The U.S. Embassy in Ireland, in partnership with the DCU Ryan Academy for Entrepreneurship and corporate sponsors Intel, IBM, Kerry Group and PepsiCo, brought together 112 delegates for a cross-border social entrepreneurship hackathon November 6-8, 2015. During the 48-hour event, delegates age 18 to 25 outlined 50 of the most important social problems facing youth locally, regionally, and globally. The group then narrowed that list to 15 priority issues and formed 15 teams to identify corresponding creative solutions using entrepreneurial and business practices and other skill sets. The teams were supported by 30 high-profile mentors from a variety tech and multinational companies, as well as the social entrepreneurship sector. The hackathon culminated in a pitching competition where groups presented their ideas to an expert panel, which included U.S. Ambassador O’Malley. The winning project, Educa$ion, proposed an online banking platform to give young people a practical way to learn about budgeting, banking, and fiscal responsibility.
The hackathon platform enabled the U.S. Embassy and DCU Ryan Academy to foster social entrepreneurship to unlock innovation skills amongst youth. It also encouraged a diverse array of talented young people to develop civic engagement projects that contribute to social good in Ireland, in the region, and in the world. By bringing together young leaders from Ireland and Northern Ireland and internationally, it also supported constructive cross-border dialogue.
More than 225 students (ages 18-25) applied for just 120 slots, with the final composition of the group made up of 65% of delegates from Ireland (nearly all 26 counties), 15% from Northern Ireland, 10% U.S. students studying in Ireland, and 10% international students studying in Ireland. Gender parity was 50/50. Countries represented by international delegates were: Brazil, India, Kosovo, Pakistan, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Spain, UAE, and the United Kingdom. The U.S. Embassy conducted an open call for applicants. Participants included members of the Embassy’s Youth Council as well as alumni of U.S. exchange programs, including the Washington Ireland Program (WIP), Study USA, and the J-1 program.
Ideas Alone Are Worthless, Execution is Everything
The hackathon called upon guest speakers and professional mentors to advise the teams as they brainstormed, built prototypes, and prepared to pitch their work to a panel of judges. U.S. Ambassador O’Malley launched the hackathon with a keynote panel and reception at his residence, on the topic of best practices for social entrepreneurs. The panelists included: Christopher Fabian, head of UNICEF’s Innovation Unit who made Time magazine’s 2013 list of 100 most influential people; Kim Pham, a young U.S. entrepreneur based in Ireland who is currently head of Platform at Frontline Venture Capital; and Kate Cronin, designer and Co-Founder of Obeo, an Irish start-up focused on sustainability. Gina London, an Emmy award-winning former CNN correspondent based in Ireland moderated the discussion, which included advice on how to move an idea from concept to market.Execution is everything emphasized Pham. What seems like a good idea, may not be viable if you don’t first validate the need for your solution. Fabian discussed his work developing tech solutions for the humanitarian sector and advised delegates that Technology is merely the infrastructure and Empathy doesn’t build a good product. It doesn’t help to have a really good heart and a really bad business plan. Following the panel, participants travelled to the DCU Ryan Academy where they took the stage to pitch their peers on the top social challenges facing Irish youth, facilitated by Fergal Brophy. From more than 50 social issues initially identified, participants voted on the top 15, forming teams around these themes.
What seems like a good idea, may not be viable if you don’t first validate the need for your solution.
The hackathon was made possible through corporate sponsorship and personal time commitments from Intel, IBM, Kerry Group, and PepsiCo. Four additional speakers gave workshops at crucial turning points in the hackathon. Immediately following the launch event, Bart Lehane, CEO of billing app KillBiller (which was founded at a hackathon) advised delegates on how to be a successful hackathon participant. The next day, as delegates entered the ideation phase, Sean McNulty, CEO of Dolmen Design, gave a workshop on embedding design thinking in the incubation process. Later that evening as teams began to focus on specific solutions, Sean Coughlin, CEO of Boards.ie and former CEO of Social Entrepreneurs Ireland, led a session on the importance of leadership and teamwork. On the final morning of the hackathon, as teams prepared their presentations, Andrew Keogh, communications consultant and CEO of Aristo, provided guidance on the art of the pitch. More than 30 mentors signed on to guide teams throughout the incubation process, providing invaluable expertise and personal connections to expert resources over the weekend. Mentors volunteered for three hour slots, rotating among teams that would benefit the most from their specific expertise. The mentors represented a cross section of U.S. and Irish organizations, including multi-national businesses, tech firms, investors, educational institutions, NGOs, philanthropies, social enterprises, and startups.
The hackathon culminated in a pitching competition with the 15 teams presenting their solutions and prototypes before a panel of judges including: Eoghan Stack, CEO of the DCU Ryan Academy; Ambassador O’Malley; Leonard Hobbs, Director of Global Public Affairs for Intel; Deirdre Mortell, CEO of Social Innovation Fund Ireland; and Deiric O’Broin, CEO of think tank NorDubCo. Five prizes were awarded. Educa$ion, a project led by 2015 Washington Ireland Program (WIP) alumnus Finn Murphy, was named overall winner. The concept centered on creating an online banking platform for young people as a practical solution to the current absence of youth education on budgeting, banking, and fiscal responsibility. The team behind the project is now talking to banks and credit unions to see how the concept could be rolled out in the near future. LGBT Asylum Assist, a project using data analytics to support asylum claims, won most disruptive innovation. LockDock, a hardware platform designed to change the habits of distracted drivers won best incremental innovation. VolunPeer, a social network designed to match young people to volunteer opportunities in Ireland, was recognized as most devoted team, and Koala, a project to connect like-minded youth when they relocate to a new city won most creative pitch. Other project concepts include platforms to: improve youth voter turnout and civic literacy; increase public health awareness around STDs; provide life skills training for young people with autism in times of transition;address student accommodation shortages through a modular housing prototype; encourage non-discriminatory gender identification through a primary school curriculum program; and support students as they make decisions about third level education and their careers.
Throughout the event, the conference’s social entrepreneurship theme was amplified via social media, resulting in the hashtag #CMHack15 emerging as a top 10 trending topic in Ireland on Twitter, with more than 1500 tweets resulting in over three million impressions. RTÉ News covered the event in their November 8 evening broadcast, including interviews with delegates, the U.S. Ambassador, and the CEO of the DCU Ryan Academy. The judging panel was also filmed as part of The Park documentary television series with RTÉ, which focuses on the people and organizations who live and work in Dublin’s Phoenix Park (including the U.S. Ambassador) which will air in Autumn 2016.