Hackathon at EDHEC Teaches Innovation, Design Thinking

Students are pushed to imagine grand solutions to complex 21st-century problems.

Hackathon at EDHEC Teaches Innovation, Design Thinking thumb

What’s one way to immerse a business school’s newest students quickly and deeply into the entrepreneurial process? A hackathon. For the last two summers, EDHEC Business School in France has held a 25-hour hackathon for its 700 students entering their pre-master’s year. Held in August before classes begin, the hackathon welcomes students to campus and kickstarts their development of skills in four key areas: creativity, cooperation, communication, and positive criticism.

Last year, the theme for the EDHEC Hackathon was “Tech for Society.” For 25 uninterrupted hours—from one afternoon to the next—teams of six to seven students imagined new ways to use technology to bring society together and improve people’s quality of life. Guiding them were EDHEC faculty, staff, and master’s students, as well as 36 coaches and designers.

After learning the basics of innovation and design thinking, students could explore one of several questions. For example, how can workers adapt to frequent job changes? How can businesses embrace the circular economy? What services will people require as they age? How can the world adapt to the diseases of the future?

Next, students formed teams to observe the problems, generate ideas, and create prototypes. The event integrated brief rest breaks, including games and even a morning “wake-up” exercise. The hackathon culminated in each team pitching its idea to judges. Winning projects included one idea to deploy drones to detect forest fires, and another to create an app that encourages people to upload images of themselves picking up trash to earn points and receive prizes. Students who wanted to continue their projects could apply to EDHEC’s startup program or its incubator, EDHEC Entrepreneurs.

In May 2019, the school delivered a similar 32-hour hackathon with partner TechCrunch at the VivaTech expo in Paris. More than 60 participants—students from IT, design, engineering, and marketing— formed teams to develop creative digital solutions to help young people make wise career choices.