#HackforWildlife - 4 Things We Learned from a Hackathon

At One North, we often balance hard work and fun. And because we love what we do, sometimes for fun we do the same kinds of things we do when working. Last weekend, seven of us One Northerners participated in a unique event to find ways to leverage technology to raise awareness for a compelling cause: wildlife conservation.

The event was a hackathon put on by Internet of Elephants, a Kenya-based wildlife conservation organization. Internet of Elephants states: “We believe that simple yet systematic applications of technology can dramatically help wildlife and those who co-exist with it, rely on it, and love it, and ultimately improve conservation outcomes.”

Typically, during a hackathon, teams compete to solve for a single design problem within 36 hours, or a similarly short time frame. The teams propose solutions using agile development processes to produce a minimal viable product (MVP) to address the design problem. Ideally, the teams are made up of different skill sets, including business entrepreneurs, creatives, developers, etc.

The goal of Internet of Elephants’ hackathon was to “develop innovative approaches and business models to connect 20 million people worldwide with wild animals, through a combination of technologies that include GPS hardware, data, games, and social media.”

Using the popular Tumblr site Humans of New York as inspiration, the One North team designed Habitap – an app to “friend” animals and view:

  • Real-time GPS tracking of where the animals are moving
  • Video and photographic “status updates” 
  • Stories about the animals
  • Chances to donate as little as $1 to support conservation efforts 

Not only did we manage to finish the prototype, but our team actually took home the prize for Most Impactful to Wildlife Conservation!

hackathon concept

Beyond learning how to correctly say the acronym "IBEIS," we also gathered a few key takeaways that we feel can translate to our daily work.

Team Building
Going into this event, we were all very close coworkers and friends. However, working together in the same room for so many hours with a very tight deadline required deeper levels of trust and collaboration than our long-term projects usually demand. Our conversations were at times challenging, even emotional, but we maintained a commitment as a team to building the best possible solution for the design problem at hand and being honest with each other about our progress. In the end, we felt the most proud of our ability to work solidly as a team from start to finish.

Working Quickly and Iteratively
Being able to work quickly is, of course, a critical component of any hackathon, but even more than that is being able to work iteratively as well. You have to be able to learn as you go and incorporate new ideas and feedback into your work. You have to make progress at every turn because an hour wasted is an hour you will not get back.

Applying Our Skills in New Ways
Probably the coolest takeaway from this event was watching our Designers, Technologists and Strategists take their highly-tuned skills, and apply them to something a little outside of their daily work. Solving for wildlife conservation allowed us to have a different goal in mind while still utilizing the very skills we bring to the table with our regular clients.

Being Pitch-Perfect
Though it came at the very end, practicing our pitch was one of the most critical activities of the hackathon. If we couldn’t communicate our concept effectively, all of the work we did was for nothing. It’s all about taking what you have, running with it and understanding how to take it to market – then communicating all of that in a succinct and compelling way.

Thanks, Internet of Elephants, for an enriching experience!

If you’re curious to learn more about the organization, you can read all about them on their website www.internetofelephants.com.


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Sharon Bautista

At the time of publishing, Sharon was a Senior Strategist at One North.

Kayla Silverstein

At the time of publishing, Kayla was a Marketing Coordinator at One North.

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