Hack-A-Train- our first time ever to do it on a train!

It all got started back in the late summer of 2017, when Beetroot Academy contacted us to discuss a different kind of a hackathon idea- a hackathon on a train.

As we've always been bit drawn towards the crazy , this one got our attention  immediately and before we even knew it, we were pitching this idea to Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs representatives. Luckily, they are as drawn to new adventures as we are and a year and a half later after some project writing and planning, our dream came into reality.

Hack-A-Train boarded from Mariupol, a lazy industrial city in the Donetsk region. Ukrzaliznytsia (Ukrainian Railways) had a whole branded wagon (meaning Hack-A-Train designs painted all over a wagon) dedicated to us and all together two wagons, that got filled with G48's mentors, crew and participants. 

Our mentor and a long-time friend from Estonia's Embassy in Kiev- Anastasiia Mykhailova boarding the train in Mariupol

The participants had travelled all the way from Chernihiv, Kiev, Lviv, Sumi, Balti, Pokrovsk, Kharkiv, Fastiv, Tallinn and Chisinau- some of them had to take a 30-hour train ride to Mariupol, just to participate in the event. There were local Mariupol participants as well- who’s journey back from Lviv was another 30-hour train ride.

Participants and mentors right before the departure in Mariupol

After everyone got boarded and found their spot, the event got started.

Even though the mentors crew and organizers had sat down together on several occasions to discuss how it all would work best on a moving train, the reality was a whole another story.

We learned a few valuable  lessons. 

Trains are loud as f---k!

All together 15 ideas were pitched and in order to hear them, participants had to repeat their pitch on both ends of the wagon. Our lovely host Kai Isand was doing her best to make herself heard, but regardless, half of the information got lost in the loud pounding, rumbling, hissing and screeching sounds that the train makes as it follows the tracks. Good news is that in 30-hours the noise of the train moving becomes almost meditative at some point and you do not notice it any more. 8 teams continued developing their ideas into a full prototype.

Our host Kai shouting her lungs out

There really is no internet. 

We’d had this conversation with local Ukrainian organizers so many times before and as Estonians, we were still somewhat ignorant about it. What do you mean there’s no internet? It's almost a violation of human rights.  But yet, there really was none and we all had to deal with it. For participants it gave more time to finetune their ideas and business plans. For organizers and mentors it gave some downtime to sip tea and stare out of the window, instead of scrolling through the Instagram feed or replying to emails.

Triin sipping her third cup of tea

The space is tight

So you get to know each other better. Teams were squeezing 6-7 people into small areas to work together, everyone really was working side by side. Mentors held the same experiment on an even smaller space during the night, trying to fit 20 people into one small compartment to celebrate Uve’s  birthday. It was a success!

Participants and mentors, all squeezed together to listen to the pitches 

You have to go out of your way, to build a hardware product on a train

We had a team called Heating Carpet, who was building their product already on the train. That meant quickly covering all the broken wires and tools away as soon as the wagon lady was approaching, because it really did look like they were trying to assemble a bomb. The team also had to organise someone to meet them on a quick  night-stop at Dnipro, who provided them with all the missing bits and pieces.

Tech mentors and developers don't  have that much to do on a train

While the train gives you more time to develop your business idea and to put together a proper tasklist and a workplan for the time where there is internet, it doesn’t really leave so much to do for the tech mentors and developers. Their work started on the evening of the 20th, when our train arrived in Lviv and we were greeted by our long-time partners from N-iX.

Even though a little low on steam at first, participants got their power back quickly after a shower and warm meal at N-iX and from there on, it was a full-on development

marathon.  On Sunday night, all 8 teams were able to present their prototypes on the stage.Since we loved all the teams so-so much, the choice wasn’t easy and we went full-on  American giving out the prizes- everyone was a winner! Here it is- the list of all the WINNERS!

Promoting Local Entrepreneurship- SMASH free month of a co-working space in Halabuda, Maripol.SMASH is an app that helps to locate for item specific garbage disposal places (like containers for  batteries, glass etc)

Team Smash

Promoting Local Entrepreneurship- Style On, Estonian design prizes by Nulku. A one stop marketplace for Ukrainian design. They also created an online fitting room, where people can try on clothes online based on their body measurements.

