“This is the year of hackathons in Europe”

Last Sunday a Ultrahack 2016 kick-off meeting was held here in Reykjavík – the first of many events where this year’s Ultrahack will be presented to local startup ecosystems across Europe. We took the chance and met with Mikko Järvilehto, Co-founder and CEO of Ultrahack, to discuss what Ultrahack is all about.

This is the second year that Mikko, Mark Ryan, Ultrahack’s CTO, and their team hold Ultrahack. Last year Ultrahack consisted of a series of kick-off meetings and hackathons held all over Finland, culminating in the Ultrahack finals which were held at Slush in Helsinki last November. Contestants gathered from all over the world, which prompted Mikko and his team to expand this year’s format to cover the whole of Europe.

Mikko has seen a sharp increase in interest and the number of hackathons being set up all around Europe. “This is the year of hackathons in Europe”, Mikko tells us. But Ultrahack’s format is quite different from what one would consider to be a traditional hackathon. Instead of having teams try to get as far as possible in the development of their idea over a weekend, Ultrahack chains together various events in a competition that lasts roughly half a year from start to finish.

Mikko Järvilehto presenting Ultrahack at the kick-off last Sunday
Mikko Järvilehto presenting Ultrahack at the kick-off last Sunday. Photo courtesy of Startup Iceland.

This year’s Ultrahack will be centered around 10 different tracks – themes, if you will. These tracks will be unveiled at a series of events and hackathons across Europe during the next 3 months. The first track, a FinTech challenge in cooperation with OP bank in Finland, was unveiled at the kick-off meeting last Sunday – just in time for Arion Bank’s FinTech party next weekend.

Mikko and his team are launching Ultrahack 2016 today at the Arctic 15 conference in Helsinki. This means that teams can now register for Ultrahack 2016 through the “Ultrahack OS” platform. Individuals looking for teammates can also register, since the Ultrahack team will be working hard on matching people together to create new teams that can work together to bring their ideas to life. “We want to welcome everybody” says Mikko, emphasizing that Ultrahack is open to everyone, not only those who have a technical background and can write code. Everyone with a can-do attitude can join regardless of their background.

This is something that seems very important for Mikko. He stresses the importance of bringing together participants from different backgrounds – students, startups and corporations alike. Ultrahack supports this by helping people network through matchmaking and similar activities.

Mikko is currently doing his Ph.d. on how innovation tournaments can be used for innovation management and he has big ideas for the future. It’s his view that innovation competitions and hackathons can serve an important role in accelerating innovation, but more importantly they are useful in bringing people together. “Contests aren’t about winning, but bringing people together”, Mikko adds.

From August 1st and leading up to the Ultrahack finals at Slush in the end of November is a period the Ultrahack team calls the “Pregame”. During this period teams should work on their ideas and code and post their results through the Ultrahack OS platform. The teams with the best projects are selected to go on to the finals at Slush in Helsinki, where the winners are selected.

CrankWheel receiving an Ultrahack travel grant. Photo courtesy of Startup Iceland.
CrankWheel receiving a Ultrahack travel grant. Photo courtesy of Startup Iceland.

The Ultrahack team has a strong focus on trying to link the participating teams with investors and accelerators, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the main prize is a EUR 100.00 investment, with extra cash prices being given out as well. Further, the Ultrahack team hands out numerous travel grants for teams to get to the finals and Slush in November. The first travel grant was awarded to CrankWheel at the Startup Iceland conference last Monday and another grant will be given to the winner of the Arion Bank FinTech party hackathon.

It will be really interesting to see the ideas start flowing into the Ultrahack OS platform and we are of course hoping to see many Icelandic teams at the finals in Finland.