How online hackathon #USGH is helping to advance the tech industry in Ukraine

Ukraine’s tech industry recently had a new event to get excited about – the Universal Sports & Games Hackathon (#USGH). This two-day event for developers, marketeers, and designers had one goal – to generate ideas and tech solutions for the gaming industry. 

#USGH was held on August 7-9 at Parimatch’s state-of-the-art event space PMHUB. The event was organized by Parimatch Tech and The JKR Investment Foundation, in partnership with Amazon Web Services and the startup accelerator Sector X. 

More than 400 tech specialists from nine countries, including Ukraine, Germany, Spain, Belarus, and Poland participated in #USGH. The hackathon generated 111 ideas to revolutionise the gaming industry. 37 teams made it to the final, with one winner and four runners-up crowned.  

Hackathons like #USGH can help Ukrainian companies attract tech talent whilst also creating new solutions in a short timeframe – just 48 hours. By holding the hackathon online, participants could still take part despite quarantine restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Who needs hackathons, and why? 

The hackathon format of generating lots of new ideas in a short space of time has been popular across the world since the mid-2000s. The main objective of a hackathon is to come up with a minimum viable product (MVP) in just two days. The reality is a hackathon is a competitive race to see who can generate the best idea in the fastest time. Those who win, are provided with the opportunity to attract financing for their idea, as well as the chance to network with other tech-minded peers.  

Hackathons have become a launchpad for startups who have original and innovative ideas and are looking for opportunities to develop their product or solution with the help of already established tech businesses. A great example of this is the company GroupMe, whose idea created during a hackathon as part of the 2010 TechCrunch Disrupt conference, went on to be bought by Skype for $85 million. A more recent example — a prototype of MSQRD masks was developed at a Belarusian hackathon, with Facebook buying the idea during the first weeks after  official release. 

As for the Ukrainian tech market, although hackathons are beginning to attract attention, they aren’t as well-known as in other parts of the world.  According to DOU (tab IT events calendar), since the beginning of 2020, 55+ public hackathons have been held in Ukraine, mostly international in format. There are two main topics of interest: gaming and initiatives aimed at tackling the consequences of COVID-19. Over the past year, several large Ukrainian corporations have begun to develop their acceleration programmes — Kyivstar, MHP, Privat — and have held several hackathons behind closed doors to come up with their own innovations to optimize business processes and boost profitability.

What is innovative about #USGH? 

The coronavirus crisis has turned the events industry on its head, with many gatherings which would have taken place in person, now being held online. The Parimatch Tech team spotted an opportunity to create and host a first-of-its-kind online tech hackathon in Ukraine. 

The event began with a series of virtual speeches on gaming industry trends, Esports, and betting. In just a few hours, teams were formed and challenges were set. During the ideas development phase, any team could turn to 22 mentors for help. All communications were made through Slack, with the results of the hackathon broadcast live online.  

“The event was an exciting experiment for everyone — teams, mentors, and organizers. It was vital to ensure participants were having a good time and being productive for the total 48 hours. A question to be solved here and now could have arisen at any moment. It was pretty easy for the teams to communicate online. Tracking the progress of team ideas were much more difficult however as there wwasn’t the  opportunity to participate in every single online call” — Konstantin Obraztsov, STO at Parimatch Tech and #USGH judge, sharing his impressions of the hackathon. 

#USGH was deliberately organized as an event without boundaries, so as not to limit the scope of ideas generated.  this meant that the ideas ranged from streaming tools, analytical services, and various applications. The organizers knowingly provided mentors who were tech specialists, who had experience of the whole industry so could propose multiple options for ideas to be further developed.  

“This is a kind of accelerator for the next generation of developers in the gaming industry. In just a couple of days, participants went through the key stages of creating an MVP for a new gaming reality. The teams received expert support from industry leaders who could give their advice and steer participants in the right direction. I personally helped three teams in matters related to machine learning and general adaptation of ideas for bookmaker companies,” — Andrey Nesterenko, Parimatch Tech, said about his mentoring experience. 

What were the best ideas? 

Participants were reminded of the criteria for evaluating ideas throughout the 48-hour hackathon. Essential requirements included innovative solutions, demonstration of progress during the hackathon, likely MVP, and the delivery of a video presentation. 

“We will invest in those ideas which are innovative, but investment decisions aren’t all about just the idea. We want to invest in talented teams of people who understand the mechanics of bringing their solution to life. They need to understand how users will interact with the solution, and what the real cost of attracting the target audience is,” — Sergey Berezhny, hackathon judge, CPO at Parimatch Tech, explaining the nuances of investing. 

The winners were chosen unanimously, after #USGH judges listened to all of the pitches, evaluated the proposed solutions based on the criteria of the competition, and asked questions about project development. 

The team Dragon’s  won the hackathon. Developers Nikolay Ursatiy and Sergey Poverennov created RunOut, a runner platform game with logical elements. They received a  prize of $1500. 

The Narwhal team took second place — they developed a service for the multiplication of sporting events and won $1000.  Third place went to PixelGaming who created a mobile game in the MOBA clicker genre, and received $500. 

As part of the hackathon, select teams carried out particular challenges set by the judges. The teams “Team B” and “Kodoklyaksa” were each awarded $500 for their innovative ideas. The JKR Foundation also invited team “PolyRef” to further develop their idea of a service for collecting sports statistics. 

What’s next for the hackathon winners? 

Coming first place isn’t just about winning the cash prize.  As well as the prize money, the winner and two runners-up get exclusive access to the Parimatch Tech team and its facilities. Here, together with Parimatch’s tech specialists, the participants will have the opportunity to test their ideas on an audience of thousands of people. 

“#USGH is a win-win for both the hackathon organizers and the participating teams. The organizing companies get to meet with  professional enthusiasts who can improve on an already existing product, or come up with completely new crazy ideas. As for the teams, this is an opportunity to drive their own ideas and get support from leading experts “— said Konstantin Obraztsov on the relationship between hackathon organisers and participants.  

#USGH organizers plan to hold a hackathon on a regular basis, at least twice a year.   They are also considering new ways to conduct online hackathons of a larger scale. 

“Looking ahead, we are now considering launching quarterly challenges to tech experts. We want to collect more ideas and solutions, provide acceleration opportunities, and invite budding tech talent to utilise Parimatch Tech’s facilities.  We will also be using future hackathons to recruit the next generation of experts into Parimatch Tech.” — Ivan Bilash, R&D manager at Parimatch Tech, summing up the company’s future plans. 

It is worth noting that participating in a hackathon event can help tech experts in their job search. It shows a thirst for learning and development, by going above and beyond their everyday role.

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