The biggest blockchain hackathon. In the world. Let that sink in for a bit. And, in modest little Groningen, in the north of the Netherlands. For some time now, the city of 200,000 has been punching above its weight. With the success of this past event, it has made an indelible mark on the global stage for innovation.
For starters, take a look at the numbers. The inaugural Dutch Blockchain Hackathon saw more than four hundred contestants, hailing from no less than ten countries — as far out as Singapore and Hong Kong — participating in fifty-five teams across five tracks: Identity, International Trade & Entrepreneurship, Future of Pensions, Reinventing Government and Energy. Leaders in each of these fields have been urging for an amelioration of their operational systems, to establish a fairer and more equal society for all. The occasion was ripe for some teams to enter the international halls of fame.
IBM as the bellwether
The technology itself has been around for a few years. The IBM Client Innovation Center in Groningen has stayed ahead of the blockchain curve, having identified the market trend early. The center now leads most projects across Europe as customers begin to appreciate the capabilities of a shared distributed ledger and come up with use cases for it. While we’re merely scraping at its surface today, the technology is predicted to reach mass penetration and full potential in three years’ time. I run the risk of sounding cavalier here, but we at IBM Groningen believe we’re setting ourselves up beautifully to dance in the rain.
Naturally, when a contest of such magnitude comes along, we’re delighted, toeing the line of euphoria. When it’s in our own backyard, the onus is on us to consolidate our position as the pacesetter. Having entered with four teams, we found that none of the contenders were pushovers and instead posed a stiff challenge. Encouraging prospects for a maturing tech landscape. All the more reason for our jubilance as we emerged the winners of the Identity and International Trade tracks with a close runner-up in Energy.
I walked away after forty-five hours of coding having triumphed in more ways than one. More so with the lessons learned in this unparalleled setting. My team competed in the domain of International Trade, and our “funny red hats” made us the talk of the town. Each member was so brilliant in his or her core competence that the Team Extreme label given in jest wasn’t too far from the truth. Observers at the event remarked that we appeared in total control and functioned like a fine-tuned machine. Our early spectators probably thought otherwise, considering we hadn’t written a single line of code on the first day.
Instead, we used that time to ensure there was a legitimate problem to be solved, that a large user base was miffed and distressed, and that we weren’t forcibly shoving blockchain into the fray when a conventional database would have sufficed. It helped to have a team with one half master developers and the other half astute designers. With ample room for checks-and-balances in our unit, one element never overwhelmed another. This resulted in design and human empathy receiving their due credit in a primarily technological hackathon.
Eyes on the prize
Without a doubt, the final morning was the highlight. The culmination of a marathon grind. How does a ten-minute pitch do justice to the efforts of every member? For the first time that weekend, disconcertion set in. Had we blown it at the last minute? Were we misguided to have had multiple presenters? That our eventual win was a resounding victory caused us more astonishment that anyone else. A truly glorious moment!
It isn’t every day that one receives praise from Alexander Rinnooy Kan. The distinguished Dutch mathematician and business leader — oftentimes named as the ‘most influential person’ in the Netherlands — expressed on stage, “All the applications today were really good, but this is the one we’ve been waiting for.”
You can check out these videos from DutchChain and sponsor Deloitte to see if you can spot us in our signature caps. Here’s another great video by DutchChain.
What more can one ask for? While this success has been a mere few steps towards building a successful product, it is imperative that we take a moment and celebrate how far we’ve come.
This active and diverse blockchain ecosystem will gather again for the Next Level Conference on 5 July, 2017, in Heerlen, the Netherlands. Besides looking back at the acceleration of the winning teams from this year’s hackathon, we will look forward to the next iteration on an even bigger and bolder event.
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