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AgeTech@Home Hackathon Generates Creativity & Active Collaboration

January 27, 2022
AGE-WELL and VHA Hackathon November 2021

The dull, grey, shrinking days of late fall can make the most optimistic of people feel a little uninspired. For most AgeTech@Home Hackathon participants, though, the series of brainstorms, workshops and prototyping activities that took place throughout November 2021 filled the month with energy, possibilities, actions and outcomes.

The event, a partnership between VHA Home HealthCare (VHA) and AGE-WELL, Canada’s technology and aging network, was hosted over 30 days instead of the usual time-intensive 24-48-hour hackathon. “We wanted to give participants time to learn how to truly collaborate as a team and shape their ideas into detailed product proposals,” notes hackathon co-organizer and Senior Education and Training Manager at AGE-WELL, Samantha Sandassie. “In doing so, our goal was that several teams would develop practical products and even a viable business by the end of the month.”

Expert help from AGE-WELL network mentors and virtual workshops on a range of relevant topics such as design thinking, developing a business model canvas, prototyping and pitching helped hackathon participants (a mix of VHA workers, home care clients/caregivers, older adults and members of the AGE-WELL network) explore user-centred design process and deliver more thoughtful, polished results.

“This hackathon connected a diverse group of people who all have a vested interest in creating a better aging at home experience,” says VHA’s Vice President of Research and Innovation, Sandra McKay. “It was about generating enthusiasm, creativity and ideas around the future of aging to create products and services with real-world application potential,” she adds.

Based on interests, eight teams were assembled to focus on one of three topics: improving health equity as it relates to technology, caregiver support and new ways to meaningfully apply AgeTech in the home.The “crunch” and pressure to produce in such a limited amount of time, can build both excitement and stress, sometimes simultaneously. Though some teams found it challenging to agree on one idea, most eventually found their groove. The top five teams with the highest-scoring video submissions presented a live five-minute pitch to a panel of experienced judges: Director, Best Buy Health, Sara Aghvami Caregiver Advocate, Ron Beleno and Michael Chrostowski, Business Development and Industry Relations Manager at AGE-WELL.

Overall, the judges were impressed by the pitches. Standout moments included a pitch called Your Assistant led by Personal Support Worker Havi Alshbat. Judge Beleno noted, “this is the very first Personal Support Worker I’ve seen do a pitch. Your voices need to be out there more. Well done.”

Hearty Stripes—a web-based application aimed at increasing opportunities for socialization and physical activity of rural Canadians—placed second, receiving a $600 cash prize for their efforts.

Hackathon Winning Team Livio

Hackathon Winning Team Livio

It was team Livio, however, who captured first place with its personalized video reminder platform to help older adults with memory loss navigate their daily lives. The team included VHA Research Associate, Nicole Moreira, Champlain Rehab Solutions Office Staff member Deanna Phelan as well as AGE-WELL network members Lynn Haslam, Alexi Michael, Sukriti Sachdev and Patricia Hewston.

In addition to a $1500 cash prize, the winning team can apply for up to $5,000 in Seed to Idea funding from VHA and access the AGE-WELL Startup Affiliate Program to further develop their prototype.

“The most exciting part of the project was seeing it ‘come alive’ and it was amazing to see something we had talked so extensively about for only a month turn into something tangible,” says VHA Research Associate and Livio team member Nicole Moreira. ”In the beginning, I felt like we were too behind to finish. But a couple of weeks in and I started feeling confident this project could be amazing if we could make it happen. I feel proud of myself and my teammates for winning and look forward to taking Livio further!”

This article was written by Pam Stoikopoulos. Pam co-led the 2021 AgeTech@Home Hackathon and is founder of Big Eye Innovation.