Hacking the Big Problems with Data and Tech Innovation
MIT Media Lab co-hosts Kuwait’s first “Data Agility” hackathon
Fifty tech students, coders and entrepreneurs recently competed in an intense, four-day event in which they teamed up to use data and technology to find solutions to some of Kuwait’s most pressing social and business problems. These innovative minds were taking part in the first “Data Agility” hackathon, co-hosted by Agility and MIT Media Lab, one of the world’s pioneering interdisciplinary research laboratories.
Hackathons are intensive design sprints, where teams compete to see who can use data to fashion the best solution to a pressing problem in just a few hours or days.
Because they bring problem-solvers together in a competitive environment, hackathons have a reputation for fostering innovation and creative thinking — and for getting results fast. (See results below.)
Coached by MIT Media Lab members, nine teams set about creating innovative ways to crack issues faced by consumers, businesses and the government. Armed with data provided by Agility and Kuwait’s Public Authority for Civil Information, competitors were able to tackle problems such as unsnarling Kuwait’s epic morning traffic and making sure consumer products are always in store when shoppers want them.
What were the solutions? And could taking part in a hackathon help your business? We caught up with Lamia Hayat, Manager of Agility Ventures and coordinator of the event, to find out more about the solutions and what the future holds for Kuwait’s tech entrepreneurs.
Four days isn’t long to solve these problems from scratch! Can you talk us through what happened?
LAMIA: It was a real whirlwind! The opening ceremony took place Sunday night with an inspiring address from Agility CEO Tarek Sultan, and an insightful panel discussion on trends in data science, automation and privacy. We were also very honored that Lawrence Silverman, the U.S. Ambassador to Kuwait, attended to give his remarks and support.
Then competitors picked their teams and set to work on Monday morning at a collaborative working space in the city. I’m so glad we hosted it there because there was a really creative and fun vibe, and being surrounded by entrepreneurs and startups working on their own projects meant there was a real collaborative energy.
It went very quickly, but actually, lots of hackathons only run for 24 or 48 hours. Rather than intensive all-nighters, we decided to spread it out with official hours of 9am-5pm to fit with everyone’s lifestyles. We wanted to be accessible to everyone, including parents with young children, and I think this structure really helped us attract a diverse range of people.
What was the key to making the hackathon a success?
LAMIA: There was a real diversity of thinkers from universities, public institutions and private sector organizations. Competitors took part from businesses, banks, technology innovators, start-up accelerators and more – there were so many different perspectives. And it wasn’t just about the solutions that came out of it, but about building networks, sharing ideas and growing the community of tech innovators in Kuwait.
We were supported by various public bodies, including the Kuwait Foundation for the Advancement of Sciences (KFAS), Kuwait Achievers for Future Opportunities (KAFO), and the Public Authority for Civil Information, which generously donated the data used during the event. People really came together to support innovation and entrepreneurship.
What advice would you give to entrepreneurs who are interested in doing a hackathon?
LAMIA: I really recommend it! It’s a fantastic learning opportunity; you get to practice new skills, a new way of working, and meet a great diversity of interesting people.
And if you’re in Kuwait, get involved with ours! We’re already discussing next year’s, and putting lots of thought into how we can make it even bigger and better.
MIT Media Lab Participants
A doctoral student in the Collective Learning Group at the MIT Media Lab, Kevin’s research focuses on democratizing data analysis for non-technical people. He is currently interested in high-density data interface design, visualization recommendation, and applied machine learning.
A Postdoctoral Fellow at the Human Dynamics Group at MIT Media Lab, Eduardo’s work primarily focuses on the combination of swarm robotic systems and blockchain technology to implement new security, behavior, and business models for distributed robotic systems.
A Kuwaiti PhD student at the Human Dynamics group at MIT Media Lab, Abdulrahman holds a bachelor in Computer Engineering and he is currently working on distributed machine learning algorithms.
After completing his undergraduate degree at Old Dominion University, Abdulrahman worked for 3 years at Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research (KISR).
The Hackathon Winners
Most Innovative Solution: PIFSS Team
This all-female team from The Public Institute for Social Security used Agility data to come up with a truly innovative warehousing solution which predicted inbound and outbound flow.
Best Business Solution: The Producers
Using traffic data, a team with members from the Civil Service Commission and Kuwait National Petroleum Companies produced a solution to Kuwait’s traffic problems with the potential to become a thriving startup.
Most Outstanding Solution: Team TANG
This team of extremely talented students from schools including the Kuwait College of Science and Technology, produced an outstanding methodology for predicting warehousing capacity using four years of previous data.