Hackathon Winners Take San Francisco by Storm

First, there was the challenging task at the 24-hour ZEISS Hackathon in Munich, Germany: “Bringing Data Science to the Nano Age.” Now, the winning team has claimed their prize: four of the five winners traveled to San Francisco. There, they visited SEMICON West and other hot spots. Thomas and Rob shared their experiences. One trip, two viewpoints.

What do you feel were the key criteria that enabled your team to win?

Thomas: Our wide-ranging knowhow and expertise and the fact that we complemented each other quite well were definitely decisive factors. Our team was well-prepared to tackle the areas important for a data science hackathon: AI, the business idea and the presentation. As a team, we always communicated effectively with each other and held regular standup meetings so that everyone stayed up to date. Each member of the team was proactive and came up with new ideas time after time. Regular interaction with the mentors was also helpful. And, last but not least, we had a lot of fun working together!

Rob: We were able to build a team with a wide variety of skills. This enabled us to complement each other well and cover all of the important aspects required for participating in a hackathon: (generating and developing an idea, identifying a business case and telling a compelling story about the idea). Coming from different backgrounds also meant that we could bring new ideas and fresh perspectives to the challenge.

Having good communication was also essential in forming a winning team, even more so when the team members are from different parts of the world. Regular stand-ups helped us to ensure that we were all on the same page with what we wanted to achieve. Looking outside of our experience within the team, we also leveraged the experience of the mentors with any questions that we had. This was very important in helping us to look at different ways of solving the challenge presented to us.

Our team chose a problem that we were all able to resonate with. We also wanted to have fun whilst doing so, to enable us to get the best out of the team, feel comfortable with each other and deliver a solution that could potentially shape the way an industry deals with a problem.

How could your approach have real-world impact?

Thomas: As society ages, it’ll be more difficult than ever to bridge the gap between the increasing need for doctors and even fewer physicians coming out of med school. That’s why we’ll need information systems that enable doctors to make diagnoses quickly so that treatment can start immediately, giving them more time for the difficult cases. Globally, we see a major need for a broad range of these types of offerings, both online and offline. Having identified this problem, the Apeer platform helped us to develop an initial prototype for the rapid identification of cancer cells in our Hackathon project. We think that the Apeer platform is a great way to enable everyone around the world to enjoy the opportunities afforded by AI-based imaging.

Rob: Our approach aims to remove subjectivity when making a diagnosis. It enables doctors to obtain information much faster than is currently the case. By providing a tool that improves efficiency, this means that patients are able to start treatment much earlier which provides them with an improved chance of survival. Our approach also enables doctors to dedicate more time to complex and severe cases. We have identified a strong use-case for having multiple services available to all of the countries in the world. For example, in low economically developed countries where connectivity may not be as widely used, our approach provides offline capabilities, so that the people living in those countries are still able to get the help that they need. The Apeer platform offers a big opportunity to move in the direction of offering everyone the capability of AI-based image processing accessible from all over the world.

Please describe in two or three sentences what you’ve just experienced in Silicon Valley.

Thomas: What really struck me was the high concentration of companies that are changing how we use modern technologies in our day-to-day lives. For us, it’s really great to be in a place where people with different cultural backgrounds are incredibly enthusiastic about creating and trying out new things, even if one or two of the projects might fail. San Francisco is an exciting city with lots of food and culture on offer.

Rob: There are a large number of companies that have changed the way the world uses technology, all within close proximity to each. Being in an environment where people with different cultural backgrounds love to create, test out ideas, work through and learn from failure to inform their next decision. San Francisco is a vibrant city with lots of different activities to do. The mix of cultures also gives plenty of food options to choose from!

What was the highlight of your trip?

Thomas: Of course, just being in San Francisco is a great experience. But visiting SEMICON West and ZEISS in Dublin proved the true highlights of our trip. At SEMICON West, we heard a series of really inspiring talks that featured new perspectives and technologies for networking hardware and software. This has created attractive new approaches to accommodating the society of tomorrow. At ZEISS, we were able to get a comprehensive overview of how the company turns the buzzwords we heard SEMICON West into carefully crafted, market-shaping products and learned how hardware and software are increasingly integrated to offer their customers a comprehensive premium product portfolio. We particularly liked the in-depth introduction to the data science products in the development department.

Rob: The fantastic opportunity to visit San Francisco has definitely been one of the main highlights, however, the two that really stick out are:

  • Being able to attend SEMICON West and hear a number of inspiring talks that motivate and recognise people for their hard work in developing for the technology industry. Following on from that, witnessing how hardware and software are deeply intertwined.
  • Visiting ZEISS and having a holistic picture of how both software and hardware are combined which enables ZEISS to deliver market-leading products. We especially enjoyed the deep dive into the innovative data science projects from the research and development team.
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