Photo: Mikal Schlosser – Lars Holtse Bonde is on the far right.

Two sleepless days produced a business plan

Wednesday 11 Mar 15
by Bertel Henning Jensen

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Lars Holtse Nielsen,

Jakob Sylvest Nielsen at the Municipality of Lyngby-Tårbæk,


Facts about Hackathon

DTU’s Big Data Hackathon was a competition open to students from all the universities in Denmark. It was organized in partnership with the Municipality of Lyngby-Taarbæk, with the support of IBM and Danske Bank. Nordic Climate KIC sponsored a special climate award.

The winning team, which received DKK 25,000, comprised Lars Holtse Bonde, William Gan, Maxim Khomiakov, Benjamin Hughes, Anders Michael Nielsen (all DTU) and Daniel Bertelsen (CBS).

Simon Benfeldt Jørgensen, Mads Frøding Engels and Henrik Holm (all DTU) won the special climate award, while Jasmina Pelivani (DTU) was a member of the team that took third place in the competition.

Having been given data by the Municipality of Lyngby-Tårbæk and 48 hours to work on them, the winners of the Big Data Hackathon developed a concept that they are now turning into a company.

Two days of extremely hard work, and ‘hey presto’—you have a business plan. It sounds too good to be true—and, in many ways it is—but this is what actually came out of DTU’s Big Data Hackathon, which was held last November.

Big Data Hackathon
For the event, the Municipality of Lyngby-Taarbæk made a huge volume of municipal data available to inquisitive students with the courage to dive into a 48-hour scientific marathon. The purpose was to compete with other students to come up with the best idea on the basis of the available data.

One of the participants was Lars Holtse Bonde, a thesis student at DTU Compute. He joined up with four other DTU students and a single representative from CBS to form a team that set itself the goal of finding a new way to utilize the large volume of municipal data in a specific, marketable manner.

Two days later, his team had won the competition and established a new company—Picodat.

The challenge
“We decided to look into the question of how much money could be saved by performing energy-saving renovations on the city’s buildings. We calculated how good the current insulation is, and worked out the angles of the buildings’ roofs. This enabled us to determine how much money could be saved by installing solar panels on the roofs or improving the insulation—or both,” explains Lars Holtse Bonde.

The calculations of which buildings stand to cut heat emissions—and thus save money—were based exclusively on municipal datasets.

Tested in the real world
Along with the other members of his team, Lars Holtse Bonde devoted his full attention, with a bare minimum of sleep for two days, to pinning down the one specific idea on the basis of the data that had been made available to them. Their primary intention was not to set up a company, however, this idea only arose later on.

“What was most interesting was to have the opportunity to apply the knowledge we have built up at DTU to some realistic and practical challenges,” he says.

That said, the idea they came up with turned out to be a good one. So good, in fact, that the Municipality of Lyngby-Taarbæk was quick to hold a meeting with the young students after the competition with a view to applying it in practice to benefit the municipal population.

“We didn’t have a set agenda for participation in this hackathon—we simply thought it might be interesting to see if anyone could identify opportunities we couldn’t spot ourselves. Big Data is a relatively new area for us, and it’s exciting to find out if we in the local authority can learn something new. There is no shortage of data, and all kinds of opportunities. As a ‘knowledge city’, we are obliged to look into ways to put our huge data volumes to work,” says Jakob Sylvest Nielsen, Head of Centre in the Citizens’ Advice and Digitalization Department at the Municipality of Lyngby-Taarbæk.

It’s now time for the pressure test
Jakob Sylvest Nielsen is delighted with the ideas Lars Holtse Bonde and his colleagues have come up with, but is quick to emphasize that an idea dreamed up in just 48 hours naturally needs a lot more work to become a fully viable municipal project.

“I’m convinced that we can make this work one way or another. But I don’t know how long it will take. As a local authority, we have to be sure that everything is absolutely correct, because the buck stops here if something goes wrong—so we’re now going to spend some time ‘pressure testing’ the idea. We have to be completely sure that we can give this project our full backing,” he explains.

If, as a private citizen or a company based in the city, you are told that you can save money by investing in energy renovation, it is naturally extremely important that the information is correct; and when the information in question has been calculated automatically on the basis of height models, heat emission maps and municipal energy consumption data, you simply have to test, test, and test again to eliminate the risk of error.

Lars Holtse Bonde has no problems with this, and is well aware that you cannot throw together a fully viable company in a couple of days.

At the same time, both he and Jakob Sylvest Nielsen from the local authority agree—and all the evidence so far suggests—that their decision to participate in DTU’s Hackathon may well produce something very good indeed.

And that is precisely the point, and the reason why there are more hackathons to come, as Karin Rauch, Special Advisor, Communication, at DTU Compute and one of the organizers, explains:

“It’s a win-win situation, because the local authority is presented with possible solutions to specific issues, and the students have the opportunity to work on real-life assignments. They may even get a job or establish a start-up in the medium to long term.”

Article in DTUavisen no. 3, March 2015.