Our DementiaHack 2017 Experience

Over the past few months, we have attended a handful of impactful events like DementiaHack, Hack4Health 2.0 and the HackingHealth Waterloo Hackathon. These experiences have benefited us in more ways than we can express, but we wanted to share how we believe health startups can find tangible benefits from attending these types of events. BrightGuide won at DementiaHack in Challenge Set 1: Helping Diagnosed Individuals. Below are the benefits we found from participating and some tips for future DementiaHackers!

Written by Manav Kainth and Daniel LeDuke


Assembling a Team

Before attending DementiaHack, we had 3 members on our team. At the end of the weekend, we had a total of 7 individuals working together with us.

Our DementiaHack 2017 Team! (Left to Right) Dan LeDuke, Sameer Khan, Krysta Traianovski, Manav Kainth, June Paik and Shashaank Srinivasan, and Sam Rich (not pictured)

Hackathons are the best way for startups to acquire talented members that are invested in the same field and even the same issue. The people that attend these events are so interested and driven that they’ve dedicated an entire weekend building a unique solution — making them ideal candidates for early hires in a startup. Health-focused hackathons in particular encourage collaboration between individuals from a wide range of backgrounds that share an interest in improving health care in their communities.

For a startup looking to expand their team, the ability to learn quickly and belief in the mission and values of the company are much more important than skill alone. Hiring can be tedious if we rely on resumés alone to evaluate a person’s drive and attitude. Spending up to 30 hours with a new team in a fast-paced environment also gives you an idea of what continued relationships with team members would look like. The need to quickly come to an understanding about roles, work requirements, values and rules allows you to see all the aspects of talent and communication.

Building a Product

Leading up to DementiaHack we had a great idea, but no product to showcase. Now we have a functional prototype to demo in the hands of users.

BrightGuide prototype for DementiaHack 2017

Our startup lacked a designer so it was difficult for us to create something tangible to show potential customers. At the event, we had a designer (Shashaank) and a front-end developer (Sam) and together they created a working prototype. In 30 hours we were able to create something real. Something that we now use when pitching to interested individuals and investors. The opportunity to attend this kind of event is a chance to sprint and quickly validate a concept by building something real. The ability to explain a product using more than just words and pictures is very valuable to us and wouldn’t have happened as easily without an event as collaborative as DementiaHack.

Networking Opportunities

The event allowed us to connect with various dementia care experts, and a few of them showed high interest in the vision of our product. Not only did this provide us with validation, but it also opened up an opportunity to collaborate with one of the mentors! Thanks to HackerNest, we were provided with a whole new avenue of understanding the needs of a specific sub-group of customers which we never had access to before.

Judges and Mentors at DementiaHack 2017 (photo courtesy of Hackernest)

Previously we only had connections within the Waterloo Region, and now we have new opportunities across Toronto. We are located outside of Toronto, so an event that attracts companies and experts from Toronto and beyond allows us to connect with many new faces. Interactions with mentors helped us tremendously with identifying the most appropriate direction of our project.

Tips, Tricks, and Lessons Learned!

1. Understanding the Problem

What exactly is dementia? What affect does it have on one’s everyday life? How are individuals affected by it? How many individuals are affected by this problem? If I have dementia and you have dementia, do we both face all of the exact same issues all the time?

Being able to answer some of these questions is key to properly understanding the problem at hand. Inability to get past this first step really prevents a team from going far with an idea. It is once you have a solid grasp on the problem that the team is able to start constructing possibilities for a ground-breaking or seemingly simple solution. Remember, you are being judged not just on criteria of “this is a unique and awesome idea” but “this is a unique and awesome idea that will help people with this problem.”

Always try to start with why. “Why are we even here today”? Answer that question and ensure the entire team understands the problem in the same frame and you are on your way to building a great solution.

2. Location, Location, Location!

Some hackathons are organized so that half of the first day is spent finding and assembling a team. DementiaHack is not one of those hackathons. It is expected that when you walk into the event you already have a team and some idea of a possible solution. Having a team and an idea is great, but what other sorts of preparation help?

Maybe I’m just picky and more sensitive to noise than other individuals. But I really believe working in a quiet, well-lit location is essential to being successful. Getting a good location is entirely a game of strategy. You have to ask yourself, “where is a location my team can get work done?” “If it’s too noisy in here, can we find a more suitable location to get work done?” Most importantly, “where are the power outlets located and how can we claim them before there aren’t any left!”

At one point in the event we were so desperate for power we used an outlet in a nearby sushi shop kiosk so we could stay together as a team. When you have a bad location you might find that suddenly team members are misunderstanding each other, ideas are not flowing as naturally as they can, and ultimately the team is performing unproductively. Find. A. Good. Location.

3. Talk to the mentors

I cannot emphasize enough the importance of talking to mentors. A lot of teams will hide from the world for 48 hours frantically building a solution that could have been drastically improved with some sound advice. It is by talking with mentors that you can really narrow a specific need to build your product around.

One strategy that worked for us was to compile a list of all the mentors and their skills in a document before the event. This allowed us to shortlist a handful of names of mentors we knew would be beneficial to us (based on their relevant background), and whenever we encountered an unfamiliar mentor we would search them in the document to quickly identify how they could best help our team.

Mentors can be extremely helpful and are more than happy to help your team sharpen it’s idea.

Not sure what problem to focus on? Go ask a mentor.

Wondering if clinics would even have the desire to purchase your product? Go ask a mentor.

Feel utterly lost and confused about what to do next? Go ask a mentor.

Remember, mentors came to this event to because they are knowledgeable, enthusiastic, and happy to help people like you, so use them to your best advantage.

Summary

Looking at the past few months, it is at the events we attended where we were able to work towards a set goal and create something.

When you are talking with advisors, friends or even investors, having that sort of event provides evidence of traction. Even if you do not win or walk away with any cash prizes or sales, the opportunity to build a unique solution for a weekend in a dynamic environment and to meet with insightful individuals, is beyond valuable to any team. Being a startup, it is these events that drive us to continually improve our solution, and ultimately helps us in our goal of improving dementia care.

Overall we really enjoyed the event and were able to learn, connect and adjust our focus in new ways. We will definitely be attending future health-related hackathons and similar events by HackerNest and other organizers!