The beauty of hackathons is they bring together people with a whole range of skill sets to collaborate in solving a specific challenge. The timeframe for hackathons is often one to two days so agile, efficient, focused thinking is needed to ensure tangible outcomes are delivered. This fast-paced ethos is challenging, tiring, and mentally draining.

Getting Inspired

So, what made us even begin to contemplate organizing and partaking in a hackathon? It all began over a coffee. A cup of coffee with one of our healthcare clients in which a discussion took place about how to collaborate to meet a number of challenges efficiently and cost effectively. The perfect scenario for a hackathon.

Very quickly the idea of a hackathon became a reality. Logistics were planned, staff were recruited and the challenges defined. The agency/client hackathon was created, and we named it Kollider, the perfect term for what happens when great minds come together.

Getting the Right People

This part was key. We wanted a diverse mix of views and experiences to ensure the maximum generation of ideas. We wanted people from all backgrounds, age groups, and disciplines. We had marketers, digital programmers, designers, account directors, medical writers, brand managers, procurement officers, and a CEO. A true melting pot of talent and opinions.

We wanted an element of competition, so we split the group into teams. A bit of rivalry always brings the best out in people. Our judges came from Ashfield, The European Patients Academy, and our client. Their job was to pick a winner. A tough job, especially as every team delivered something quite remarkable.

The Outcome

Two days after the Kollider hackathon started and with a phenomenal amount of coffee, pizzas, and sweets consumed the teams presented their ideas, which included an app that tracked and supported patients during their hospital visit; an online game which encouraged better patient/physician communication; an online support community for people living with a rare disease; a pop up clinic to help rural patients; and an app to encourage optimum inhaler use in teenagers.

But there could only be one winner. The teams were thrilled, wearing their medals for weeks after the event. And the positivity didn’t just remain with the trophy winners…

Empowering Employees

The feedback from participants was incredibly encouraging. By pushing people out of their comfort zone, challenging them with tough timescales, and changing their normal work environment we opened people’s eyes to new thinking. They loved the freedom to innovate, safe in a world where they were free to experiment and free to push the boundaries.

We were thrilled to discover hidden talents from our people. People who wouldn’t normally get involved in the brainstorming and creative thinking process. They are very much part of the process now though.


Breaking down the natural boundaries that exist between client and agency was a hugely positive outcome from the Kollider event. Everyone was in this together; no hierarchy, no rules, and no limits. The client loved feeling part of the agency mind-set and our staff got to empathize with the sort of challenges our client has. The judges commented that they could not distinguish between client people and agency staff—a true testament to the great way the teams came together.

The collaboration went beyond client/agency. We saw people from the company who had never even met before working together exceptionally well. Creatives and medical writers together in harmony—a learning we have taken forward into how we work in our everyday jobs now.

A New Way of Working

The key learning from the hackathons is that they provide a new and unique way of speeding up the innovation process. These solutions might have been created outside this format, but by combining diverse talents in one place for a limited time, the creative process is significantly enhanced and accelerated.

Hackathons create a number of potential solutions for real-world problems which can be developed further and produce tangible results. But, more importantly and as we discovered, they introduce a new exciting and positive way of working, which can be replicated for different issues and challenges.

Bringing together a team of experts and enabling them to work in new ways, combining expertise in an environment which cultivates creativity and cross-departmental thinking, is a great advantage for innovation, and one which will ultimately benefit the patient.

  • Stephanie Tortell

    Stephanie Tortell is SVP Agency Head at Ashfield Healthcare Communications, part of UDG Healthcare. Stephanie brings more than 30 years of industry and agency experience to her role at Ashfield Healthcare Communications, both enhancing the company’s external leadership and internal collaboration.

    • Andrew Binns

      Andrew Binns is SVP within Ashfield Digital & Creative at Ashfield Health Communications, part of UDG Healthcare, and is qualified to CIM Diploma in Marketing level. His remit is to ensure his digital, creative, brand, and marketing agency is daring in its thinking and pushes boundaries. Andrew is a Head Judge for the Communiqué Awards and Vice Chair of the Chartered Institute of Marketing.