Hackathon with a Public Institution — It’s Not What You Think (It Is in Fact Possible & Fun!)
In this article we share everything we have learned creating a hackathon with the Authority for Capital Markets, Insurance and Pension (at the Israeli Ministry of Finance) to foster and support innovation in insurance and long-term savings. It was challenging, but a lot fun. It turned out to be impactful and inspirational for all the stakeholders involved.
How it All Started
In all our projects, we always start with the most basic — and most important — question: what are the goals of the project and how to achieve them in the easiest, most efficient and least wasteful way? As obvious as it sounds, many innovation-oriented activities are conducted with no clear objectives and simply because “something innovative needs to be done”.
Our partner — the Authority for Capital Markets, Insurance and Pension (later we refer to it as the regulator) — had a clear goal in mind, which was extremely helpful to design the best model. The main objective of the project was to create meaningful connections between traditional insurers and the innovation community to help both sides understand the potential of creating solutions to the industry’s challenges. It was the first such activity in Israel to cater for an industry that is technologically fairly far behind and historically had many issues opening to innovation and startups. On the other side, there are many entrepreneurs willing to explore this field, but so far were not given a chance in doing so in a structured, supportive environment. Thus, the goal for the hackathon was to give both sides the chance to explore mutual strengths and establish meaningful cooperation.
Based on the hackathon’s goals, we created the model that we believed would serve well both groups: the traditional insurers and the entrepreneurs alike.
1. CHALLENGE CREATION WITH MARKET LEADERS
We started the process with meeting Israeli Insurance and pension companies, which hold 95% of market share (11 large companies total), to create the list of challenges & use cases that would then be presented to hackathon participants. The challenge creation process is never an easy task, and we have developed our own methodology to accelerate the “challenge extraction” and help bring together different persons inside an organization to validate the assumptions. The process worked: after 1,5 months of hard work we had 11 challenges with specific examples from market leaders.
2. MENTOR LIST
One of the most difficult barriers of entry into the insurance and long-term savings industry is the lack of knowledge. The industry seems to be boring and its products — complicated and highly regulated. On top of that, there is very little concrete information about concrete challenges and opportunities for tech-driven solutions. Therefore, we decided that for the hackathon event we need not only the list of challenges, but also the list of experts that are ready to answer participants’ questions and explain internal processes in-depth. We put together the list of over 60 mentors that were available to entrepreneurs from the moment they signed up to the hackathon (2 months before the actual event). Mentors were matched to the teams based on the mentor’s field of expertise and their relevance to the team’s idea. Many participants had multiple mentors and significantly progressed with their ideas before the event even started.
3. PARTICIPANTS PROFILE
Since we wanted to strengthen both the existing teams and support new teams, the registration was open to both startups and individual participants or teams without an initial idea. Overall, over 200 people signed up, making it one of the biggest hackathons in Israel. To help participants find partners, we opened the virtual notice board and, in addition, made personal connections between individuals. The results were fantastic: over 60 teams participated in the hackathon, with 39 signing up for the semi-finals.
4. HACKATHON DAY
The hackathon was divided between the first “work day” of 24 hours, with the semi-finals happening at the end of the first day, and the second day with conference and pitch competition for 10 finalists chosen by the jury. The second day was open to an external audience as well — our way to open the industry to a dialogue with the innovation community.
The hackathon was the first such attempt in the history of the Israeli public sector to connect leading market companies and the innovation community. But of course, working with public institutions is never easy — the rigid bureaucracy, hierarchy and slow decision-making processes were a significant part of the preparations. To our content, there were some upsides, too: traditional insurers were attracted to take an active part in the project thanks to the regulator, and we got to work with wonderful, dedicated and smart people.
The main takeaways for us included:
1. Impact on the Traditional Insurers: The regulator assuming the role of a facilitator between industry’s stakeholders was a great model. It turned out to be a fascinating and worthwhile experience, with all the traditional insurers playing an active part in the event (definitely thanks to the regulator’s request). And this, in turn, brought a lot of value to all the parties involved in the process (market leaders, startup companies, entrepreneurs looking for an idea etc.).
