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American Chamber of Commerce Future Leaders’ Hackathon 2017

By: Sarah Slevin

The American Chamber of Commerce, in partnership with DCU Ryan Academy for Entrepreneurs, hosted the inaugural Future Leaders’ Hackathon 2017 from 9-11 February 2017. I attended this event on behalf of Ronan Daly Jermyn, a member of the American Chamber of Commerce and partner of the Chamber in a range of initiatives including the recent, highly successful, IWISH conferences in Cork and Dublin on female participation in STEM subjects in education. The American Chamber is the largest multinational business association in Ireland with a membership including US companies operating from Ireland, their strategic partners and organisations with strong bilateral trade linkages between Ireland and the United States. 

American Chamber of Commerce Future Leaders’ Hackathon 2017

Notwithstanding the name, a Hackathon can involve much more than mere technological innovation or programming. For the uninitiated, a Hackathon is an event in which a large number of people gather together with the aim of ideating, developing and pitching a new concept or product which will address a need, achieve a stated goal or promote a cause or purpose. Typically, Hackathons take place over several days, requiring intense and fast-paced work and thereby lending credence to the “marathon” portion of the portmanteau name. Often competitive, but always enjoyable, a Hackathon ends with each team pitching the results of their hard work to a group of judges/peers, with the winners earning a prize which regularly includes the chance to bring their innovation to life.

As part of this Hackathon, the American Chamber of Commerce posed the following ‘Innovation Challenge’: to ideate, develop and pitch an innovation (service or product) focused on ensuring Ireland is the best place to live and work. At the opening of the event, upwards of thirty ideas were presented to the group, with participants voting on the top ten. Teams then formed around these ten pitches. 

Over the course of 56 fierce hours, the teams worked on the ten selected pitches, developing the initial concepts into workable solutions but also validating their idea, identifying beneficiaries, addressing market demand, costing the proposal and coming up with funding and monetisation strategies. The winning proposal would require more than just a good idea; it needed to be feasible, cost-effective and relevant. 

My team, which was (eventually) named LiveWorkPlayIreland, was selected as the overall winner. Our idea involved the creation of an online platform for Irish abroad whereby they could connect again with Ireland; the platform would include facilitating mentorships for emigrants by other Irish people who returned home before them, providing clear and up-to-date information on the opportunities here (including, in particular, regional opportunities, of which emigrants, disconnected from Ireland, mightn't be aware), and making the lifestyle transition easier (providing practical information on relocation, supporting spouses, etc.) The inherent benefit for the emigrants is the maintenance of a professional and informational connection with Ireland, enabling an easier transition back home when they want to return. For companies in Ireland, and stakeholders like the American Chamber, it helps them tap into a ready-made talent pool of people with a reason and desire to come to Ireland. Over time, this would also facilitate the creation of a database of Irish people abroad: who they are; what they want, both professionally and socially; and the difficulties they encounter when they want to return home. 
Although ours was selected as the winning concept, each team succeeding in producing exceptional pitches, particularly given the short time period. The extent to which each diverse group of individuals, the members of which had, for the most part, never met before, could grow the seed of an idea into a workable and useful service/product in under three days was remarkable. It demonstrated to me the limitless potential of human endeavour and ingenuity and the degree to which it is possible to work together to improve not only the economy, but society by bringing together people with passion, drive and expertise in a wide range of areas. 

The Hackathon gave me the chance to meet a large group of engaging and successful people from a wide range of companies and industries in a fun and energetic environment. The American Chamber have decided to make the Hackathon an annual event; I would highly recommend it to anyone looking to challenge themselves, grow their professional network and become a part of shaping Ireland’s future. My sincere thanks must go to both the American Chamber of Commerce and DCU Ryan Academy for organising such a well-run, innovative and enjoyable event. 

For more information on the content of this Blog post contact: Sarah Slevin, sarah.slevin@rdj.ie

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