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150 hackathons and just getting started

Hacking Health: Bottom-up Innovation for Health article from July 2012 in Technology Innovation Management Review noted how top-down government approaches to health have failed to deliver digital technologize to modernize healthcare. “Disruptive innovation must come from the ground up by bridging the gap between frontline health experts and innovators in the latest web and mobile technology,” wrote Jeesham Chowdhury.

Here we capture this grass-roots initiative grew to an international movement, as we celebrate the 150th hackathon in Hamilton, Ontario. 

The above video from the Whitehorse hackathon in 2014 captures the spirit of Hacking Health.  

Innovation is a word we use carelessly every day of our lives. In reality, innovation is often painful, frustrating and disappoints. We talk about collaboration; however, we can question how effectively within our organizational silos this is achieved. A hackathon approach to health innovation proves that innovation can be fun and deliver inspiring solutions at pace.

We asked co-founder and Board member Luc Sirois to reflect on the journey so far. With usual Sirois flair, he remarks that it is still just the beginning.

“Over the past eight years, through 150 hackathons, but also hundreds of gatherings, cafes, conferences, thousands of projects, tens of thousands of participants and audience, Hacking Health leaders created new ways to bring innovation to healthcare.

We, the hundreds of leaders of Hacking Health, the hundreds of change-makers that come from our ranks or that rally to our cause, we show the world how collaborating, taking action, solving frontline problems, are potent ingredients in building a better future for healthcare.

We show the world how connecting new people and communities around healthcare issues is the most powerful way to trigger change, spark creativity, drive a new level of energy, hope and engagement among clinicians and patients on the frontline, but also among decision-makers and institutions at the top.

We show the world how breaking down barriers and taping on collective intelligence are fantastic ways to drive change and unclog the status quo in an area everybody cares about.”


Project prototype development at a hackathon

Hacking Health metrics

The 150 headline number hides the impact of Hacking Health. It is impressive, yet as Sirois mentions, it is the thousands of local community citizens, among them students, budding entrepreneurs, and volunteers that are the real success story.

Hacking Health, Global Movement, 150 hackathon, metrics, September 2019

The international Hacking Health movement is spread across five continents. Graphic update September 2019

How this spread is an intriguing journey in itself.

By the numbers

  • In Canada alone there have been 58 major events across 18 cities, including hackathons, design jams, ideathons and Cooperathon since 2012;
  • Montreal has hosted the most events with 10;
  • Many cities including Toronto, Vancouver, Strasbourg, Monterrey, Valais, Nijmegen have held five or more hackathons;
  • By 2014, the events had already spread beyond Canada to Strasbourg, Hong Kong and Cape Town;
  • More than 25 hackathons have been held around the world by Hacking Health Chapters each year since 2016.

Read the great event review from HH Sfax in Tunisia


Sparkboard hosts the Hacking Health boards and projects

Sparkboard hosts the Hacking Health boards and projects

Sparkboard started in 2012 as a temporary solution to profile the projects as the first hackathon in Montreal. It is still very much alive and now supports Hacking Health, Cooperathon and others. Canadian developer, Matt Huebert has worked tirelessly to maintain and enhance the user experience.

Browse the incredible spectrum of 1700 projects on Sparkboard here. They encompass apps, mobility aids, reminders, 3D printed prototypes and next even solutions to antimicrobial resistance.

Innovation is a complex process, and through the Hacking Health experience, we have evolved the model towards a series of events rather than just a single fun hackathon weekend. The impact to society arises from the sustainability of the inspiration solutions generated. It is disappointing if we return to our everyday lives and the brilliance is left to wane. We have learnt that developing a community ecosystem, leading them through design thinking and pitching workshops in advance can lift the quality of the ideation and prototype development within the competitive hackathon. Then by enveloping the most promising teams with mentorship post hackathon, we can help cultivate them and plug them into the entrepreneurial infrastructure. From which, businesses can be established, prototypes commercialized to benefit societal health and well-being.

Hacking Health Foundation, grass-roots movement of volunteers

Hacking Health Foundation is a grass-roots movement of volunteers

Hacking Health too has evolved while staying true to its origins and values. The mission fosters inclusive innovation by connecting people to solve real-world health problems. This has remained around breaking down barriers and accelerating the pace of innovation, to enhance health and well-being. Our collective understanding of the emerging fields of Health Innovation Management and Opening Innovation necessitate our values of inclusivity, collaboration, integrity and inspiration.

“Today we are celebrating the 150th Hacking Health Hackathon. What started as the Hacking Health experiment has shown that we can break down the barriers between technical experts who can build innovative technologies and the frontline healthcare practitioners who know which solutions can make an impact,” explains Danina Kapetanovic, Executive Director of Hacking Health Foundation. “In the process, we have not only overcome these barriers physically, but we have also built an international ecosystem of innovation in healthcare.”

Hacking Health catalyzes collaboration by first building a health innovation ecosystem that includes patients, caregivers, healthcare professionals, technologists, designers, researchers and entrepreneurs.

The success of the ecosystem is ensured through continuous engagement and education via cafes, conferences, clinics and workshops. It is the sum of these collective efforts that bring about innovation and change. Hacking Health’s mandate is accomplished by using a collaborative bottom-up approach that places patients and healthcare professionals at the centre of the innovation process.

There seems nothing better than hearing from Riya Karumanchi, Founder & CEO of SmartCane, who is our youngest judge at the 150 hackathon celebration in Hamilton. This smart and articulate sixteen-year-old won the Peoples’ Choice Award at the Hamilton hackathon back in 2017.

Hacking Health Toronto150 hackathons and just getting started