Odyssey, the world’s largest hackathon, will take place from April 11 to 15 in Groningen, the Netherlands.
With support from partners including the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations of the Netherlands, De Nederlandsche Bank (the Dutch Central Bank), the Netherlands Authority for the Financial Markets (AFM), the European Union Regional Development Fund, Deloitte, KLM and the IOTA Foundation, the hackathon will see 100 teams compete for €200,000, with 1,500 people due to attend the event.
We discussed with Rutger van Zuidam, Founder and CEO of DutchChain and Odyssey, about the hackathon and how Blockchain is shaping the world.
The hackathon is currently in its third year. What would you say has made it such a success?
The co-creative aspect of the hackathon is one of the reasons for its continued success. When you want to discover what new technology is capable of, the best way to discover this is through collaboration. Instead of a client asking the market for a specific product, we curate and articulate challenges and ask our participants to build products in order to address certain problems and provide the solutions. At Odyssey, we provide the collaborative infrastructure and processes to help and make these solutions a reality.
Do you think that solving societal problems with blockchain will push its acceptance on the world stage?
Yes — but the world doesn’t need blockchain, rather it needs new ways of collaboration to address the challenges of the 21st century, whether that is societal or economical, on a global scale or within an industry. We are currently seeing public blockchain networks such as Bitcoin and Ethereum enable new ways of collaboration and we think this can be applied in many other areas. It will unlock an opportunity where any individual can contribute in the best possible way to whatever purpose he or she finds important.
You said that Odyssey’s focus is to commonise parts of the digital infrastructure. Could you touch a bit on that?
We believe that society and economies need a digital public infrastructure that is neutral and which prevents surveillance capitalism and surveillance state at the same time. This will benefit not only society but also the economy, because if we extend our digital public infrastructure through new open protocols, owned by no-one, it will unlock new markets. These new protocols will have tremendous value in business processes where they become integrated, as new products and services are introduced to the market that will utilise this new infrastructure.
The issues being tackled at the hackathon are many in number. Have you noticed that any single sector (say, the financial sector) is more popular than others?
The hackathon covers a wide variety of sectors with a range of challenges that diversify each year. We see challenges in the financial sector, such as inclusive banking, pensions and insurance, but we also see challenges in the energy sector, public services, and utility networks. This year for the first time we have a very exciting challenge to scale wildlife protection and ecosystem regeneration.
Do you see a higher number of teams from certain regions than others?
Looking at last year’s hackathon, 40% of the teams were comprised of international applicants from 22 countries across 5 continents. While the hackathon takes place in Groningen in The Netherlands and is geographically closer to those based in Europe, we have had teams travel from China, Japan, India, South Africa, the Middle East, and the USA.
As the industry is going through what many consider the crypto bubble burst, would you say that blockchain is an easier sell to big firms and governments than cryptocurrency itself?
I don’t necessarily think that blockchain is an easier sell because if you sell the technology without a cryptocurrency or a token, you’ll end up with a product that might not need blockchain. Ultimately, you’ll have sold something that might have worked better with a normal database.
It’s really important to not sell blockchain by itself but to keep a realistic dialogue with governments or clients, whether they are government or corporate. If you envision a digital public infrastructure where you need to prove that certain information or value went from point A to point B in a public, completely independent space, that’s where a token that goes from point A to point B, recorded on a blockchain, may very well be needed.
While the demand for blockchain developers is growing (LinkedIn places Blockchain developer as the most in-demand job for 2018), there seems to be a small supply of qualified individuals. How does the hackathon address this?
We invest a great deal in the knowledge graph of our ecosystem. Odyssey organises and promotes events where knowledge is shared and people can meet each other to learn while consistently sharing information online and providing expertise at the hackathon. In the last three years, we’ve witnessed an incredible rise in the amount of knowledge that is required to build good projects. The demand for knowledgeable blockchain developers is booming but the quality is higher as more and more experienced developers, who are learning about blockchain and distributed computing, are also entering the field.
What can we expect this year, given that this is the third hackathon?
This year’s hackathon will see 100 teams building prototypes to address 20 complex challenges backed by our governmental and corporate partners, with 1,500 people expected to attend the hackathon. These challenges cover a multitude of areas, including a fossil free future, public utility networks, (self-) governance, self-owned digital identity, biometric data communication, inclusive banking and pensions, cargo insurance, digital nation infrastructure, wildlife and biodiversity restoration, food value chain sustainability, and open crisis and disaster management.
Odyssey is an Open Innovation Program connecting innovative ideas with governmental, corporate, and non-profit partners to address complex societal challenges using blockchain, AI, and other emerging technologies, with a collaborative approach to innovation.
Through a series of industry events, hackathons, and a decentralised incubation program, Odyssey mobilises a global ecosystem of more than 6,000 members, among whom includes developers, creatives, startups, corporates, investors, governmental bodies, legal experts, regulators, scientists, and other key stakeholders who tap into each other’s knowledge and resources to enable exponential innovation.
Each Program season starts in September with the Future of Trust Summit, followed by a series of preparatory events (also known as Deep Dives), and peaks with the Odyssey hackathon in April.