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When collaboration meets competition: The real lessons from the Dutch Open Hackathon



In a digital world, where rules are constantly being rewritten and business models seem in permanent flux, one dictum has remained as consistent as it is vital. Speed is of the essence.


Speed of thought, action and reaction. The speed at which data can be harvested and meaningfully processed to create products that can be brought to market quicker and be scaled rapidly. This new, accelerated nature of business is changing our mindsets.

Which is why Philips’ participation at the first cross-Dutch multinationals Hackathon was such a triumph, in that it showcased the endless possibilities that innovative strategies can bring in a short period of time. It revealed how extraordinarily creative solutions, utilizing complex sets of data, can be engineered at speed. And it showed that bringing different mentalities together in such a high-pressured environment can take innovation to another dimension.
For 30 hours, 50 teams competed in a specially-constructed ‘incubator hothouse’. They took APIs and data sets from seven companies – TomTom Telematics, Schiphol Airport, KLM, Rabobank, USG people, Albert Heijn and Philips – and then hacked away to create something unique. The criteria for success were usefulness for the consumer, attractive design, being able to cross several data sets, technical achievement and out-of-the-box creativity.
The winner was the WelcomeHome app, a clever app that allows friends and family to send gift packages for passengers arriving at Schiphol Airport that would appear on the luggage belt. A smart way to enhance the downtime of waiting for luggage, eminently scalable and, especially in terms of the gift box, extremely viral.
Alberto, a mix of Uber, Tinder and shopping on-demand services, was the runner up. This is a clever idea – you issue a request for groceries to be delivered at a certain time and place, then third parties bid to deliver them to you using bicycles, which could even create employment opportunities. And there was the team that focused on sustainability and societal good with an app that finds items in your fridge that will expire when you go on holiday and then connects you to food banks so you don’t throw them in the trash.
All competitors demonstrated how clean, open data can be incredibly powerful when combined with innovation. It was also inspirational to witness raw material mined from a specific company being transformed into an entirely new, monetizable service. Sometimes, through the chaos of agile creativity and thinking outside of the box, a new business model emerges.

The Hackathon experience showed that the more open APIs and technologies we bring to the table, the more likely it is that something useful can be created. Such data collaboration across industries could be crucial to brand development.


Data crosses the boundaries of our new service economy, so we need to work together across these blurred lines, interpreting that data meaningfully yet handling it sensitively. An exercise like the Hackathon clarifies the privacy issues surrounding such information – we need to exploit technology to add value to products but not to the detriment of the trust which bonds us to our customers.


Perhaps Hackathons reinforce the notion that a business may be just a part of a creative ecosystem – an essential part but nonetheless one that can operate more effectively if the mindset is one of partnership. The days of putting a product in a box and placing it on a shelf are gone. Instead, as a company, we can have a more profound influence on people’s lives by working with third parties to bring data to life. Such cross-industry collaboration is the very essence of a sharing economy.


This was our debut and hopefully the Dutch Open Hackathon will grow in size in coming years – and help to inspire our future too. By making data available and opening our company to the collaborative process, Philips can develop new applications, nurture partnerships, scale quicker and provide more usability for the consumer.

Blake Cahill

Global Head of Digital and Social Marketing

A senior executive with more than 20 years of business development experience, Blake is helping to lead Philips' international rebranding and expansion into new technologies and markets. With a strong background in executing highly complex and results-oriented strategies, Blake has led a series of marketing, creative, client management, product innovation and thought leadership projects for both Fortune 500 organisations and digital start-ups.


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