The Tale of Ultrahack

It is most of the time better to choose from many alternatives, not from just few. It is also recommended to encourage both quality and experimentation. Life is full of contradictions. A notion of abundance has driven me throughout my innovation management career. The more we can create variety, the more we can learn, and ultimately, the more we can take out of it. This is a short story of the origin of the Ultrahack, from a startup CEO’s perspective, for those who may think of establishing something novel in the form of a startup. My background reflects the element of variety: I have Masters in Education, with major from Educational Psychology, but I have enrolled to Software Engineering Doctoral student program, and in the meanwhile studied entrepreneurship, industrial engineering, innovation management and software engineering. I have written 20–30 academic and popular articles. I have worked as a elementary school teacher, team building coach, innovation project developer, ICT development manager, business incubator, special researcher, innovation manager and co-founder in four startups. I have gathered life and work experience both in Northern and Southern Finland and in Silicon Valley. That’s enough about me, let’s get back to the story of Ultrahack.

Rewind to December 2014, it was dark and rainy nightand in Finland it typically is a bit SLUSHY by that time (pun intended). I was just recovering one of the most influential events organized so far in my career, ICT Innovation Tournament 2014 for Ficom, aka the Finnish telecom industry association. As startup business typically do, I tried my best to create as successful an event possible. I still think we succeeded welland with the typical startup mindset, I needed to find more business cases. Innovation contest — and hackathon business — has a pretty long lead time.
So, at the ICT Tournament Award Gala I happened to network with gentleman Ilkka Lehto from Teleforum (now Digital Forum Finland), Mobile payment industry association. We discussed of planning together something similar with this company. As a side-note, I also wanted to boost the Futuretournaments team, as I worked basically alone at this time, with a new team member. I recruited the winner of the ICT tournament, Antti Eerola — a splendid designer and innovator. During that December meeting we met Teleforum CEO Juhani Kivikangas and discussed that would be great to do something innovative and novel. Teleforum organizes the Best Mobile Service contest in Finland and they had a good perspective what it takes to get media attention for the startups and corporates in ICT. That contest was aimed towards finding and awarding existing startups and corporates operating within the mobile industry, and to award the best innovations of that year. So it was looking a bit backwards, like looking to the rearview mirror so to speak. I had organized and learned a model that stands on startups, students and freelancers.

Innovation tournament ideology was: “By organizing the ICT2014 Innovation Tournament, FiCom offers a novel, exciting and fun opportunity to create something totally new. Something, that makes the future of ICT industry flourishing, prosperous and surprising.” Definition by KWHS: “An innovation tournament is an organizational mechanism by which opportunities are generated, identified, evaluated and selected until only the exceptional few remain. American Idol is an example of an innovation tournament in which a large number of aspiring performers are evaluated until only one winner remains.”

ICT Innovation Tournament was a great event as it brought together ICT industry to work together for the challenges of the future. Although some things could have been improved: One major lack was the visibility, as it had relatively small outreach in media. It was difficult to gain visibility without any connection to other major platforms aka communities. Another challenge was that it did not have an explicit expectation for working software as an outcome. It had too many concepts and too few working applications. Perhaps variety was bit too low to. However, these shortcomings were soon to be resolved in a totally new type of format!

We started to work on an idea that would combine Innovation tournament and Hackathon. Best ideas and the best teams would be gathered together during the hackathon weekend, and ideas would turn into products or at least prototypes. We did not had previous experiences of hackathons, apart from Assembly demo party (and few smaller one’s) from nineties. That is why the first version of Ultrahack was called Mobile Dev Party. The name was to highlight that this event would be fun for developers and it is about mobile industry. In order to get enough visibility for the winners, we needed to have bigger community. I had recently organized a promotion contest to support Slush in Copenhagen. Naturally, the next step was to talk with Slush. CEO Marianne Vikkula offered for us to have a party at Slush. She also mentioned that we should talk with Petri Vilen, who was not only the curator of Slush program, but also founder of Industryhack, which had recently organized their first hackathon in Finland. He mentioned that AaltoES (the student organization behind Slush), was also planning to organize their first student hackathon in September. We thought it would be great if they could postpone their hackathon so that we could organise a larger joint hackathon in conjunction with Slush. So we met AaltoES guys, sold them the idea and started collaboration and planning the concept of Slush Hacks. (All those meetings happened between Jan-March 2015. First Industryhack was held in February 2015).

