SKOPJE ROCK Hackathon 2018: summary and conclusions

The Skopje ROCK Hackathon 2018 inspires students and young eco-entrepreneurs to tackle the most pressing challenges at the Old Bazaar

As part of the Horizon 2020 ROCK Project, the Skopje ROCK Hackathon 2018 brought together more than 20 university students, young professionals and entrepreneurs during an weekend-long (November 09-11) co-creation marathon aimed at, firstly, raising awareness on the Old Bazaar’s sustainability challenges, providing a skills-based training them on eco-entrepreneurship and sustainable business innovation, and boosting collaborative, multi-stakeholder networks; all key levers for inclusive and effective local solutions to global challenges like climate change and socio-economic inequalities.

The Skopje ROCK Hackathon had the full support from the Skopje Urban Living Lab, the City of Skopje and the SS. Cyril and Methodius University in Skopje. Moreover, it was framed within the Young Ecopreneurs Climathons 2018, a global initiative encompassing green hackathons in many cities around the world, happening throughout the spring and autumn, and concluding at the 2018 UN Climate Change Conference (COP24) in Katowice (Poland) on December 3-14.

Over the course of the weekend, participants followed an exploratory journey into the inner workings of eco-entrepreneurship as a potent tool for sustainable value creation and economic regeneration; guided by Green Entrepreneurship Methodology; and facilitated by Luis Morales from Ecopreneurs for the Climate and Sofija Bojeva and Mario Ringov from Skopje Urban Living Lab. After a context-setting introduction, an initial group brainstorming session led to the identification of the most pressing environmental and social challenges at Old Bazaar, with 6 being democratically selected, and complementary teams set up around them: agroecology/permaculture, manufacturing, sustainable tourism, conservation of traditional crafts, reuse of old manufacturing stores, and energy efficient solutions. Digging deeper, their root causes and main consequences were examined and turned into the drivers behind the social enterprises (why): their objectives, mission and vision. At this stage, participants were quick to grab the fundamental notion at the heart of it all: social businesses are purpose-driven, exist to and only to tackle and eventually contribute to solving a certain sustainability issue. In this sense, the business model (how) provides a means to an end, a way to achieve viability and maximize the impact of the whole venture.

The next stage concerned the stakeholders (who & whom), or those key players, mostly on the local level, whose engagement is essential for the project’s success, either because they share the same expectations (alignment) or because they are highly influential in the field at hand. They were categorized into partners, beneficiaries, customers and others, depending on the engagement levels presupposed (hypothesis), which in turn varies with the value generated, and also on their willingness and capacity to contribute with cash to the exchange (customers). At this stage, participants were able to map and select the city’s most relevant organizations, both on the private and public spheres, in relation with their driving challenges. In most cases, logically, the university, the municipality and sector-specific NGOs, particularly student-led or student-oriented, came up on top.

Moving into solution development, the value proposition was co-created together with both (potential) partners and customers, taking the shape of a collection of products and/or services that renders the project’s value tangible and delivers it to the beneficiaries and customers, in cooperation with the partners, and in order to achieve the objectives set. Up until that point, the whole analysis remained on the theoretical realm, based on a priori information. So next up, prototypes were built to capture and transport the value proposition. In its simplest form a prototype of this nature consists just in an elegant and target-focused elevator pitch. In the online world, a landing page or a Facebook group can do the job as well. In the physical one, particularly when dealing with products, small-scale, low-cost versions can help convey the message in a visual manner.

Here are the 6 projects, their driving challenges, names, slogans and value propositions:

  1. [Agroecology/permaculture] Urban Garden: Long-term environmental activists, experts in permaculture, horticulture, architects and other professionals with the aim of creating an urban garden in the free space around the Museum of Contemporary Art to fight against poverty and pollution in Skopje. The mission is to provide green jobs for marginalized groups.  
  2. [Manufacturing] manYfactoring: team of consultants and facilitators with the aim of strengthening economic and cultural values through the creative sector by providing networking services and spaces. They pretend to include and gather different groups of citizens, and mix old and new manufacturing methods as well as reactivate unused spaces through punctual intervention. As a result, the project will impact positively in the local community in terms of cultural an economic boost.   
  3. [sustainable tourism] Filigree: App to provide information on the Old Bazaar, as an Old Bazaar Explorer. It is focused on tourism, and facilitates greatly the process of booking rooms, finding jewelry, restaurants, local crafts, booking a tour, visiting interesting places, etc.
  4. [conservation of traditional crafts] The Vintage New: art as a form of transformation of the cultural heritage to the new generation. Slogan: inherit the old through the new. The project aims to transfer the value of traditional and local craft arts to the new generation.
  5. [reuse of old manufacturing stores] Arc Hub: The project reverses the economic downfall in the Old Bazaar through adaptive reuse of the old manufacturing stores, generation of new professional district/blocks, self-support community within the city and overlap work and living arrangements.  
  6. [energy efficient solutions] Brightsteps: Team of energy experts whose mission is to provide urban energy efficient solutions and experiences for community development. They have designed paving slabs made from recyclable materials that convert energy from people’s movements (steps, cycling, wheelchair, etc.) into electrical power.

The true function of a prototype though is to enable hypotheses validation via tests in real-life situations, as close to a market environment as possible. In our case, the value proposition encompasses 3 types of hypotheses to be put to the test: the actual value created and perceived by customers and beneficiaries; the interest, alignment and engagement of partners; and our joint (founders plus ecosystem of partners) capacity to achieve the objectives. In short, the teams set out to gather meaningful feedback (sufficient and valid samples) from their project’s stakeholders, considering the limiting time and availability constraints of having just a few hours, on a Sunday, at their disposal. Yet, they quickly turned challenges into opportunities, and made effective use of today’s technologies, to reach out to and interview both potential partners, users (beneficiaries) and even customers. Through online surveys sent out via Facebook groups, mailings, Whatsapp, etc. And yes, they also embraced the good old-fashioned way: face-to-face interactions in the Old Bazaar. More real and particularly relevant for locally-minded social businesses.

Back to the headquarters, results were shared with peers and assessed collectively, drawing lessons to be learned, and spotting areas for improvement, which they gladly looked into and exploited in the last working session of the marathon-like weekend. Right afterwards, they processed and structured their projects’ founding pillars into the Green Business Canvas, and prepared a synthetic presentation to pitch their intense 2-day journey, as well as the steps ahead, to the jury that joined up in the late afternoon and posed pertinent questions and provided very valuable feedback to all participants. One winner had to be selected, for the mere sake of the competition, and it was ... THE VINTAGE NEW!

Next steps to come soon!

Author: Morales Carballo Luis - ECO4CLIM