This hackathon wants to break a world record while building solutions to save the planet

Published on September 24, 2019

In-person events are “all the rage” these days. That’s why hackathons — which pit opponent teams or solo go-getters against each other to win a prize in a limited time — are top of mind.

The hackathon is now a vehicle for innovation as tech giants and other organizations explore ways to shortcut a lot of their own innovation-dampening bureaucracy. While some hackathons are focused on using a certain technology — like augmented reality to explore possible applications and capabilities in different scenarios — other hackathons are focused on a particular goal or theme and are more tech-agnostic.

Although hackathons are a mainstay the technology industry, outsiders are unaware of the benefits of this approach to problem-solving and solution generation. At least one enterprising company has an answer.

The civic hackathon, specifically, is a model developed by Experimental Civics to bring together cross-functional groups to identify social issues and challenges and develop thoughtful solutions that engage key stakeholders and tap the community’s shared resources.

Beyond the hack

There are very real products and businesses that originated as hackathon projects. One of the best examples is in 2011 when Skype acquired GroupMe, a then-popular group messaging app for $85 million. GroupMe originated as a project at the first TechCrunch Disrupt Hackathon in New York back in 2010 that made use of Twilio’s API, raised $11.45 million and acquired a company before their exit.

A success story of this magnitude is one goal for Experimental Civics, the group behind Capsule 2020, a civic hackathon projected to host over 4,000 hackers in Austin Texas on June 20-21, 2020 and hack forward 500+ projects that all intersect with the environment.

Sarah Sharif, Founder of Capsule and Experimental Civics, claims that she knows the support ecosystem needed to fuel the innovation pipeline. Projects have the opportunity to live on through Capsule’s curated partners like impact-investors, foundations, universities, and individual community members that can enable the continuation of projects.

This is a core ingredient Sharif refined with extensive experience building communities and launching hackathons as a Co-Founder of Life Sci Hack and former Director of ATX Hack for Change. In her role, she gained recognition for driving the generation of 157 social innovation and emerging technology projects.

This is not a drill

The present danger of our climate crisis is hard to ignore and creates a level of urgency that we need to act on. Capsule is a two-day hackathon event where organizations, governments, universities, nonprofits, and global community members can come together to build and implement solutions for the climate crisis.

“There’s really just no more time to wait. Capsule was created to address the immediate need for viable solutions to the climate crisis. Through our partnerships and programs, we will be able to support the continued development of projects after our record-breaking civic event.” – Sarah Sharif, Founder of Capsule

Capsule presents an unprecedented opportunity to bring global attention to this imperative issue by virtue of generating a world-record-setting amount of participation, buzz, and interest. Setting a Guinness World Record and the scale of this event is meant to reflect the immediacy of our climate crisis as we rapidly approach a critical climate threshold. The name of the event, “Capsule,” is meant to signify a time capsule and the legacy we’re leaving behind for subsequent generations.

People, planet, impact

Building effective solutions to climate crisis problems requires many layers of support, including finances, research, prototyping, product management, testing, and implementation — all of which involve a wide range of actors with extremely diverse skill sets and resources.

Capsule emphasizes the inclusion of many disciplines from sustainable fashion designers to data scientists to environmentalists to organic food caterers. Creative business models that improve the supply chain and sourcing of certain products will likely be created with active efforts. Hacking teams can also include students, policy specialists, engineers, and entrepreneurs.

Environmental intersections

At the intersection of environment and art, companies like AIR INK hacked together a way to collect vehicle air pollution and turn it into high-quality paint. Originating at MIT Media Lab, AIR INK raised successfully on Kickstarter in 2017 and announced approval for apparel and packaging applications of their ink.

In the realm of environment and food, Imperfect Produce is impacting the way we buy and perceive produce by sourcing fruits and vegetables that were once going to waste. They are addressing the 20 billion pounds every year that go to waste on farms mostly because of cosmetic flaws and grocery store standards.

At the junction of environment and energy, projects like Brooklyn Microgrid (BMG) are very attractive for their use of blockchain technology. BMG is a peer-to-peer energy marketplace for locally generated, renewable energy. These are the kinds of projects that can come to life when you combine the skills, disciplines, experiences, and philosophies of global community members. With climate change affecting many aspects of our lives, it’s crucial that we approach this complex issue from every angle.

As hackathons gain traction in other sectors and create success as we’ve seen in the technology industry, many impact-driven organizations are looking to hackathons to fuel innovation. If you really boil it down, the real magic that a hackathon produces is super effective collaboration sprints. That just might be what is needed to effectively build solutions to address the world’s most complex problems, like the climate crisis.

Anthony Delgado is a News Columnist at Grit Daily. He has worked with Armani, Steve Madden, Marvel Comics and K-Swiss, among other brands. A serial entrepreneur known for his work in Puerto Rico's startup ecosystem, he has collaborated with Tai Lopez, Gerard Adams, John Mallot, Casey Adams, Jason Capital, and Charlie Rocket.

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