Hackathons — as well as any other contests — need challenge sponsors, meaning funding. So together with AaltoES we started to pre-market Slush Hacks to the “usual suspects”, big corporates that we knew had been positive approach towards similar events. We managed to raise interest from eg. Microsoft who had their plans already to organise Dev shark tour in Finland for that year.

We soon realised that we would need very large place to hold a hackathon for more than 1000 participants. We tried for two months to find a big enough event space but ended up having two separate hackathons. We also noticed that there were some characteristic ideology differences between AaltoES and our hackathon so we decided to split to two different hackathons in April 2015. Our thinking was more oriented towards innovation contest — hackathon hybrid (allowing premade solutions to enter to contest -> More variety and abundance!) and creating our own platform, in terms of being more in control of both the format and data related to the community. AaltoES came up with Junction brand, we established the Ultrahack brand, to emphasize longer development period of “hacks” aka solutions. We still felt that computer science students are essential for the successful recruiting of contestants, so we contacted TKO-äly association from University of Helsinki and they were ready to partner with us and Ultrahack. At this point Ultrahack started to have all the key elements in place!

Key elements were and are:

1. Best possible format to drive both outcome quality and variety

2. Variety of meaningful challenges and tech from a wide range of industries and top brands

3. High quality prizes, such as cash, investment opportunities, pilots

4. Growing international family of Ultrahack developers

5. Online prehack platform to make the seamless participation experience and create additional value for the hackers.

6. Aftermath: Access to top-notch visibility via partner events (such as Slush or Arctic15)

The rest is history and the Ultrahack era had begun.

Since 2015, there has been:

  • 9 Ultrahack challenge finals
  • 4,800 people who are part of the Ultrahack community
  • 1,800 people who have been selected to participate in Ultrahack events
  • 40 challenges which have been solved at Ultrahack
  • 200 solutions which have been developed at hackathons
  • 100 industry partners who have been involved in our events
  • 200 mentors who have been helping contestants to polish their solutions

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Slush launches biggest hackathon in Europe!

Ultrahack 2015 is a massive hackathon, where an unprecedented number of coders will develop solutions for corporate, public, and NGO challenges. As a part of Slush Hacks, the finalists will be able to demonstrate their works to top-tier international investors on stage at Slush. Slush is one of the world‘s leading events for startups, investors, and the media to connect.

Ultrahack 2015 is a joint innovation effort by a large number of corporates, industry associations, NGOs and public organizations. It will be held November 6–8th 2015.

Prior to the hackathon weekend, a virtual pre-game will be played which aims to improve the quality and relevance of competition submissions. The whole project is targeted to create new businesses and global reach for top software developers. Both company and student teams are welcome to the event.

”The vibrant startup culture and thriving knowledge-based economy are key elements for the success of Finland, and these kinds of events are needed to advance those issues.” says Ms. Anne Berner, the Minister of Transport and Communications of Finland and the Ultrahack Patronne.

The business impact of the Ultrahack results is expected to be high due to the main partners and other enabling organizations opening up many novel API’s and data assets. The quality of the hacks is assured by a wide selection of leading coaches available with tech, business, design and context understanding related to the challenges.

The themes of the hackathon are related to health games, smart cities, traffic services, internet of things, next generation of e-commerce and global charity.

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Join the Ultrahack bandwagon with cool new challenges of 2018 at Apply now!

Blog by Mikko Järvilehto

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