#WirvsVirus: The COVID-19 Hackathon that almost broke the internet
27 March 2020 - Luke Davis


The second week of March 2020 had already been a long one.

 

The global outbreak of the coronavirus COVID-19 had become a pandemic. One member of the Impact Hub Berlin community had already tested positive for the virus and – like other Impact Hubs around the world – we’d had to take the tough decision to temporarily close our co-working and event space.

 

A tweet and a phonecall

 

Our Co-Founder, Leon, stuck indoors and scrolling through Twitter like the rest of the world that Sunday, was following the online ‘Hack the Crisis‘ initiative. It had been rapidly set up by the Estonian startup scene to crowdsource solutions to the COVID-19 situation. “I just thought it was a really cool idea,” he says.

 

 

After sending out the above tweet, almost right away, the phone rang. Our long-time partners at Social Entrepreneurship Netzwerk Deutschland had seen this and invited us to join a conversation with the Prototype Fund and Tech4Germany (the German government’s tech and innovation task force) about launching something similar.

 

“Of course we’re on board,” was Leon’s response.

 

We joined a call the next day, along with Initiative D21, Project Together and Code for Germany, who also all signed up on the spot. Within 24 hours, the German Chancellor’s Office was in too. Just like that, ‘der Hackathon der Bundesregierung: #WirvsVirus‘ (us against the virus) was born.

 

WirvsVirus Hackathon der Bundesreierung

 

Impact can’t happen in isolation

 

The fledgling team jumped into action mode. Each of the seven partners brought different skillsets, specialities and networks. We immediately divided up responsibilities, launching the website, setting up the tech infrastructure and agreeing on the parameters of the challenge.

 

The Impact Hub Berlin team took on developing the agenda and flow for the weekend as well as a facilitation and moderation role. Onboarding the growing team to the Slack, Airtable and Devpost platforms that would later be used by the participants, mentors and corporate supporters was in itself no small task.

 

The plan was first to crowdsource challenges from both the government and the general public, then sign up the coders, developers, social entrepreneurs and creatives to work out how to solve them.

 

Phoning our friends

 

The call for ideas, already shared far and wide by our networks on social media, received 1,924 submissions within two days. We were happy with the tools we’d chosen but, said Leon at the time, “If we have more than 1,000 participants we might have a problem…”

 

When the deadline closed, we had a total of 42,968.

 

WirvsVirus Hackathon Team

 

By Friday we’d recruited 100 friends, family and colleagues to join the organising team, but, as Leon recalls, the tech was struggling. “Slack crashed, the challenge platform crashed, YouTube crashed…”

 

2,922 supporters signed up to mentor the teams, meaning we also found out the hard way during our induction call that Google Hangouts has a strict user limit (it’s 250, in case you’re interested). LivestreamBerlin jumped in to help us broadcast our Welcome Call to thousands of viewers around the world on Friday 20th March. And with that, we were underway.

 

Lots of coffee, not much sleep

 

The next 48 hours saw our participants join together in remote teams, match up with a mentor and start work on their ideas. The 48 topics included gamification, research, helping the vulnerable, local business support and many others.

 

The support of Prof. Dr. Helge Braun, Head of the Chancellery, was soon backed up by the German President, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who described the participants as “the heroes and heroines of the corona-crisis.”

 

 

We wrapped up on Sunday evening in true Berlin fashion by linking our livestream to the coinciding virtual club night put on as a fundraiser for the local music scene.

 

What’s next for #WirvsVirusHack?

 

1,223 pitch videos have been uploaded (a phenomenal outcome within the timeframe). Our 600-strong team of mentors are nominating the 150 best solutions. These will then be presented to a high-level jury of politicians and leaders in business and civil society. On Monday 30th March, we’ll announce which teams they choose.

 

Meanwhile, we’re working hard to create a programme to support the rapid development and roll-out of the most promising solutions and to help crack the COVID-19 crisis. We’re also advising many other organisations globally who are looking to start similar hackathons.

 

Sign up to our newsletter and follow us on Twitter to stay tuned on how we get on.

 

  • Are you or your company able to support social innovations to fight COVID-19? If so, please contact the organising team via [email protected].

 

  • Interested in Impact Hub Berlin’s online facilitation, innovation events or other consultancy services? Let’s talk via [email protected].