HCL spearheads hackathon focused on COVID-19 therapies, recovery, and future pandemic management

HCL is bringing together the world's biggest companies and schools to search for solutions to urgent problems.

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Dozens of companies that planned innovative hackathons for this year had no choice but to pivot or refocus their events due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and HCL Technologies is no different. The company quickly found a way to pivot and partnered with Microsoft as well as International SOS to start the Better Health Hackathon: #CodeforCOVID19, which began last month.

Since the onset of the pandemic, many of the world's leading tech companies and educational institutions have joined forces for hackathons focused on any number of technological devices, tools, or help people now need to deal with the virus and its effects on daily life. 

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Arthur Filip, executive vice president of sales transformation at HCL Technologies, said the large company had been planning a hackathon focused on the life sciences and healthcare businesses but were forced to postpone it earlier this year because of COVID-19. Once they figured out how to organize it digitally, the hackathon was back on.

"It was the right time and right place to bring our capabilities to bear in driving a whole number of really smart companies and smart players together to do the right thing and make a big contribution on a big global scale," Filip said.

"I'm seeing really cool people putting real technology together for everything from governance systems to helping people estimate and manage essential resources or help governments engage their employees. How do you bring armies of volunteers together in containment areas? How do you get information out to the public with credibility and transparency?"

The reconfigured hackathon focused on four main topics related to the pandemic. One track is centered on solutions that better safeguard the most vulnerable in communities, help better communicate credible information, and help people cope with the challenges of self-isolation. To put it simpler, technologists will look for ways to make staying at home better for those struggling. 

Other tracks will involve discovering ways to help better protect and equip frontline healthcare workers and first responders as well as individuals and organizations seeking treatments and cures for COVID-19. The final two topics revolve around how communities can safely reopen before a vaccine is ready and more systemic solutions for crises and long-term pandemic management.

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The hackathon runs until Aug. 14 at 11:59 p.m., when all projects are officially due. Since starting in June, Filip said more than 6,000 people from over 800 organizations and 500 cities are now participating in the event. People are allowed to enter on their own or as a team.

Filip was coy about going into detail on the projects that have already been submitted for fear of spilling the beans on any great ideas, but he mentioned solutions ranging from blockchain-based platforms that help doctors and patients communicate more quickly  to tools that would help consumers sort out which businesses have high standards for safety and health protection.  

Some teams are trying to figure out ways to create building-agnostic tools that could make elevator buttons touchless while others are exploring better supply chain visibility.

Participants have access to a wide variety of coaches or mentors hailing from International SOS, BlueCross BlueShield, the University of Cambridge, Johns Hopkins, Dartmouth College's Tuck School Of Business, Ascension, Microsoft, and HCL, of course.

Those who have signed up meet with these experts through Zoom to get advice on how their project could be improved or things the team should look into further. 

"There will be incentives and prizes given out from a financial perspective. Beyond money, teams will have their solution that they own and on a platform where the very best ideas and technologies can receive exposure from a big group of our customers and our partners. They may find that they want to adopt or acquire these projects or these technologies themselves to take it to scale and industrialize it," Filip said.

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"We are well-connected with a wide community of incubators, venture capitalists, and tech accelerators that will have a lot of interest in real prototypes and pilots that they can invest in. Our partners are an incredible tapestry of reach, scale and influence, and we believe that it's a great ecosystem for these great passionate inventors to be noticed and to have an opportunity to show their talent."

He added that some partners will be looking to hire people who make a good impression and are looking at the hackathon as a potential talent source for projects. 

There is a $20,000 grand prize, a $10,000 second-place prize and $2,500 prizes for each of the best ideas across the four tracks. 

HCL employees will be competing in an internal competition that also has a hefty prize of $10,000. After the submission deadline, 32 finalist teams will be selected and a pitch session will be scheduled. The winning teams will be announced on Aug. 31.

The winners will be judged on whether a project is new or disruptive, how effectively a team utilized the available technologies, how advanced the solution is, and its relevance to COVID-19-related problems.

"Overall, it's shown us a very strong model for tackling things that are beyond any one person or company area of expertise. By bringing together experts from so many disciplines and business areas while collaborating through technology, a lot can be solved with speed, scale and accuracy, more than any one single government could do," Filip said.

"We now have quite a few countries involved. In this global connected world and economy, if a lot of countries don't succeed, either health-wise or economy-wise, we all still have a problem." 

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