Sandoz looks to crowdsource digital health ideas with second hackathon at SXSW

Austin (Pixabay)
Sandoz's second hackathon will take place in Austin next year at the city's SXSW conference, which is known for its music, film and digital innovation. (CC0/Flickr)

Sandoz is aiming for its second health hackathon, this time at the South by Southwest conference. The Sandoz Healthcare Access Challenge (HACk) is taking entries for early-stage ideas that use digital tech to take on a local health problem.

Submissions will be accepted through Nov. 30, and a shortlist will be announced in January. The top three will be invited to SXSW in Austin in March for a four-day accelerator event where the ideas will be explored and challenged, and the creators will get help developing their business plans.

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Sandoz, Novartis' generic drug division, ran its first hackathon as a pilot in 2017 focused on mobile health solutions, with the finals held in London. That HACk attracted 150 entries from 30 countries, said project manager Fiona Cook. The three winners from the London hack are now in various stages of development.

“Access to healthcare isn’t a given for everybody. Unmet medical need is a big issue around the world and so that’s where the Sandoz hack team came from initially,” Cook said. “We know that it’s an issue in developing countries and developed countries. As a pharmaceutical company, we don’t always have all the answers, and what better way to find new ways of tackling health access outside the walls of your business?”

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The winner will take home a €20,000 prize and win Sandoz's support in bringing their idea to life. While the contestants appreciate the money, Cook said, citing comments from past participants, the exposure to new people and different kinds of thinking is even more valuable.

“It’s a bonus to get seed funding, but it’s not usually the key driver for people,” she said.

SXSW was chosen for that reason, Cook said, because of its reputation as one of the world’s premier events for discovery opportunities and exposure to experts looking to the future. For Sandoz, she said, it’s a way to push forward its ambition to improve access to healthcare by connecting with people on the ground dealing with those issues.