#EUvsVirus - How the COVID 19 pandemic brought European innovators together

Andrea Kozma
June 2, 2020

The European Commission hacked the European innovation ecosystem. Following 2 years of planning a new European innovation framework to be launched in 2021, the COVID 19 crisis urged the Commission to take action now and show us what it meant by a new framework for innovation.

Learning from the lessons of a series of recent COVID 19 related Hackathons organised by various local and regional innovation ecosystem players the Commission drew up a plan to organise #EUvsVirus, a Pan-European Hackathon with the aim of bringing all European players together in a single 3 day event with the hope of inspiring innovators to bring solutions to  the 37 announced challenges. The challenges aimed to tackle the virus, as well as the social, economic impacts caused  by the pandemic.

Collaborate and build trust

Organising a giant event has its own challenges, and when you need to do this with all participants working remotely and in isolation it might seem like ”mission impossible”. It requires a level of collaboration and trust which in normal circumstances takes years to build and nurture.

European Innovation Council officers, however, rolled up their sleeves and transformed an administrative body into an agile entrepreneurial task force. Within a mere two weeks’ time, and with the help of hundreds and thousands of volunteer experts, ecosystem builders, hackathon organisers, data and IT ninjas, it drew up a detailed plan of the World’s biggest hackathon ever organsied. They called on governments, city mayors, universities, corporations, civil organisations to recruit helpers, contributors, mentors, coordinators and asked them to recruit teams within their respective organisations and networks to solve the 37 challenges. They may well have expected that their call would be answered on a large scale. But they still had to place great trust in the hundreds of recruited volunteers: that they would complete tasks as expected, would act responsibly, and would indeed contribute and share knowledge.

Act like an entrepreneur

During the preparation and the Hackathon, sleep deprived EIC officers and staff could be seen in their home environment, wearing T-shirts while working along with volunteer helpers in agile team clusters and stirring the Hackathon with a great level of energy. The distant „men in suits” transformed into the approachable, problem solving team members of a volunteer task force, that constantly had to solve issues on the fly. And it worked beautifully.

As a Challenge Lead at the Digital Finance Domain, I supported digital finance hacker teams of all nationalities, with the help of two Turkish coordinators, a Dutch Domain leader, a US Project manager, mentors and with all the daily standup calls done with the various levels of organisational teams. Despite all this excellent support I still had to solve problems to which I did not have readily available answers.  I was amazed that with the size and complexity of the Hackathon it was always possible to identify the right person to talk to and bring the issue to a resolution.  I was always able to find a willing mentor, industry expert, corporate partner and other knowledge source a team needed.

This experience is a great source of inspiration for me to re-think my own support system and reinforce the need for a much greater level of connectivity and interaction with other ecosystems.

EIC is indeed a new generation of EU bodies. It shows a new approach to policy making and ecosystem building: operating in a flat organisational structure with EIC staff immersed in the ecosystem, launching pilots in order to learn and refine, hence operating exactly like startups.

Crowdsource knowledge and support

As a result, the Hackathon created a knowledge and network crowdsourcing at a scale that no previous initiative managed to achieve.

It also created a sense of connectivity,  creativity and determination that takes decades of hard work to build in isolated ecosystems. This magnitude of resource and knowledge sharing is what has been missing in Europe.  The Hackathon will be followed by a Matchathon of the 100 best teams, but the real achievement is that the event managed to activate 20.900 of European innovators. I hope the EIC will keep this momentum going, help the great team ideas to become solutions, keep the 20.900 people together, continue to grow it, and actively manage interaction and knowledge sharing well beyond the hackathon.

CEU InnovationsLab was an Official Partner at the #EUvsVirus Pan-European Hackathon.

Participants from CEU iLab Management:

Andrea Kozma (Challenge Lead, Digital Finance challenge)

Nóra Wagner-Várady (Team Coordinator – Remote Working and Education challenge)

Agnes Schram (Team coordinator – Remote Working and Education challenge)

Mark Kis skill mentor

Participating CEU iLab mentors:

Tibor Bedő, mentor

István Ottó Nagy, mentor

CEU iLab teams hacking:

Salarify

FamilyFinances

individual hacker: Zsuzsa Megyesi