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“Who considers themselves to be a computer nerd?”, a number of people carefully raise their hands. “Nice, but tech-nerds, other nerds and also non-nerds are welcome”, laughs the presenter who calls himself Tom Hackatom. In the main hall of the Chamber of Commerce in Eindhoven, a group of about 60 people is present. They all come for the kick-off event in preparation for BrightHack, a 48-hour hackathon organised by Brightlands Smart Services Campus and the Chamber of Commerce. Between 200 and 250 participants from the Netherlands and abroad will meet in Heerlen during the first weekend of December to work on solutions for various problems.

Hospitable hospital
While half of the Netherlands was stuck in traffic, the visitors dripped in one by one. With a piece of pizza to recover from the harsh journey, they listened to the four different challenges for BrightHack. “Can you make a hospital as efficient as an airport?” Martijn Antes asks the audience. Antes is responsible for innovation at Zuyderland Medical Centre and together with Accenture, he is responsible for one of the four challenges. “It is quite outdated that patients don’t receive a message when a doctor is running late. This is one example, but there is more to come up with where hospitals can be more innovative. During BrightHack, we hope to see such solutions.”

Future proof police
The companies provide the participants with data, legal experts, coaches or other resources. “3D glasses or other hardware, but if you need something else; let us know, we’ll check if it’s possible”, says Danny Timmermans of the Police Limburg. “Criminals are constantly coming up with new methods and to stop them, we have to come up with new solutions as well. We increasingly use data and technology for that purpose. We want to challenge teams to think along with us to stay ahead of criminals.” According to Timmermans, a hackathon is an ideal way to come up with quick solutions: “Smart, young people sometimes achieve more in such a weekend than teams that have been working on a problem for months. They’re not so closely on top of it, so they look at it in a completely different way.” Antes complements him: “They don’t have to consider the relationships and different interests within a company. The working atmosphere is much freer.”

Kickstart ideas
Loose working environment or not, for the winners there is a lot to be gained. The participating parties have dedicated 12,500 euros per challenge to actually implement the winning idea within the organisation. “That’s a great opportunity of course”, says Janou van de Vorst, talent developer at Brightlands Smart Services Campus. “Participating in itself is already incredibly educational, but winning makes it possible to kickstart your idea within an organisation. It is not standard for teams to receive support even after a hackathon. We see this as the new learning: next to education ideal to further develop yourself as a student.” But Van de Vorst says, the event is not only designed for students: “Through the Chamber of Commerce network, entrepreneurs and other professionals have also been invited. They too have to continually develop themselves. With students, professionals and other interested parties we have a nice mix of experience and talent.”

Province of Limburg
Ben Schuttenbeld of the Innovation Lab of the Chamber of Commerce indicates that there is a lot of interest for the event at the end of November: “A large number of entrepreneurs want to register. Not only do they come from the Netherlands, but there is also enthusiasm coming from Belgium, Germany, Austria and France.” In addition to being the organiser of BrightHack, the Chamber of Commerce is also one of the four parties with a challenge; the organisation is looking for a tool to better connect foreign markets. And finally, the last challenge: the Province of Limburg is looking for a new form of education. “For example, a way for teachers to better see which different talents children have. And a better way for students to develop these talents”, explains Marlou Jenneskens of the province.

BrightHack takes place from 30 November to 2 December at the Brightlands Smart Services Center in Heerlen. Would you like to know more about the different challenges and the full programme? Take a look here. Registering is still possible.

Photography: Marcel van Hoorn