Hacking humanity’s challenges

With the world upside-down from the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, a global movement of online hackathons (#hackthecrisis) was born to confront humanity’s current challenges. Tens of thousands of people have already participated. 

The Netherlands hosted the Hack the Crisis hackathon in early April, focusing on finding solutions in the fields of patient care, protection for medical and cleaning staff at hospitals, virus containment and digital solutions for people and businesses in quarantine. 

We caught up with the four winning teams to see how their projects were evolving. Each one has come a long way in the past few weeks, which is all the more remarkable as they mostly live in different time zones and countries and have never met face to face.

Little Red Riding Hood saving the green grocer

The winner of the category ‘Business Continuity for SMEs’ was Roodkappje (‘Little Red Riding Hood’). They came up with an app that links small food businesses with neighbourhood volunteer deliverers. 

The diverse team – which includes members from the Netherlands, Germany, Iran, Mexico, Palestine and Russia – only met at the hackathon. “We were complete strangers,” says cofounder Anna Oñate. “But we happened to share the same drive to generate impact. We were seriously concerned not only about human losses, but about the global economic impact of the lockdown, particularly in low-digitised industries.”

“While supermarket chains [have experienced] a 35% increase in turnover since ordering online is seen by many as reducing risk, the SME sector in the Netherlands has seen a drop of more than 70%,” she explains. “Customers no longer dare to go out to the local market, where groceries are often fresher and cheaper than in the supermarket. At the same time, the number of volunteers has increased enormously.”

Roodkappje team

Members of the Roodkappje team at the Albert Cuypmarkt

For the past five weeks, the team has been working around the clock to launch an online platform which offers more than 380 products from the Albert Cuyp market. All orders can be picked up without contact at the market or delivered free of charge by volunteers (within a three-kilometre range). In the coming weeks, the team will mainly focus on expanding their local, healthy and fair-priced food portfolio, and new volunteers are welcome to participate. 

Solving puzzles to find a vaccine

As the winners for the category ‘Healthcare & Wellbeing’, Analysis Mode was motivated by the knowledge that while billions of people are waiting for a COVID-19 vaccine, only a few thousand scientists can actively work on it. So, the team developed a gamified research platform that asks citizens to solve an online puzzle – their input is then used by AI to predict a possible vaccine formula.

Since the hackathon, Analysis Mode has received roughly half a million submitted solutions from their game. This translates to saving 700 hours of research time, according to Milda Dapkeviciute, who oversees strategic partnerships.

Milda Dapkeviciute

Milda Dapkeviciute of Analysis Mode

“In the six weeks since the hackathon, we created a vaccine discovery tool that tops other methods developed by universities in the past six years. We’ve also realised that our game and platform can be very useful in the future [by] speeding up research in many different life sciences and health fields.” 

“Right now, we’re looking for our first clients. So, let's talk if you are interested in disrupting the pharma industry by reducing vaccine discovery time from fourteen months to five weeks.” 

Speeding up medical procurement through reliable reviews

PplCert, winners of the ‘Logistics & Supply Chain’ category, confronted the medical supply shortages brought on by the coronavirus crisis. Specifically, they focused on how the market is currently being flooded with new alternative providers and products. How do you know what’s trustworthy?

To help healthcare providers choose the best face masks, goggles and other pieces of equipment, PplCert developed a platform that allows the medical community to review products and thus determine their reliability. Now, a month later, the team is well on its way to making its first working prototype.

Rosanne Klerx PPIcert

Rosanne Klerx of PplCert

“It's been a thrilling ride. Hack the Crisis gave us a kickstart. And the ecosystem they assembled to support our growth afterwards helped us move forward,” says team member Rosanne Klerx.

“We’ve been able to experiment with many industry stakeholders, and we’re now building a database with products that might not yet be certified, but have some validation from labs or professionals.” 

Companies that want to include their products in the database are invited to fill out this form. If you work for a medical care organisation and want to share product quality data with other care facilities, please complete this form.

Gamifying remote education

Challengly won the ‘Remote Education’ category. By asking thousands of teachers, the team learned that the biggest challenge in long-term distance learning was maintaining student motivation. As a response, they developed the gaming-inspired platform ‘Ediya’ where teachers can provide inspiring education by working together and sharing challenges.

Currently, the team is expanding the app “to create a tool that allows for better scheduling and control of learning activities, sufficient interaction for students and teachers and more attention to individual needs,” says team member Shreya Sharma. 


“We are also looking for developers to help create our minimum viable product, as well as volunteers (schools, students and teachers) who can test this MVP.” 

“Since winning, we realised it’s not just a hobby project, but an actual problem we are trying to solve in a limited amount of time and with limited resources. So, we also need funding,” says Sharma.

“It’s been an experience of a lifetime that nobody expected, but we are really thankful and enjoy it a lot. Our commitment is strong.”

Read more startup news from around Amsterdam.