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Elevate Hackathon: Building (and Winning) the Smart City Challenge

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We are a couple weeks away from one of the biggest tech festivals in Canada. Elevate is coming, and with it, the Elevate Hackathon happening September 21st-23rd at MaRS.

Yes, Interac is a sponsor of both the festival and the hackathon, but attending is so not (just) about networking to find your next job opportunity. The weekend-long Hackathon is also about building Toronto into a smart city for everyone.

Winning teams are competing for three cash prizes: $10,000 for first place, $5,000 for second and $3,000 for third. There’s more valuable swag to win as well, such as free passes to the Elevate festival tracks (Elevate Cannabis, anyone?), consulting and cloud services and passes to music shows.

The Hack

It goes without saying that Toronto has seen some immense changes in the last 10 years. I’ve been around to see a lot of it happen, being born and raised in the GTA. Cranes in the sky (s/o Solange) is a fact of life for the people who live here, but the city’s growth is coming with some major complications.

The aim of the Elevate Hackathon is to imagine how we Torontonians build a city that we want to live in and enjoy fully. This question shapes three challenge statements that hackers can choose from to innovate and build around for the weekend. To help with each challenge statement, hackers will be provided with a set of resources, subject matter experts and mentors ((wave) myself being one of them!).

The Smart Economy Challenge Statement

What innovations and technologies will define the future smart economy? How will local businesses and consumers engage in relevant and meaningful interactions that promote local commerce?

The Smart Connected Communities Challenge Statement

What innovations and technologies will facilitate healthy and safe connected communities, considering the benefits and needs of human interaction?

The Smart Vibrant Living Challenge Statement

What innovations and technologies will enhance our culture and wellbeing? What role can music, data and technology play in ensuring connection and day-to-day happiness in a smart city?

Meeting the Challenge (Statement)

As a mentor, I’m personally excited to see what comes out of the challenges (especially the Smart Economy one, obvi). The judging criteria isn’t really any different from criteria of any other hackathon, but when you’re presented with a challenge it can be easy to lose sight of key considerations. My guidance to hackers could be best summarized as: know your audience and balance your creativity with focus.

The most important audience here is the one you are creating for – the people who would use your build in the smart city. In order to actually create a solution your team has to understand the target audience’s pain points, their experience with new innovations and technology, and how they feel about their data and privacy. The best way to approach solving a problem like this is to start from where you are. Use your experience, and the experience of the other people on your team, to help define your audience.

One way to approach the challenge statement could be to do a ‘reality check’ while you build; give your team a chance to think about how the Audience would feel using your app or integration.

The judges at the Elevate Hackathon work in the fields represented by the challenge statements every day. They’ll know and understand right away which hacks are possible and the steps involved in seeing an innovation through product and development cycles. Mentors are there to help you put this context around what you’re building. While it’s not necessary to figure everything out, a mentor can help you see how your innovation could go from hack to IRL.

While it is important to demonstrate your expertise, creativity and genius, it’s just as important to meet the challenge as it’s presented. Without seeing your team’s full thought process, the judges will have the challenge statements in mind while they view pitches and pick the winner. Connect your solution to the challenge statement: to win, your team must be able to communicate how what you’ve built will define the future smart economy, connect communities and / or enhance culture and wellbeing in Toronto.

Challenge Accepted

If you haven’t registered for the Elevate Hackathon yet, click here to get started : https://elevatetechfest.com/elevate-hackathon/. No pressure or anything, but teams are being formed right now.

If you have registered, drop in on the comments and let me know what you think about the challenges and what you’re looking forward to at Elevate Hackathon. I’ll see you Friday night at MaRS!

Resources

Find FAQs, judging criteria and more information here.

Check out the press release here.

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