Outlet – Energy Hack 2019

A while back we learned about this hackathon that was coming up, with nice prizes and – more importantly – a gamification theme. The task was to innovate new solutions that would make mitigation of energy consumption something tangible and visual for young people. The organizers wanted to see solutions that could help visualize the energy data that can be collected from buildings and offer methods of saving energy through gamification.

Hackathon team: Pekka, Joonas, Sade and Matti

From our team, Sade and Joonas were up to the challenge and teamed up with Matti Krusviita and Pekka Parkkinen to hack away at the event. Sade and Matti had already had one very successful hackathon together last year, and Pekka had the industry knowledge of sustainable applications.

Since the theme and criteria was already known beforehand, we had a couple of brainstorming sessions before the event, to toss around ideas about our application. We came up with quite a variety of game ideas, but eventually we got really interested in the concept of an escape room, where instead of time the players would compete against depleting energy to get out. We quickly thought of some sample puzzles to demonstrate the concept, but the idea really struck us only after we decided that we would make it a multiplayer AR game.

brainstorming the idea

The jist of it is: a group of kids can take out their phones, anywhere, like in their living room, start the game and see the puzzle items appear all around them: on empty spaces on the floor, on tabletops etc. They then have to get up and go interact with the items (like in a real escape room), trying to find clues and solve the puzzles to advance. The puzzles would require choices that revolve around saving energy. Some options are easier, but not that energy-efficient. So in order to escape from the room (and get the highest score possible), they kids really will learn on those little everyday things they can do to mitigate consumption.

We also envisioned that there would be an escape room editor in the game, so that the players could generate content on their own as well. For this to work, the puzzles would be built modularly and they could easily be just dragged and dropped into a room to be designed. With this option, we saw how the game could be taken to schools and classrooms, where the kids could design rooms for each others and then play, all the while learning about methods to save energy at home environments.

The actual hackathon event was for two days, where we sat down to finalize our concept art, mockups and game design document. We got to tell the judges and mentors about our initial idea and got feedback throughout the event. They raised some very important questions about our design, which led us to work more on our puzzles to make them more varied, intertwined and cooperative. Time flew past so quickly! As it usually does at a hackathon… Matti and Pekka as the innovators were mainly in charge of the GDD and puzzles, as Joonas and Sade were putting together our mockups, slides and the pitch.

Luckily, by now we have quite a lot of experience in writing and presenting pitches. Although at this hackathon there was a chance to present a demo to the judges, the pitch still has a lot of weight. There was even a pitching workshop at the event, although it only threw a couple of vague concepts at the participants. We had gotten a much more thorough education on the subject at Boost Startup Journey last year. Still, it was past midnight once we had finally gotten a script together and called it a night. Not much time for rehearsing it, since we needed some sleep before continuing work early next morning.

Early morning on Saturday was the time for rehearsal pitch, which Sade botched – by our standards, since we know what she was supposed to say and how well she can actually pitch. The judges seemed to like it though and commended us on the pitch structure and deliverance. We knew though, that we had plenty of work to do, lots of rehearsing and the pitch deck was still mostly unfinished. We cut it really close to deadline with the deck, and our info slides meant for the judges to get a grasp of our application were really raw.

As the order was drawn, we got the next-to-last pitching slot. Our pitcher was as nervous as she always is before pitching. Luckily, after half a dozen competitions or pitch-events like this, Joonas is already familiar with the ropes to keep Sade sane enough up until her turn. Instead of listening to any of the other presentations, she was kept busy with rehearsing the pitch over and over again, so that she could nail it on the stage. She didn’t. But she nailed it enough.

One thing you need to know about pitching, is that you cannot freeze. Nothing is as irritating as watching someone on the stage, saying ‘ummm’ before every sentence and you can just hear the cogwheels turning as they try to remember their next line. Having a pitch script is good practice, you’ll need one to time it properly and to see that you’ve covered all the main points of the problem, product and plan. Script alone is not enough though, you also have to be able to improvise on the go once something goes wrong. Note, ‘once’, not ‘if”. This is something that Sade can do. She deviated from the script, but it was mostly unnoticeable to the crowd and it only cost us a cut in our ask-section. She’s still kicking herself over it though, since it was the first time ever she was in danger of going overtime.

pitching can be terrifying

One other thing we heard later on, was that Sade was the only one to actually literally to go on stage to pitch. The venue was at Turku SparkUp, a startup community where the main hall has an arrangement of chairs in front of a large screen and a small stage, not high enough to even have stairs. There is always plenty of room between the audience and the stage. The host of the competition later told us that maybe because he hadn’t used the stage himself when introducing the teams, none of the other pitchers had gone up to the stage, but had stayed in front of it. Sade didn’t even think twice about it – and remember, she hadn’t watched any of them before her – just got up there. Sometimes it is those little things that make it more convincing.

a happy team with their prizes

Improvisation and the ability to be convincing (enough) got us quite many praises, many came to say that our pitch had been the best of the bunch. And we got something to show for it as well: an honorary commendation for our AR solution suited for classrooms with a ‘very good, maybe even the best pitch’. All worth the nervous breakdowns before and after the stage.