Knowledge Exchange Framework perspective demonstrated: Skills, enterprise and entrepreneurship

The Kingston University HackCentre offers businesses and organisations access to the problem-solving capacity and creative thinking of our innovative students and expert academics. The HackCentre runs innovation events and workshops called hackathons where students work in teams to solve defined challenges for partners in the private, public and not-for-profit sectors.

Hackathons are broken down into stages consisting of an introduction to the challenge, exploring the problem, ideation, evaluation and building a presentation and pitching. At the final stage, students present their ideas to the partners for feedback and Q&A.

In 2020/21, Kingston University ran 96 Hackathons involving over 2,000 students from a range of disciplines with 85 representatives from business, industry and community partners from different sectors acting as sponsors, mentors and judges. Partners included the Royal Borough of Kingston, Surrey County Council, Achieving for Children and organisations such as London & Partners, Travel Zoo and Coca-Cola. Supported by over 100 academics, our students worked on almost 20 industry and community-led live briefs, creating value for partners.

In response to Covid-19, hackathons have been successfully taken online, using breakout rooms and collaborative tools to facilitate group work.

Hackathons play an important role in helping the University to achieve its priorities in skills development, ensuring the best prospects for our students, and building mutually-beneficial relationships with business and industry.

Kingston University HackCentre
Kingston University HackCentre

How do Hackathons benefit partners from business and industry?

Partners from business and industry benefit from a fresh, diverse, digital-native perspective on their live business challenges. They receive an injection of innovative thinking into their strategy, operations and the needs of their future customers. In addition, Kingston University academics, many of whom are practitioners in their field, provide high level expertise.

As students explore and question business structures and practices, partners gain new insights and perspectives. The creative and innovative solutions generated by our students have led to partners launching new products and services and improving their operations.

Building relationships

Hackathons encourage valuable relationship building and collaboration between Universities and partners from business and industry, and frequently lead to longer-term projects, more structured relationships and even potential funding.

For example, not-for-profit conservation company, Beesmax, participated in a hackathon in 2021 with the aim of improving its social media strategy. The success of the hackathon helped to build mutual confidence between the company and Kingston University, and has since led to a further funded, collaborative project.

The ideas students come up with are typically the starting point to a development process where partners (often with the help of students) carry out further research and testing to refine the solution.

Kingston University HackCentre

How do Hackathons benefit students?

Students participating in hackathons gain invaluable, industry-relevant experience, helping to build towards their career goals.

Hackathons encourage collaboration between students from different faculties and courses. They help develop skills in creative thinking, problem-solving and customer understanding. They bring subject-based learning to life by applying it to real-world issues and challenges as experienced by businesses and organisations operating in competitive marketplaces.

The majority of students fed back that participating in a hackathon gave them more confidence when problem solving, and also that they value the opportunity to explore ideas and new concepts

Examples of successful Hackathons

Kingston Chamber of Commerce / Holland, Hahn & Wills

An online Hackathon was held in 2021 in collaboration with Kingston Chamber of Commerce. Kingston businesses were invited to pose challenges they were experiencing relating to Covid-19. The aim was for students to help the businesses by developing innovative solutions for new products, ideas for market expansion and growth, and ways to build customer engagement.

One of the businesses involved was Holland, Hahn & Wills, a local Chartered Financial Planner and Wealth Management Firm. The impact of Covid-19 meant they were experiencing difficulties reaching and building relationships with new and existing customers. Networking and social events formed a key part of building trust with clients but was proving challenging. They were keen to get ideas on how to bring clients together using digital technology. One student team put forward a proposal for a virtual tea party with a charity fundraising element. The firm went ahead with the initiative and were delighted with its success.

"The students had fresh approaches that could be modified easily to suit business goals and quite often we would never have thought of them!" Chris Hirsch, Managing Partner, Holland, Hahn & Wills.

For further information.

Virtual Buddy Online Hackathon

In April 2020, during the first Covid-19 lockdown, an online hackathon was held to shape ideas relating to a potential Virtual Buddy scheme between student nurses and people with learning or complex disabilities who found themselves isolated from society. A buddy scheme had already been established through the Heritage 2 Health (H2H) programme (run by Theresa Nash-Patel, Associate Professor in Nursing), which teaches student nurses how to better care for and communicate with people with intellectual disabilities through collaborative arts projects.

In the Hackathon, students from Nursing, Computer Science and User Experience Design worked together to come up with ideas to establish a virtual buddy scheme to complement H2H. Representatives from voluntary and healthcare organisations as well as arts/creative facilitators joined the hackathon, sharing their experiences of people they support and their needs.

As a result of the Hackathon, students came up with a fully-accessible app which can be used alongside the H2H arts projects to support the relational process between the student nurse and pupil. The app has been used successfully in two pilots, one held in summer of 2020 with nursing students collaborating on a drama project with Dysart School in Surbiton. This pilot saw nursing students co-creating a drama with children with intellectual disabilities and their parents.

"Virtual interaction proves our kids can join in these kind of experiences anywhere." Feedback from parents on the pilot.

"We gained a vast amount of knowledge... we were able to share our experiences together… this gave us the power to push through during lockdown…" Feedback from student nurses.

The evaluation and success of this project led to a Phase Two pilot in 2021, with children's nurses undertaking a 150-hour placement, which included designing and hosting a sensory treasure hunt with children and their parents, and taking part in coaching and a fundraising challenge.

A Phase Three pilot in February and March 2022 seeks to test the design of the app and expand the H2H offer. The aim is for the app to support the wider H2H programme, thus improving the healthcare experience of children and young people with intellectual disabilities and autism, while also equipping future nurses to combat social isolation and to advocate for people with intellectual disabilities in clinical practice.

Salutem Healthcare

Nearly 40 students from Nursing, Computer Science and Graphic Design took part in a Hackathon to solve a challenge put forward by sponsor, Salutem Healthcare. Students were asked to come up with creative ideas for devices and systems to monitor and assist in managing complex behaviours before they escalate into challenging situations in care environments.

An array of innovative ideas emerged including: a device with buttons whose functions could be tailored to the user, aiming to improve independence and emotional intelligence; a sensor system capturing physiological data, enabling carers to predict and manage behaviour positively; and a digitised note-taking system that can be shared with family members.

"We were so impressed with the hackathon. The business world is so different to the world of Knight's Park campus! It's opened our eyes. We've all got different skill sets and can come up with far better solutions than if we had tried individually." Anne Bargery (BA Graphic Design) participating student

Following on from the hack, students embarked on a three-month idea acceleration phase culminating in an opportunity for the students to showcase their prototypes and solutions to Salutem representatives.

"The hackathon was a hugely positive experience for all involved. The students were energised and engaged creating innovative solutions and ideas that were really impressive. The University team communicated well and created a great sense of focus and expectation to make the most of the time we had together and meet the challenging brief we set." Zoe Anderson, Group Head of Positive Behaviour Support for Salutem Healthcare.

The Hackathon has been the beginning of a multi-dimensional, mutually beneficial relationship between Salutem Healthcare and Kingston University. Building on an idea generated during the hackathon, a government-funded £220,000 Knowledge Transfer Partnership is ongoing, involving experts from the University's School of Computer Science and Mathematics working with the home care provider to design and develop a sophisticated sensor system that will alert carers when urgent support is needed. Salutem also offers scholarships covering tuition fees and enabling students to gain hands-on work experience in their services. There are further collaborative research opportunities in the pipeline.


For further information about hackathons or to find out how you can take part, visit the Hackathons webpages or contact the HackCentre manager, Amanda Baker.