8 challenges, 8 teams and a timeframe of 24 hours

These are the ingredients for developing smart solutions at the TU Austria Innovation Marathon. We joined this outstanding event at the Forum Alpbach and asked our student team to design an inclusive public e-charging station of the future. Akosua, an Alpbach scholarship holder from Ghana and Christian from our innovation department report on their personal experiences and insights. Pretty interesting to get both sides!

Akosua Pepra from Ghana recently completed her master’s degree in Engineering and Public Policy from Canada. She is working as a Cities and Climate Change intern with the Green Climate Fund, a financial mechanism to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Songdo South Korea.

Christian Orthofer is Innovation Manager and Corporate Funding Coordinator at Energie Steiermark. He graduated in Urban Technologies and Sustainable Energy Systems. His key aspects of activities and areas of responsibility are StartUp cooperation activities within the Next Incubator, execution of different R&D&I projects and group-wide coordination of funding activities.

TU Austria Innovation Marathon 2019, Photo: Harald Tauderer

How did you come to participate in the Innovation Marathon 2019?

Akosua: I received a scholarship from the Robert Bosch Foundation GmBH to be part of the European Forum Alpbach as an African Scholar. The Innovation Marathon was part of the events advertised to scholars to apply for after I had accepted the scholarship. My masters program had a lot of innovation and creativity content, but I had never participated in a 24hr marathon, so I felt it was time to challenge myself to develop something amazing within such a short time. That is why I applied to be part of the marathon.

Christian: We were invited to place a company challenge by the TU Graz initially in 2017 and due to the valuable results for our internal innovation projects and actions we are now joining this event for the third time in a row.

What (personal) impressions did you receive from Forum Alpbach as a whole – this is now an event of international dimensions?

Akosua:It was a great time. I really enjoyed all my two seminars. My morning seminar was on the ‘Promises and Challenges of Urbanization’ and it ties into the work I do on climate change interventions in the urban sector. I had amazing facilitators who were very experienced and yet still created an interactive session for us to bring our various experiences into the seminar. My afternoon session which was on human centered design within the policy space was also a great place to see how design theories can be important tools in policy development and implementation. I really enjoyed the African seminar leaders and the symposium that focused on Growing Africa Sustainably, the speakers were amazing, and it was close to home for me. The greatest thing I took from the forum is the passion and enthusiasm of young people from all over the world and the amazing network I built whilst there.

Christian: It is a great opportunity to discuss views on local as well as global challenges openly and in such a laid-back environment with people from all over the world and with different experiences and professional background knowledge. Unfortunately I was only able to join the technology talks, so I`m a bit jealous on the scholarship students, who have received even deeper insights into current issues in of science, politics, business and culture.

Now focussing on the Innovation Marathon. How did you personally cope with the format and what challenges were there in the team or even just for you personally?

Akosua: I am quite a nocturnal being, so I didn’t have a lot of problems with staying awake throughout the 24hr period. Our team had challenges with our number, we started as a four-member team from the beginning, an additional person joined but at the end two more people dropped out, so we still finished the marathon as a three-member team. I really enjoyed working with my teammates.

Christian: The major challenge is always the preparation of the challenge, that is to find a topic which really fits to the innovation marathon. On the one hand the challenge has to be well-defined in order to receive specific solutions and on the other hand it shall provide enough room for crazy and unexpected results. The students need to dive into the topic and bring in their individual experiences. It`s always fascinating to see how the students progress in developing an intelligent solution and how much energy they still have even towards the end of the 24 hours. This year it was extremely hard for them. Due to illness, two students left the team, so in the last few hours three students had to complete the work programme designed for a 5-person team. Nevertheless they succeeded and managed to do a great performance at the main stage, presenting their prototype.

Which content challenges did the format offer you and how do you rate the result after 24 hours of intensive work??

Akosua: We had a problem with scoping and defining the expected deliverable from the problem statement, but the marathon coaches and our company coaches were very helpful. I was very happy with the output of my team after the 24 hours. The amount of research and information we were able to gather which informed our work over that short time was incredible especially since we were under-staffed.

Christian: The biggest challenge for company representatives is to provide the teams with all the information needed for developing a smart solution, without trying to control or influence their results. Otherwise we couldn`t expect any fresh or even radical ideas. Two of my colleagues from our technical subsidiary, who are responsible for the planning and operation of our charging infrastructure, accompanied me this year. That`s why we had to be careful that the results could be transferred immediately into their day-to-day operations at the same time as incorporating aspects, that may not be operational yet but have a high potential for the future.Our students highlighted their “Public E-charging station” prototype in an impressive pitch (see link). Moreover we discussed in detail many specific recommendations, like a simplified operation of our charging stations App, new payment options, an increase in visibility and barrier-free design of our charging stations, a shortening of the charging time by „high-power charging“, … . They are all very valuable, because they are really customer-oriented.

…& now summarize the experience in 1 quote:

‚The innovation marathon is an opportunity to explore the creativity and innovation in me ‚

Akosua Pepra

‚It`s really impressive to see, what results an interdisciplinary, young team full of passion and creativity can achieve in just 24 hours.‘

Christian Orthofer

Thank you both for your time to answer our questions!

Christa Kloibhofer-Krampl

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