Team Style On

Persistence Award- Newtone, for not giving up and attending two hackathons in two consecutive weeks, received Ööloom sleeping masks for a well deserved sleep after such an adventure. Newtone is a platform that connects companies and young specialists.

Team Newtone, second weekend in a row

Hustler Award- Success Soft, Ööloom gifts. Success Soft provides startups and established businesses with software and development related assistance. Businesses will pay for these services and young startups will give some equity in return for these services.

Team Success Soft

Go Green Award- Born To Clean, received a 1 month residency in 1991 Civic Tech Center in Kyiv. They created an application for offices which sort their garbage, or are looking into recycling options for the future. Their app saves time of office managers and help people to make right choices of handling different types of waste products.

Team Born To  Clean

2nd Runner Up- Heating Carpet, received Lviv IT Arena tickets from N-iX for the whole team. Heating Carpet was a device meant to heat food on the go.

Team Heating Carpet

1st Runner Up- Bronify, 200€ cash prize from ESTMFA and Latitude59 tickets with accommodation and flight tickets from e-Residency team. Bronify is an app for  booking tables in the restaurants, you can choose the place by using filters. Huge database of clients with all information about them for business, discounts, cash back etc. for users.

Team Bronify

Winner and the Favourite of The Audience- BRIEF- received a spot to Startup Wise Guys Online Pre-Accelerator plus 500€ cash money from ESTMFA as a little booster for the early days and Ööloom sleeping masks. Brief helps busy professionals in Estonia read news with a customizable feed, compiled from different media outlets. A subscription-based business model incentivizes media outlets to produce higher quality content - like Spotify for news!

Winning team Brief absolutely stoked that their hard work payed off!

It takes a lot of effort to make an event like this happen. The organizers crew was led by Merit Vislapu, who said it has been the most challenging event to organize in her life so far. We call it a bluff, because it all seemed to run so smooth. Merit was helped out by Liza Holiarchuk,  Kseniia Semenova-Shelevytska from YEP and Orest Furhala, Yulia Derekh, Yurko Zavaliy from N-iX.

We wanna thank Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Development Cooperation for being crazy enough to support Hack-A-Train and for being the main support behind our activities in Ukraine for 6+ years already. Big thanks to YEP and Beetroot Academy for helping us to make it all happen and being patient with us. 

And last but not least; huge love to all the mentors  who joined us on this adventure:

Kai Isand- our lovely host and a former CEO of Garage48

Joao Rei- true train geek and our long-time mentor & host, who has taken coordinating the workflow of the mentors and the teams to a whole another level

Romet Tagobert- a young but super-skilled tech mentor,

Cesar Zeppini- a design mentor and a man behind Garage48 rebranding process, Maido Parv- a design mentor and  photographer, with a true eye for a detail

Martin Verrev- a good conversation buddy and an excellent tech mentor

Sven Kirsimäe- our probably most experienced tech mentor of all times, Sven has been with us ever since the early days

Uve Poom- experienced idea generator, business mentor and the mastermind behind a Hack-A-Train 

David Castillo- newest addition to our design mentor's team (Veriff)

Andreas Flodström- business mentor, Beetroot Academy

Triin Preem- our big  fan and a beloved marketing mentor, who managed to squeeze this hackathon between her sport competitions, kids and masters-studies

David Herdenberg- business mentor, Beetroot Academy

Anastasiia Mykhailova- our cheerleader and a business mentor from Estonia’s Embassy in Kiev

Joel Burke & Alexey Voronkov (e-Residency)-knowledgable business mentors and first time Garage48’ers. They blended in so quickly though that it felt like we’ve known them for years

Valeriia Holierova- a young and aspiring design-thinking mentor from YEP

Tarmo Annus- our long-term participant, who  decided to hop on board as a mentor and a sponsor (Obyte) this time around

Choo-choo for one last time!

About the author

mari hanikat

Mari is the CEO at Garage48. She is a very strong and mission-driven leader not afraid to go places no one has been before and help people. 🚀

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