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Martina Morawietz

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Joined forces for new ideas: from hackathons, tekkie meetups and founder labs

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When we look for new ideas at Telekom, we also use new open formats. Like hackathons, this portmanteau of the words "hack" and "marathon", where "hack" is used in the sense of exploratory programming. The Cambridge dictionary describes these events quite soberly as "an event at which a lot of people come together to write or improve computer programs”. In reality, they are more like inventor parties with creative DIY in a fun mood, usually initiated by software developers themselves.

Grpup of young people brainstorming on ideas.

At Deutsche Telekom, we are convinced that it is different perspectives of diverse people that together produce unique ideas.

Of course, today's developers aim to program solutions focusing on their customers' problems. And they aim to be fast. That's why a hackathon involves a specific, often complex task taken directly from everyday work. It has to be solved within a specified timeframe, including the night, if necessary. Experts provide impetus in the form of short technical presentations, mentors supervise the task and, ideally, even supply "real" data from business life. Good teams are cross-industry and interdisciplinary, with developers, marketing experts, designers... This way, knowledge comes together from all directions. With provided hardware, sensors, for example, and their own laptops, they set to work. If they've had enough of coding, at the typical hackathon there's fun and games waiting for them: slot car racing, Lego brick boxes, pizza cab... Things get serious again at the pitch, the decisive short presentation to the jury. And sometimes it doesn't stop with the pitch: Hackathon ideas can also become real business models, for example when teams found startups to implement the ideas.

Want a few examples?

  • The AIHack4Diversity in October 2019 dealt with analyzing honeypot data using machine learning. The goal was to identify new attack patterns or classify attack groups in the field of cyber security. Honeypots are digital traps on the Internet. Telekom Security operates a worldwide network of honeypot sensors and uses them to systematically target attackers: It simulates vulnerabilities over the Internet. Machine learning is a subfield of artificial intelligence (AI). Telekom Innovation Laboratories, Data Intelligence Hub, Telekom Security and hub:raum Berlin had sponsored and organized the hackathon. The motto was "mixed teams program better". Why? One of the big problems with artificial intelligence is the so-called "bias". This refers to prejudices hidden in the data are reinforced by AI. The one-sided view of data usually results from the fact that the group of developers of the algorithms is uniformly composed: Everyone has the same age, gender, background. Four white males, for example, was a "no go" here.
  • In 2018, Telekom and Merck organized a Makerthon for new digital solutions in healthcare. For three weeks, around 100 doctors, engineers, programmers, designers and students in Bonn and Darmstadt worked on new digital solutions for the healthcare sector. Telekom was especially interested in how clinical staff will be able work more efficiently using the Internet of Things. The focus of attention was on clinical processes in care: in the direct care of patients and also logistics. For one of the teams, the competition ended with more than just the "Need Identifier Award." In the team's approach, the subjective discomfort of fatigue patients also becomes measurable objectively - thanks to sensor technology. The participants even founded a startup with this idea. In the 2019 Samsung Empower Society competition, they took the first place with their idea.
  • IoT Creators, part of Deutsche Telekom IoT, also aim to interact in open format with those who make IoT solutions. Many ideas for Internet of Things (IoT) solutions fail unnecessarily even before they are implemented. Complicated access to the mobile IoT network makes it difficult for developers to test their ideas and prototypes and bring them to market. The Internet of Things connects physical devices and machines. Companies are gaining new insights with IoT to optimize their processes, save costs and save resources. For solutions on the mobile IoT network, developers often lack easy access to connectivity. They also need the skills to know how to network devices and platforms. With the IoT Creators offering, developers can connect their IoT devices and sensors to any platform. They can experiment with their devices, display and evaluate the collected data on their platform. At the same time, the IoT Creators offer developers a forum for exchanging ideas and training - online as well as in person. The highlight is the regular "installfest": expert presentations, networking with like-minded people and plenty of space to try things out and experiment.
  • As part of the TechCluster NRW initiative, Telekom cooperates with universities and partners from industry. The goal is to solve customers' problems with the help of innovators focusing on improvements and innovations in the home network, 5G applications or advancements for the network to save energy using "Green tech". In August 2020, the initiative opened the first 5G Co:Creation Lab in cooperation with Technische Hochschule Köln – abbreviated as TH Köln – University of Applied Sciences - and the University of Cologne. The Lab at TH Köln is equipped with state-of-the-art 5G standalone network technology. Creative minds can test and develop their innovative ideas directly in the new 5G network. The Lab is open to the 100,000 students at Cologne's universities. The entrepreneur scene in the region and in the federal state of NRW can also use it. The co-creation approach with the joint incubator for innovation aims to build an ecosystem between politics, industry, universities and innovators. This way, ideas and talents come together.
  • Telekom customers become innovators, too: At the "Ideenschmiede" incubator, the company develops and optimizes products and services together with and for users. People throughout Germany have been working on innovative ideas both online and offline at workshop events: Anyone can present, discuss and evaluate suggestions. More than 10,000 people worked on over 2,800 ideas. Many of these innovations are being incorporated into Telekom products and services. 

Anyone who has now got the appetite: At #AIHack4Mobility on March 18/19, 2021, the focus will be on the future of company-organized mobility: How can an attractive employer of the future develop mobility offerings for employees into a real benefit - demand-oriented, flexible and cost-efficient? The registration deadline is March 10.

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