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The ground rules of stimulating innovation: Healthcare Hackathon Hamburg (HHH), by IBM’s Annika Grosse

The ground rules of stimulating innovation: Healthcare Hackathon Hamburg (HHH), by IBM’s Annika Grosse

Hackathons are the breeding grounds of innovation. At the beginning of October we held one in Hamburg, aiming to stimulate innovation around the theme of ‘Health’. The event was a roaring success, with an amazing atmosphere and resulting in some truly exciting solutions. Real opportunities are developing as a result, with previously conservative clients inspired by the event. I would like to share my key takeaways with you, with four ground rules on how to successfully stimulate innovation.


1. Collaborate across organisational boundaries

Every company likes to think they are innovative and capable of bringing exciting change to a problem or solution. At our hackathon, as well as attendees from IBM and other technology companies, we also had representatives from the local HafenCity University (HCU) who are involved with city planning, as well as health professionals, students and partners. This created a great diversity in ways of thinking and expertise, ensuring challenging but productive conversations and a variety of approaches. A win for collaboration!


2. Spark Energy

Although most people are aware that you should excite people about doing innovative work, I feel it is often undervalued. The more motivated and excited people are about the task, the more innovative the results will be. At the HHH we achieved this by working in partnership with MLOVE and we used their ship container campus to host the event. This was a very different working environment than a standard office, and made people excited to be there. In addition, we drafted a swarm of NAO robots from Soft Bank Robotics – no one can resist the little things!


3. Bring in expertise from the business

Nobody wants to create something that in turns out to be unfeasible or impractical. Therefore it is vital to have business expertise present, particularly when focusing on something like health. At the HHH we had a range of business specialists from Subject/Business Experts from IBM to real doctors from our partners. The HHH would not have been the same success without this experts who could give real insights into the problems that were trying to be solved.


4. Ensure technical experts are present

At the end of the day you need to have people present who understand the technology and can help coach participants in how to use it and help them solve issues. We had a great team from IBM join the hackathon as coaches, and they facilitated the realisation of the innovative ideas. And back to the technology – we had a great suite to use: from IBM Bluemix, a platform of cognitive APIs’, to specific Assets like the Medical Linguistic Analysis developed by IBM Austria. To create something useful, you need to have people who understand the technology!


I am sure that by now you are wondering what was actually created! The three solutions that made the shortlist are:

  • WALIS – Watson Alzheimer’s assistant. A robot that talks to the patient, checks his mental state, food intake, medication. Can notify carers.
  • Naomi - Helping dementia patients remember their own personality and history by looking at their social media activities.
  • PsyCare – for children/teenagers in psychiatric treatment that live far from the clinic. Enables them to stay in touch with their doctors and monitors their mood.

If you want more information, do take a look at our video on the event. Good luck with stimulating innovation in your city!




Annika Grosse has been with IBM since 1997. She has a background in Business and IT Consulting and became Executive Partner in 2011. Three years later, Annika took over her current responsibility as leader for Cognitive Business Solutions in Europe (GBS).
Her industry background is primarily in banking, insurance, healthcare and public. She is passionate about successfully implementing innovative and value-creating strategies and solutions, as well as accompanying businesses through their transformational journey. Originally studying computer and information sciences, Annika also has an M.B.A. as well as a Diploma in Strategy & Innovation from the University of Oxford.


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