What The Hack? Events player to help SMEs hack innovation

An emerging hackathon events company called What The Hack has adapted to the Covid-19 restrictions and is holding fully remote events.

Later this month (30 and 31 May) feisty young start-up called What The Hack will hold its third event this year HackBack, this time focused on helping small businesses with their post-Covid-19 recovery plans.

What The Hack is the brainchild of co-founders Sophie Benoit and Caitlin Hafer and because the topic is broad the online event will use the 17 sustainable and development goals set by the UN as a guiding structure.

“We may be a small team, but we have the skills and the drive to change the world”

“Our main goals are to make sure the team can keep going after the hackathon and make social innovation happen,” explained Benoit. “All our prizes are going in that way, we want the projects to be tested and implemented at the end of the hackathon.

“We also want to give a different approach to the hackathon and use them as a recruitment tool for companies and a way to outsource R&D.”

The founders

Benoit says she is is on a mission to make the world ethical and sustainable again. She facilitates events that promote the circular economy rather than the linear economy. She is convinced that this is the best way to face our environmental and ethical challenges and allow companies to make profits. Passionate about innovation and problem solving she knows we will improve our system by using human knowledge alongside new technologies.

Hafer’s background is in the performing arts. She has worked as a theatre administrator, producer, and teacher. She is a communicator and organizer at heart and strives for every What The Hack participant to walk away from an event with new knowledge, skills, and a strong network of like-minded thinkers. Her work outside of What The Hack focuses on finding ways to help small businesses, entrepreneurs, artists, and underserved communities succeed in sometimes difficult business or social landscapes.

Q&A with Sophie Benoit and Caitlin Hafer

What is What The Hack?

SB: We are Ireland’s newest, and smallest hackathon event company. Despite our small size we are a powerful force in the hackathon community. After our first successful hackathon, Hack Fast Fashion, we adapted to the new Covid restrictions and held Ireland’s first fully remote hackathon event. Now instead of focussing on the issues we’re facing now, we’re using our agility to look ahead to the challenges that are coming. We may be a small team, but we have the skills and the drive to change the world.

Unlike other hackathon providers What The Hack does not drop products at the end of an event. Through partnerships with Dublin BIC and others, What The Hack helps teams carry their ideas forward to market.

What The Hack also provides companies and organisations with bespoke hackathon events. Based on the customer’s goals — whether it is product development, improving entrepreneurial spirit or building awareness — What The Hack can develop a hackathon event to deliver that result. Unlike other groups who provide pre-created, off the shelf style hackathons we tailor every aspect, from the food to the branding to the participants and mentors, to the needs and goals of the customer.

What is the aim of HackBack and do you believe it could help make a meaningful difference for SMEs struggling amidst the economic hurricane that is Covid-19?

CH: Small businesses were not prepared for the crisis that we find ourselves in. HackBack is looking forward to the post-Covid recovery. During the two-day event teams will address a variety of problem statements anticipating the potential challenges that small businesses and start-ups will face in the near future. What The Hack is getting ahead of the curve and working to shape the future and small businesses’ new, post Covid reality.

We do believe we can make a difference. Slow, top-down solutions can take as much time to recognise a problem as it would take to solve it. We have identified nine specific problem statements to focus teams’ energies onto areas that are of concern for the coming recovery process and providing the teams with small business experts to deepen their understanding of the problems ahead.

Unlike other events, we don’t leave the projects at the pitch. All of our prizes are focused on helping teams to bring their products to market. For HackBack these prizes include desk space at Dublin BIC, mentoring with the NDRC, mentor sessions at Dogpatch Labs’ First Friday, licenses for Thunkable and Miro, and more.

How did your previous hackathon go and do you intend to hold this as a virtual event?

SB: Our previous two hackathons, Hack FastFashion and HackRemote, were great successes. Hack Fast Fashion produced a product, Chiru, that has gone on to be shortlisted for the Royal Society Award and two of the eight products created in HackRemote are still progressing towards launches. Most importantly we had satisfied participants after the end of each event.

Yes, HackBack will be held virtually. It’s our second fully remote event after we hosted HackRemote, the first such event in Ireland. Not only are virtual events a necessity in this time of social isolation, but they mean that we’re able to interact with and welcome participants from all over the world. This event will include participants from the US, Finland, Poland, Israel, and more. In addition, of course to Irish participants!

What kind of participants are you hoping will join in the hackathon?

CH: We’re looking for a mix of students and industry professionals. In our experience the more of a range of skill and experience levels we have in our participants the better the solutions teams come up with. We’re also looking to have participants from a range of locations as now that we have gone virtual we are not restricted by location or travel needs.

Pictured at top: (back row from left) Claire Downey from CRNI, Mary Mcsweeny from DCC, Fergal Brophy, Ruth Fitzpatrick from the Web Summit, Trevor Anderson director from Oxfam Ireland, David Watters from the Dublin Tech Summit, Michelle Moloney from New Frontier; (front row) Sophie Benoit CEO of What The Hack, Caitlin Hafer COO of What The Hack and Lena Klein from Linkedin.

Written by John Kennedy (john.kennedy3@boi.com)

Published: 5 May, 2020