Climathon: behind the scenes

The first Heidelberg Climathon happened on the weekend of October 25-27 at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory. Check out #HeidelbergClimathon twitter feed.

Climathon is a global movement dedicated to solving local climate challenges and supported by the European Institute of Innovation & Technology. Every year on the same day, climate hackathons held all over the world in which developers, engineers, scientists, and innovators gather together to tackle local climate challenges.

Heidelberg Climathon was supported by Theresia Bauer, the Minister for Science, Research and Art of Baden-Württemberg and sponsored by Carl Zeiss Foundation.

Opening speech by Theresia Bauer

Theodore Alexandrov and I have been working on organizing this 24-hour event for more than half a year on a volunteer basis and a natural question we ask ourselves is if it was all worth it.

First, let me show you some statistics. In total, 81 participant registered for the event. On the first Climathon day, around 50 of them actually came. As an expert said, we probably lost about 10 people to the unusually good weather on that weekend. 47 participants worked through the weekend and 39 of them were presenting their solutions on Sunday.

After the award ceremony

We asked the participants to fill out a pre-event survey about their expertise and preferences given 5 challenges we have offered. 41 participant filled out the survey.

Answers to the question “You expertise relevant for Climathon”
Answers to the question “Climathon challenges you are interested in”

The participants have worked on 7 projects and received 3 awards sponsored by Carl Zeiss Foundation and presented by Matthias Stolzenburg.

Winners of 2.500 Euro award selected by the jury:

Winner of 1.000 Euro award selected by the participants:

  • Touch Climate – interactive graphical user-friendly application for exploring climate data and learning about local effects of climate change in the region. [Github repo] [Solution description]

Other projects:

  • Climactiv – a platform for organizations and companies for engaging employees and citizens into sustainable behaviour using a system of rewards and a gamification component. This team was supported by Martina Vetrovcova from the Heidelberg University. [Github repo] [Solution description]
  • Climate Inc – a climate data based online game on global joined climate action to tackle climate change. [Github repo]
  • POLL PLAN ACT – a concept for creating a sustainability master plan for the University of Heidelberg through collecting and analysing already existing grassroots initiatives and using them for influencing university policymaking. This team was supported by Martina Vetrovcova from the Heidelberg University.
  • Multi-location conference – a concept for designing a conference taking place in different locations at the same time, so that the participants wouldn’t need to travel between sites, which would result in less travel-caused emissions. This team was supported by Assol Rustamova, Nathalie Sneider, Elisabeth Wintersteller from EMBL.

The developed prototype solutions are available at Heidelberg Climathon github repository and described at the webpage (scroll down).

We very much appreciate the amount of work, energy, and creativity the participants put into developing the solutions. The next task for me is to make sure that those teams that are interested to follow up on their developments, have an opportunity to do so.

The participants were supported by 6 hackathon expert coaches coordinated by Raoul Haschke from Heidelberg Startup Partners. 4 speakers gave talks at the pre-Climathon workshop on October 25. 8 jury members were deciding about the awards. The detailed information about the coaches, experts, speakers and jury members can be found at Heidelberg Climathon website (scroll down).

Apart from Theodore and me, two more EMBL’ers were involved into the local organization: Toby Hodges and Malvika Sharan. During the Climathon weekend, we also got help from the local volunteers: Samantha Seah, Sandra Correia, Alberto Bailoni, and Denny Gombalova.

Heidelberg Climathon organizers and volunteers: Theodore, Samantha, Sandra, Katja, Alberto, and Denny+1

In total, apart from the participants, 22 people were directly involved into the Climathon event on a volunteer basis and we are very grateful to all of them. Without them, Heidelberg Climathon wouldn’t be possible. We would also like say a hearty thank you to the Carl Zeiss Foundation. In addition to sponsoring the awards for the participants, the foundation covered our organizational expenses, which mostly included food, since everything else was arranged by volunteers. And of course many thanks to EMBL for letting us use the amazing ATC venue and providing all kinds of support.

This was our first try organizing a Climathon and we have learned a lot from it. I have to admit that there were times when Theodore and I felt quite desperate and regretted that we got ourselves into it. But after seeing the solution presentations and hearing the feedback from the participants, we are convinced that all the time and nerves we put into it were worth it. Together, we managed to create a unique companionship of people sharing values and willing to invest their free time and energy to do something for our planet and the region. If we manage to follow up on the developed projects, this will have even more value. But even just sharing this experience turned out to be extremely educational and thought provoking and will hopefully inspire all of us for more constructive optimism and action.


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