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Ericsson’s Global Hackathon – There Are Sharks Around!

In April 2013, about 10 pioneers from Ericsson Finland gathered together to work on four different ideas in what would be Ericsson Finland’s first hackathon. It was a small-scale event, but a great start for a hackathon tradition. Since then, we have tried out different things like themes, multisite hackathons, new innovation techniques, having an external customer at site, and so on. This time we wanted to get the business side more involved in a hackathon.

Shark Tank Team
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Many of us have been watching the TV series Shark Tank. Robert Herjavec has said in the show: “Don’t start a business. Find a problem, solve a problem, the business comes second.” This is what we decided to do in order to grow our business. We asked our product line and sales teams to come up with challenges developers could solve in a hackathon. This should then in turn grow our business. One advice from Mark Cuban from Shark Tank is: “Most people think it’s all about the idea. It’s not. Everyone has ideas. The hard part is doing the homework to know if the idea could work in an industry, then doing the preparation to be able to execute on the idea.” Thus, we agreed with our product line and sales, our Sharks, that they will help out our developers to improve their ideas before the hackathon by having Shark Tank sessions.

In April, we tried out this approach within one product area. Our starting point was a session where the Sharks presented their challenges in more detail and gave people an opportunity to ask questions.

After some ideation time, the teams got to present their ideas to the Sharks. Each team had two minutes to do an elevator pitch based on their Idea One Pager. After the pitch, Sharks and the rest of the audience had a chance to ask questions and give feedback. In some cases, the reserved six minutes was not enough and in some the only comment was: “Just go for it!”. In addition to the verbal feedback, the Sharks also provided some feedback in writing after the Shark Tank.

The next step was to further develop their ideas. Each team got to work improving their ideas or coming up with totally new ones based on the received feedback; some ideas were changed less, some more. You know, when the going gets tough, the tough gets going.

We had the second Shark Tank session. But as things had been moving forward in between the Shark Tank sessions, this time the Sharks were much happier with the proposals than previously. Some small improvement tips were still presented.

Finally, it was time for the real action. Teams worked hard for two days to finalize their ideas to get ready for the demo session with the Sharks. We had agreed that each team has five minutes for a demo, including the discussion and feedback, but all the teams were so excited about their results that five minutes was far from enough. It is always amazing to see how much you can achieve in such a short time if you are able to fully concentrate on something!

The aim of the Shark Tank was to get product line and sales involved in the hackathon, so that we could work on real challenges we and our customers have. Therefore, it was great to see that the Sharks were eager to create new challenges throughout our journey! At the end, we actually had almost as many challenges as ideas.

This is what one of the Sharks said in the feedback after the first trial with Shark Tank hackathon in April:

Would you participate to similar event in the future?

“Yes, absolutely.”

What is the reasoning behind your answer to the previous question?

“I’m a Shark, and I was impressed by the creativity and good results achieved.”

What went well?

The selection of candidates (Shark Tank), and the demos were impressive!”

What were your main takeaways?

“This is a good way to promote new ideas and trigger innovation, as well as competence sharing.”

Which of the ideas could be turned into Ericsson business?

I think all”

As we reached our goals and more with the trial, we decided to go global. 13 sites from Asia, Europe, and the Americas are participating in a global hackathon in June.  Also, three other sites are participating to the preparation work to learn about the new hackathon approach with a Shark Tank.

Bina Chaurasia, Ericsson’s Chief Human Resources Officer, kick started all this by stating: “We are in middle of celebrating 140-year anniversary. It’s 140 years of innovation and really what enabled us to stay 140 years young are our change makers. The change makers that define the turning points in the industry, that define the turning points in a business, that define the turning points in a technology.”

I’m excited to see what the change makers will achieve this time!

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