Estonian hackathon tackles issues caused by Covid-19

16 Mar 2020

Image: © Kavalenkava/

A hackathon aimed at finding solutions to help Estonia emerge from the coronavirus crisis saw more than 1,000 participants from more than 20 countries offering their ideas.

In response to the spread of Covid-19 in Europe, Estonian start-up support Accelerate Estonia launched an online hackathon with Garage48 to help the country emerge from the coronavirus crisis and create “competitive advantages” for the post-crisis period.

The initiative went on to become the largest online hackathon in Estonia, and was opened by the nation’s president Kersti Kaljulaid and minister of foreign trade and information technology, Kaimar Karu.

Commenting on the hackathon, Kaljulaid said: “It is my sincere pleasure to see that this initiative, organised in just a few hours, has become an international event bringing together more than 1,000 participants from more than 20 countries and 14 time zones.

“This is a genuine example of an initiative that leads people to look for solutions to the challenges we face. The spread of coronavirus is a threat to our health and to our social and economic environment. It’s important to join forces and work towards solutions.”

Some of the ideas from the hackathon

During the hackathon, participants came up with a number of solutions. One of which was Zelos, a platform for connecting vulnerable, at-risk people with volunteers via a call centre and task dispatch app to prevent further isolation and loneliness.

Another solution the Estonian initiative began to develop was the Ventit breathing apparatus, which aims to solve some of the issues associated with the scarcity of ventilators needed for patients experiencing acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS).  The hackathon also conceived the idea for a medical volunteer management database, called Vanemuine. This solution aims to make it easier to find people with suitable medical competencies based on their location and call them to action.

The hackathon also led to the idea for a workforce sharing platform connecting B2B sides for temporary workforce exchange. The Estonian initiative described this platform, entitled Share Force One: “A lot of companies and employees have been left to deal with the unknown – will they have jobs and salaries? Some companies are in need of additional workers and others are facing the reality of not being able to offer jobs anymore.

“Although this problem has risen like a shooting star during the past couple of days, the excess of workers and need of additional workforce are problems that companies have to deal with all the time.”

Finally, the idea for a “Corona-tracker” was conceived at the hackathon, which was aimed to offer real-time data to individuals and governments to monitor the situation, enabling citizens to self-monitor their risk and recovery from home in real-time.

‘Searching for solutions’

Viljar Lubi, idea author at Accelerate Estonia, said: “We just proved that it’s possible to organise an event with international impact and that’s just with a few hours. In difficult times we always have two options: remain seated when the ground is burning, or start searching for solutions.

“We chose the last option! I hope that other countries will follow our initiative, the Accelerate Estonia and Garage48 teams have confirmed their willingness to share their experience with other countries looking to organise a similar hackathon.”

The online hackathon was mentored by entrepreneurs including Bolt’s Martin Villig, Kaarel Kotkas of Veriff and Marko Russiver of Guanna, among many others.

Lubi added: “I have to say that it is gratifying to see that the European Commission is inviting start-ups to participate in a competition seeking innovative and technological solutions to prevent the spread and impact of the coronavirus.

“At this point, I can say that among the ideas that have taken part in our online hackathon, there are a large number of those who, within 48 hours, have developed solutions that have not only a perspective in Estonia but a global impact.”

Outside of Estonia, there are a number of start-ups developing ideas that may improve conditions for individuals and healthcare workers as the crisis escalates. Last week we took a look at some of the ways that start-ups are tackling issues related to Covid-19.

Kelly Earley was a journalist with Silicon Republic