Open innovation and a passion for coding

In the beginning of May, Telenor Digital´s community of enthusiastic code creators gathered at the tech incubator StartupLab, for a Hackathon. On the menu: hacking, pizza, design thinking and the topic, “Health”.

Written: May 2015

“Hackathons are an important part of building an engineering culture at Telenor Digital. In our everyday jobs, we work on a lot of separate teams, products and projects, so it’s important for us all to get together from time to time to build the feeling that we’re one big engineering team,” says Kevin Simons who heads one of the developer teams at Telenor Digital, the home of Telenor’s high-tech development house, and co-hosts the Hackathon.

Open innovation

For three days, 30+ of Telenor Digital’s talented developers gathered at StartupLab (early stage tech community/lab in Oslo, providing early stage financing and a great work space for tech startups), to celebrate a shared passion for their common language: code!

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“It’s not important that we find the next big thing during our Hackathons. But that we have the opportunity to experiment with new ideas without any restrictions, work with our colleagues from all across the company, and most of all, have a lot of fun,” comments Kevin.

At StartupLab, Telenor developers get the chance to meet with some of Norway’s best early-stage tech entrepreneurs and expert innovators. “We have done a journey with internal startups in Telenor Digital and several success stories have evolved including Capture (Min Sky in Norway), appear.in and SOBAZAAR. And we have new projects in the making. However, our next important journey is open innovation,” says Johanna Staaf, responsible for the Telenor Digital/Startuplab partnership and one of the main organizers of the Hackathon.

“Our partnership with StartupLab is a true example of the steps we are taking toward open innovation. The incubator is home to 65 fledgling companies. It is vital to use environments such as StartupLab as a catalyst for innovation within Telenor,” she adds.

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Design Thinking

Design thinking is used to inspire creative problem-solving, and is becoming an increasing buzz words for tech innovators. All of the developers at the event were invited to a session at StartupLab with world renowned Design Thinking expert Justin Ferrell. Ferrel teaches graduate courses in creativity, design thinking and organizational design, at the highly esteemed Stanford d. School (The institute of design). In his inspirational talk on how to approach product and service design, Ferrell addressed the importance of creating an ecosystem around corporates to work with Startups, and designing today’s organizations to consistently come up with new ideas. His advice for corporate innovators to increase likelihood of succeeding with new services included: the importance of fostering radical collaboration, designing for the individual and users with extreme needs, and embracing experimentation and risk.

Also, four graduate students from The Oslo School of Architecture and Design, were present during the three days, working together with the developers. The design students contributed with new perspectives and angles to approach the idea-process, also called design led development. Their most important task was to support the developers in defining the target group, solving the right problem for the user, and designing the user interface intuitively.

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Health for All

This time the Hackathon had a concrete theme linked to Telenor’s digital health opportunity. “Not all health care is created equal, over half of the world lack access to basic medical care. We see a lot of opportunities for harnessing technology to address basic health challenges. We’re doing a lot of great things in this space in Telenor Digital, mainly in Bangladesh, and we’re hoping that we can inspire some cool projects for the developers,” says Dr Fred Hersch, from the Telenor Health project. Fred kicked off the Hackathon with a presentation on Telenor’s approach to digital health and how the developers can contribute through new product and services.

“This Hackathon is particularly exciting because we’re focusing on health-related projects, an area which is of growing importance for Telenor, especially in countries like Bangladesh. Additionally, we’re having a great time being co-located with our friends at StartupLab,” Kevin finishes off.