The Odyssey Hackaton, which will take place in Groningen for the fourth time in early April, is more than an event, according to founder Rutger van Zuidam. 'It is a methodology to find solutions to issues in a different way. We are now facilitating that through a complete program around the hackaton and our ambition is that this unique way of collaboration will be taken up much more widely.' NOM director Dina Boonstra certainly sees that happening in the northern Netherlands.
The intensity of a 48-hour hackaton and the entire run-up to it are an experience in themselves. Yet entrepreneurs don't necessarily have to participate themselves to be inspired. 'This program provides an open playing field where anything can happen,' Rutger states. 'The Odyssey Hackaton is a tool, the goal is to arrive at new solutions with an open mindset within a network. This is what we can also do much more of in the Northern Netherlands. Taking responsibility for issues together, recognizing that you are part of it. Because then there is also a willingness to provide part of the solution and to assume your role as a company, government or knowledge institution.'
The competitive element at the Odyssey Hackaton is separate from economic competition, according to the founder. 'We work from common starting points and focus on potential. Here, stakeholders and participating teams all sit on the same side of the table to think about what is needed and concretely build the future together. It's not about who bakes or gets what part of the pie, it's about making the pie as good and tasty as possible for everyone. A cake that rises above itself. More than procurement, it's about the magic that can happen: how do you work with each other? How flexible are you? How willing are you to embrace other realities? And how do you capitalize on that with your ideas? That's what it's all about.'
Dina Boonstra, as NOM director, gets hot on this train of thought. 'This hackaton tackles issues that every entrepreneur recognizes something in. So they are not alone in the challenges they face, they are part of the whole. Odyssey is a stimulating event and as Rutger said, it is more than that. It is a way of doing business differently that we in the Northern Netherlands can benefit from. As NOM, we also encourage companies to achieve new developments preferably in cooperation within the region. That is why we are partners of Odyssey, making it financially possible. And we like to see - just like Rutger - that the approach behind this program is taken up more widely.'
It was partly through his years as business development manager and advisor at NOM that Rutger was inspired for Odyssey. 'That also says something about the challenges that lie ahead for the Northern Netherlands,' says Dina, 'so it's great how Rutger is creating opportunities to take entrepreneurship to another level. The scale of this hackaton has real impact. We can be proud that this international event is already taking place in Groningen for the fourth time. The fact that so much knowledge and creativity comes together in our own region is a source of inspiration and encouragement to do more with it in the North. I therefore urge entrepreneurs to come to Forum Groningen on Thursday, April 2 - the day before the hackaton (see box, ed.) - to sample the atmosphere and see what 21 challenges the participants will be working on.
You create new solutions and markets only if you ask different questions of the unusual suspects, and that is exactly what is happening at this hackaton.
Rutger van Zuidam
Odyssey involves several northern Dutch parties, although stakeholders as well as teams, experts and volunteers come from everywhere, at home and abroad. 'We work on issues that go beyond the region, even beyond our country and the EU,' says Rutger. 'That requires broad involvement, from all sectors and at all levels. That is why it is so valuable that very diverse teams join this hackaton: from students to corporate teams of large companies, from start-ups and scale-ups to established SMEs. Moreover, these teams are supported by passionate experts from all kinds of sectors, who put their knowledge at the service of the connecting creation during the hackaton.'
For Rutger, the hackaton is most successful when participating parties find each other and start pilots with the best teams and solutions after the program. 'We tackle a variety of issues and match teams to them, but new connections sometimes emerge along the way. The competitive element stimulates the participants, but also the discovery that you can strengthen each other if you find matching puzzle pieces. Fragmentation holds back development, connection encourages it. This does require a different way of working. For example, clients must learn how to be customers of a startup. You only create new solutions and markets if you ask different questions of the unusual suspects, and that is exactly what happens at this hackaton.'
Moving on after hackaton
The name Odyssey already indicates that the hackaton is not an end station, but part of a journey. A crucial part, though, because it is a pressure cooker full of potential: at least 230 new prototypes have already emerged from the previous editions. 'Those are great results, but after the hackaton it really comes down to it,' Rutger emphasizes. 'We see that participants return better prepared and that the partners who present issues already reserve pilot budgets to be able to continue after a successful hackaton. New startups and innovations need a financial breeding ground and in that area NOM is of course significant in the Northern Netherlands. Especially early-stage funding or seed capital is important to put the results of a hackaton into the world.'
Rutger and Dina also see inspiring and connecting companies as a desirable outcome of the hackaton. 'The two-day hackaton itself is short and powerful, but the program provides a broader network and ecosystem. A network like Water Alliance in the Northern Netherlands is an inspiring example of how to tackle issues together in the longer term. Forming strong networks is essential to solve complex issues in the market. And that requires - besides entrepreneurship - a certain vision and mentality, so that together we create an open playing field beyond Odyssey. Odyssey is a way to facilitate other forms of collaboration, where customers act as equals with existing and potential market players. This is at the same time a prelude to a different way of entrepreneurship, also for managers, in which we all take responsibility for challenges in the 21st century. Developing together is the motto.'