It was the Sunday of the GAA Finals but on the grounds of Dublin City University all eyes were fixed on another competition: The Biopharma Ambition Health HackathonGary O'Neill / Dublin Globe

It was the Sunday of the GAA Finals. Dublin was playing Mayo in Croke Park, and the stadium was at capacity. Across the city, all eyes were glued to the game.

There was just one exception, where the atmosphere was just as intense. At DCU Alpha, Dublin City University’s aptly named innovation campus, over 50 engineers, designers, pharmaceutical experts, and entrepreneurs were intently focused, preparing to present to judges their solutions to some of Ireland’s largest healthcare problems. It was the culmination of 3 long days at the Biopharma Ambition Health Hackathon.

The hackathon was part of the BioAmbition Conference, an international biopharmaceutical gathering to showcase innovation in healthcare. Ireland, as home to 9 of the 10 world’s largest pharmaceutical companies, was the obvious host. The inclusion of a hackathon and the decision to involve me and my colleagues at MIT Hacking Medicine is proof positive of Ireland’s commitment to innovation.

Over the last 5 years, we have come to specialize in running healthcare themed hackathons with the goal of energizing healthcare entrepreneurship to solve global health problems.

From our perspective, the Biopharma Ambition Hackathon is a great example of collaboration. As our co-director Khalil Ramadi, one of four MIT representatives, noted: “It was amazing to see the extent to which different players in the healthcare space came together and collaborated for the hackathon. Such collaboration is rare yet critical in growing and developing the ideas that come out of these events.”

This level of collaboration is especially crucial when the quality of the resulting pitches are as high as those at the Biopharma Ambition Hackathon in Dublin. In just 48 hours, the participants went from pitching problems and meeting potential teammates to presenting healthcare solutions that were not only viable but that had fully developed business models. The 9 teams tackled problems ranging from bed management and medical tourism to the spread of illness through hospitals due to the lack of handwashing by medical practitioners.

Coming from the United States, it was fascinating to observe the Irish healthcare system through the eyes of such high caliber teams. Ned McCague, a senior MIT HackMed member, has helped judges deliberate over a dozen hackathons, and he marveled that he has never seen so many teams be brought up as potential prize recipients. Normally, judges cluster their discussions around 3-4 teams out of 15. In the case of the BioAmbition Hackathon, 6 out of just 9 teams were considered.

In the end, only 3 teams could win the €6000 worth of prizes. 3R Creative Minds came first, with a post-stroke recovery and rehabilitation platform. Safe-Hands, a smart hand sanitizing system came second and Sun, Sea & Surgery, a pan-European bed shortage solution came third. However, all of the teams were excellent examples of the power of hackathons and other events that allow healthcare professionals and lay people to collaborate and innovate within the healthcare ecosystem.

Problems in health care are ubiquitous, and it is only with a diversity of perspectives that true innovation can occur to solve these problems. We look forward to seeing the amazing things the teams of the BioAmbition Hackathon are able to accomplish moving forward.

The BioAmbition Health Hackathon was organized by the BioPharmaChem Ireland (BPCI), The Irish Pharmaceutical Healthcare Association (IPHA), the National Institute for Bioprocessing Research and Training (NIBRT), and coordinated by DCU Alpha and MIT Hacking Medicine.

* This article first appeared in The Dublin Globe. For more great stories on Dublin's startup ecosystem, visit their website.

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