2. Impact on the Regulator: Employees inside the public institution don’t usually work with the startup ecosystem. Before our joint event, most of them didn’t know what a “hackathon” is. After the event, they all agreed that they not only need to repeat this experience in the upcoming years, but also created a strategic plan for the next year based on the takeaways from the hackathon.
3. Opportunity to Develop Innovation in a Particular Industry: The hackathon provided a unique opportunity for early stage entrepreneurs to learn about the industry, meet all the key figures in the same place and time, seek advice and meet additional team members — a powerful development model for those industries which need an additional push.
4. Regulator Has the Power: The regulator’s position in the market makes all the market leaders want to be a part of it — it made it much easier for us to reach out to and engage market leaders.
5. Slow Process Full of Surprises: Things go really, really slowly if we work with a regulator. Every small decision — to us — is a bureaucratic jungle for them. Every simple action, e.g. asking a potential mentor or a speaker to join, or if you want to buy a small giveaway — is an issue that needs to be discussed with the sponsorship committee who will ask many questions and make a few problems. Thus, it’s worth to take this into account and plan accordingly. Plan much more time that you’d normally need and you’ll be fine.
6. Fairness Factor: The process needs to be as “fair” as possible. That causes a lot of logistical issues — where to advertise? How to reach “everybody”, what will be clear and measureable criteria for choosing the best ideas (“the gut feeling” of experts is not enough) — it must be a process that is as automatic as it can be. This makes things really complicated at times.
7. Human Factor: Now the good surprise: we were really positively surprised by the people we got to work with. They were not only smart and extremely knowledgeable in their field — something we assumed before. They were (and are!) open to new ideas, setting great and challenging goals, wanting to make real difference and do great stuff. It’s not obvious in any place — especially not in the ministries and governmental institutions.
Results and Next Steps
The model we created proved to be effective in addressing the program’s objective and helping both traditional insurers and tech innovators work with each other. Moreover, we managed to support participants in collaborating with the traditional insurers: After the event, many teams stayed in touch with their potential industry partners. The winners (and not only) started pilot projects with relevant industry leaders in less than a month after the event. Before, they could not even get a meeting with the relevant person in the company. Many teams assembled for the hackathon are still working on their ideas today, some of them created startup companies and are progressing beautifully.
One thing that we would definitely change if we were to create the same event today would be clear distinction between already existing startups and participants without an initial idea. Since they were treated by the organizer as equal participants, startups received much more attention. After all, they were more mature, often had their deck and pitch polished and ready to impress their audience, and they were simply prepared to work on very specific ideas. That was not necessarily a bad thing overall, but it meant that also our partners at the Authority gave the startups better scores and eventually two out of three winners were startups, whereas only one team was a fresh idea created by a new team.
It was very important for the long-term success of the event to see how we can support the InsurTech and PensionTech in Israel (and worldwide) further and monitor the influence on traditional insurers. Here, we were positively surprised by the outcomes as well. After the event, most insurers created a small innovation activity, from acceleration programs through creating a Chief Digital Officer function to joining established accelerators and scouting activities. At CREATORS, we decided to take it even further and established Insurance and Savings Innovation Lab — a comprehensive program to cater for all the needs of the industry: community building and scouting activities, Test&Learn Lab, co-working and acceleration activities designed especially for Insurance and Pension.
At the end of the day, a major lesson we have learned was that it is immensely important to build channels for further communication between the regulator and startups (i.e. not only with the private market leaders). The regulator has the power and the authority to inject innovation into the entire industry, and that is a great first step in promoting innovation in sectors that are left behind. The value that the regulator brings to the startup and innovation ecosystem made all the difference when creating a high-impact, innovation-centered event for the insurance and pension industry’s benefit. It was our pleasure to be a part of this fascinating journey.
If you’d like to know more about SAFE — Insurance and Savings Innovation Lab, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org