LinkedIn if interested to join – the team needs a GP, doctors and researchers joining as peer-reviewers and as test users. 

Results of the #EUvsVirus and future plans of matchmaking and support

Over 20,900 participants, 380 volunteers, 2,400 mentors and 800 partners with a total of 141 different nationalities, as well as different areas of expertise and backgrounds joined the #EUvsVirus Hackathon and during 48h over 2,160 solutions were submitted whereof 898 in health and life (898). Germany (389), Italy (320) and Spain (315) submitted the highest number of solutions, which range from a ‘modular micro factory’ to a ‘natural language processing system for medical reporting’. 

Altogether 117 solutions were identified ( by the juros as best possible solutions to support the fight against the coronavirus outbreak. In collaboration with private and public partners from Europe and beyond; the winners are, as a prize, exclusively invited to a so called “Matchathon” that will take place from 22 to 25 May on the newly developed EIC COVID Platform. This Matchathon event shall facilitate matchmaking with “end-users, such as hospitals, and provide access to investors, corporates, foundations and other funding opportunities from across the EU.” 

As YEBN representative, I consider that this is such an amazing and meaningful activity as it fits 100 percent with our aims in YEBN – bridging science/innovation and cooperates/business to bring innovations to the European society – we aim to be “matchmakers” and “bridge-builders” for our members and partners projects for a long time already. Great initiative of the #EUvsVirus Matchathon team. That’s the way to foster the projects’ success !

The focus of this Matchathon is on supporting only the winning teams, here are two of several biotech related projects, we want to present to you this time from the Biotech sector – check out other projects here :

1.xT BioE : Enabling the rapid scaling of vaccine and antibody test production. One of the three winners of the research challenge.

Source : 

2. Instant SARS-CoV-2 breathalyzer : Optical detection of airborne virus-bearing aerosols (micro-/nano-droplets) using fluorescent markers with high specificity. One of the three winners of the cheap test category.

Source :

YEBN and other civil society partners started collaborating and coordinating to join forces to support all sustainable and promising projects that aim to pursue their activities in finding society oriented solutions to the Covid-19 crisis. All teams are winners : the two teams I supported continue working and if you are interested in supporting these or other projects from #EUvsVirus (you can also find them on Devpost), we can help you to get in contact. Just write an email to If you were yourself participating in a project that needs support, you can also reach out to the YEBN team, we will see what we can do to support your solution to fight the Covid-19 crisis. .

What is the advice of the YEBN leaders in this topic? 

Most of us are still sitting at home to reduce the spread of coronavirus and some of us might feel helpless, even desperately useless in this situation. Out of solidarity, you might have offered to do some groceries for a grandmother next door, you may have helped your parents to install video conference-software to allow them see other family members and friends. At work you might have participated to organise the remote working. If in addition to social distancing and hygiene and neighbourhood solidarity, you realize that you have or can quickly gain competencies and skills that may actually help to fight COVID-19 pandemic, in open software and open science projects, then you can stop feeling helpless – as you can actually be one part of the overall help from civil society for civil society. Consider joining a hackathon. Therein or thereafter : 

Consider joining existing project teams, e.g. of a hackathon if you bring skills and time, or join a new one if you bring a new project idea. Alternatively, consider providing your time and skills as a volunteer to civil society NFPOs, that have ongoing projects or that support projects addressing the Covid-19 pandemic.

Source: Pixabay

There are many tangible reasons why to join a virtual hackathon or virtual projects addressing the Covid-19 pandemic:

Many skills your use and gain during a hackathon are very similar to those needed to build your own business in the future : 

  • Increase your experience working
    • remotely with virtual tools
    • with new tools for free
    • in small groups (maybe of completely new people)
    • production oriented
    • efficiently and with fun under high time pressure
  • Learn new and share your skills
    • get experience in software development or coding
    • stress and time management
    • teamwork and collaboration
    • quick decision making
    • letting go on some of your ideas for the community
  • Improve your communication
    • Practice pitches : explain your ideas easily understandable and convincingly to new people under time pressure
  • Gain self-confidence and judge on your impact
  • Give something back for the greater good
  • Visibility :
    • Make your competences visible for recruiters
    • Make the strengths of your projects visible for investors
  • Grow your network : 
    • meet potential employers/colleagues
    • Make new friends all over the world
  • Facilitate social impact and development of innovative solutions

Here are just a few of them listed to give you an idea of the density of events : 

“Fighting a Global Crisis. 3 billion people in lockdown. Let’s hack the future and never go through this again” citation of the global hack challenge

Future or ongoing events :