I've been living in Ingolstadt for 3 years now but never really interacted with the startup scene. I decided to change this by participating to a Hackathon that was organized by an incubater in Ingolstadt called Brigk.
Socializing during Covid-19
It's not a surprise that this year has been very difficult all around the world. The bigger difficulty for me came from lack of socializing. I spent so much time at home which of course has it's ups and downs.
The only other contacts I had were my girlfriend, my cat and my friends with whom I played a LOT of Apex Legends on PS4. My day job turned also more and more around organizing, planning and discussing things - I really missed programming and furthermore programming just for the sake of it.
When I used to live in Munich I was programming day in day out, even on some silly projects but it was what made me happy. I missed that.
So I randomly received an email from the Incubator where I am renting a virtual office (for post and stuff) that there was a Hackathon being organized and anyone could participate. I registered and started looking forward to the event, to socialize and get to know other developers.
To be honest staying at home the whole time doesn't necessarly breed a lot of motivation and the frontier between work and private time tends to fade. That means that I was either working for work or laying on the couch mindlessly looking at memes or youtube videos of people programming or complaining about random stuff.
Being part of a Hackathon is a good incentive to do something and potentially win cool goodies and stuff. Furthermore it is an amazing way to validate an idea or project I am working on. Usually I work on those in my own corner without any external validation except that it makes sense to me. Solving a vanity problem or coming up with a business idea without having it reality checked as fast as possible is generally useless unless it is a hobby.
So I registered to the Hackathon and little did you know one week after, two of the organizers show up at my door with three bags of goodies aiming to help alleviate the fact that the hackathon is online only.
This was a very pleasant surprise and at that moment I was already happy to have participated :) There were many things in the bags, coffee, drinks, pancake powder and other fun stuff to be used during the hackathon.
There were a lot of events organized: Beer tasting, coffee brewing workshops, live DJ event (on Zoom), Workshops with the judges/challengers, ideation workshops, how to pitch workshops, gaming nights. It was a real blast and made me feel I was there litterally :')
After some minimal hickups with the audio the organizing team did an amazing job presenting how the Hackathon is going to take place, everything in English. Everyone had the opportunity to present themselves and share in a common Slack channel if they have an idea or not.
I was initially snatched to participate in a team and I didn't really feel comfortable since there wasn't a real idea yet and I would have wanted to know what I am committing myself to before starting up. Another point was that the Hackathon was from Monday to Sunday, meaning for me that I would only have Saturday to Sunday for contributing. Since I didn't want to handicap the team I decided to leave it and figure out an idea of my own.
The main topics of the Hackathon were "Sustainability", "Gamification" and "Urban Mobility". I started thinking about something that could be useful but also close to reality with a realistic MVP.
When I first arrived in Ingolstadt I had to take the bus to get from one spot to the other. This turned out to be a big challenge since I first had to decrypt the bus map, find my street, download the app and do a whole lot of other mental gymnastics to find where I needed to go. Due to frustration, I decided to buy a bike and just ride my bike to where I need to go to instead of figuring out the bus routes. I believe this dilemma could be solved a lot easier because people look for places and directions and not bus stops.
Essentially, bus lines and train lines are static information. We know when a bus arrives and where, when it's late and where the bus stops are. We can take this data and display it on a Map by tracking - or computing - the estimate positions of the buses. By adding the bus routes on the map, our location and the destination we want to go to, it is self-explanatory which bus one has to take and when. Just like using a GPS system in the car. Mapping this information onto maps, instead of on a generic "Fahrtplan" enables anyone to find out the route themselves without cross referencing multiple sources of information (time tables, location of bus stops, the maps, etc.). The added benefit of having a living map is that we can add a whole lot of other time-sensitive information, like special offers, current events and other things that again, are reachable by bus which favors the visibility of local businesses and events. This would be a benefit since the status quo is the following:
It was then pretty easy to setup an MVP based on open streetmaps data and leaflet. I had time to implement just one bus route. I self hosted it on a 5€ server and - between us - I was ashamed of the code I wrote but hey it worked!
Now it is difficult to convey the "liveness" of the map with a screenshot so here is a video of my whole pitch with a very quick demonstration in between:
So I won first prize in the Hackathon! And remember that team I was in at the beginning of the Hackathon? They also won 1st place. Yes, the organizers decided to have two 1st places and that was fine with me. I was really happy to have participated and this shows two things:
- Get out of your comfort zone by participating in events or Hackathons, this might just push you enough to "finish" something
- You never know how many nice people you can meet there and what teams you build. For example, I e-met my neighbor that lives 2 stories downstairs! That was the biggest aha moment.
- (Bonus) There are huge ton of "simple" problems that are solvable with reasonable programming skills. Many tend to lose touch with simplicity while wanting to revolutionize the world. Not everyone will make a billion dollar company. Not everyone needs to.
Just get out there, have fun and do whatever matters to you or the people around you. I will continue working on the project, let's see what comes out.