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What Happened at Lumohacks 2016

LumohacksI am reading through the notes for Lumohacks and it makes me so excited for the next one. Thank goodness we live in a time where anyone can start something they care about.

I wanted to create change in the healthcare sector using technology—this turned into Canada’s first major health hackathon.

Located in Vancouver, BC, engineers and entrepreneurs explored the underlying issues of living with major health issues. They were given the cutting-edge technology needed to make a difference (including twelve 3D printers plus hardware), and mentored by top industry leaders in the health and technology sectors.

I put together a few notes about the event below, that might help you run an event with a few hundred attendees! (Side Note: Here’s the behind-the-scenes of Lumohacks.)

LumohacksA lot of people outside of the tech sector weren’t familiar with hackathons. A hackathon is an event where teams of 2-5 people come together to collaborate on a project, and prizes are awarded to the most creative or useful projects. Sometimes there’s a theme, but nonetheless, it’s a great way to innovate because you are putting people into a pressure cooker.

The overall topic at Lumohacks was “Improving a Cancer Patient’s Life”; hackers were given 5 specific underlying topics to work on, such as Mobility or Prevention.

On Saturday morning, we started with talks from healthcare professionals (such as Dr. Rob Fraser, PhD, CEO of PMI and Dr. Melisa Hamilton, BC Cancer Agency Researcher), who presented the challenges in their work. For example, Dr. Rob Fraser’s challenge was Prevention: synthesizing the droves of data collected for patients to prevent cancers and other health issues.

We divided the speakers into two groups, who presented the challenges in two different locations, to speed up the process. We encouraged teams to split up and get to know all the challenges.

A lot of attendees come from a technical background, so we also asked oncologists to give talks on the basics of cancer as well.



Lumohacks 3D Printing

Then came the hacking (where people were free to ideate and work on their projects in any of our 17 hacking rooms) and workshops.

This is an experimental format; usually, hackathons have an opening ceremony and let people loose on hacking, but we needed to explain the challenges. We didn’t announce them beforehand, so that everyone could start from scratch.

Mentors wore blue t-shirts, but we got feedback that they weren’t too visible. Next time, we’ll have a mentor lounge where anyone can come in to grab a mentor, as well as stagger their arrival times and give clearer instructions for how to help. One of our event partners turned out to be an immensely helpful mentor, staying past midnight.

We fed everyone 5 main meals and snacks every 2-3 hours. Having a few kinds of snacks is important because people get bored of the same food and stop eating, but then they’re still hungry, so they keep asking for the next meal.

At midnight, many teams were stuck on their idea and wanted to talk to cancer patients, so next time, we’ll bring in more people who have a lived experience.

My favourite part was chatting with the teams around midnight. Some of them were excited or delirious or exhausted and some of them were doing yoga.

Someone was always confused about details like “where to submit your project,” no matter how many times we said it. Next time, we’ll make sure everyone is on one platform one week before the hackathon. We used our Design Lab Facebook group for communicating with the hackers (it’s a tech/design resource group that you’re welcome to join too–just click “join”), but details got lost; we’ll consider using Slack next time, and assign a core team member dedicated to communication. Our hackathon spanned an entire building (17 rooms), so it wasn’t feasible to make physical announcements room-to-room.






After the teams submitted their projects, we assigned a table to each team to present during the Expo.

We created a judging algorithm where each team was seen by at least two judges; the top 6 teams were ranked into a semi-final round and seen by all the judges again.

During the Project Expo, every team wanted to present longer, and every judge wanted to stay at each table longer, but that threw off the schedule. During the semi-finals, we cut people off using an alarm and I wrestled the mic from a few of the teams for fairness’ sake.

Each judge came from a different background (engineering, healthcare, entrepreneurship), and they viewed the projects with a different lens, so it’s the organizer’s job to set a fair bar.

When making a schedule, the magic number is 15. Every activity takes at least 15 minutes longer than you think. In the West Coast, expect people to be 15 minutes late. Moving a crowd takes 15 minutes. Food should be ready 15 minutes before people are scheduled to eat, or else they get testy.

No matter how much slack we anticipated in the schedule, we ran behind in each ceremony and activity. Our opening ceremony had 30 minutes of extra time, and we were still late for lunch. Our closing ceremony started late, but ended on time–I noticed the audience falling asleep as we presented the awards as most of them had stayed up all night.


I’ve learned to become a better leader and take calculated risks, to trust that uncertainty will work itself out, and that, if I’ve built a good team, then they will have my back.

Overall, the event was a huge success and the hackers were friendly and delightful. Everyone had great energy and great heart, even in the depths of the night, trying to improve a cancer patient’s life. That’s what the Design Lab team wanted.


Quick Facts:

  • 674 people applied to the event, and 380 people RSVP’d.
  • Our Project Expo featured 29 incredible projects featuring a mix of hardware and
    software improving a cancer patient’s life in 5 categories.
  • We provided hardware such as 3D printers (we had twelve of ’em), Fitbits, Alienware, and Virtual Reality devices such as Oculus Rift. We also provided software such as Amazon Web Services and NameCheap domain names. One comment we got was that people loved the fact that we provided hardware (as hardware engineers don’t normally get to participate in hackathons).
  • Attendees came from health and tech/design sectors.

If you’re interested in tech, join the Design Lab resource group on fb and we’ll let you know if we have an event in your city! (Click “join”) We’re based in the West Coast in North America right now.

Want to know more about hackathons/events? Here’s the behind-the-scenes of Lumohacks.

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