What it takes to facilitate an (almost) 24-h-Non-Stop Fully Virtual Innovation Marathon

Five ICG consultants travel to a beautiful village in Tyrol where the who-is-who from science, politics, and economy once a year meet, the European Forum Alpbach. For years, this was our summer highlight to run the TU Austria Innovation Marathon. An event, where students from all around the world would meet for 24 hours to work on real-life innovation challenges from industry-leading companies.

But now in 2020? How could that work out in a year of a global crisis, a year without traveling but marked by social distancing rules? Could such an event survive under these new circumstances? To spoil one thing first: it was a blast.

Let us take you behind the scenes of this year’s Innovation Marathon and share our experiences but before that see what the Marathon used to be like:

Video 1: Get an impression of what the Marathon used to be like

For us, it was clear that if we wanted to keep the Innovation Marathon alive, we had to come up with something new. And we did. First of all, we changed the location from the beautiful, tiny Alpbach village to the world wide web.

But what else would we have to change, to get to the next level?

Key success factor 1: the participating companies

There would be no Innovation Marathon without companies willing to share their real challenges with a big audience. Essential are company representatives who love to work with young people that come up with new perspectives and ideas. In this marathon, even more than in the years before company representatives were engaged in our virtual sessions. They presented their tasks, gave valuable feedback on ideas, and finally decided on which team would be allowed to pitch their concept on the main stage of the European Forum Alpbach. Thanks to AVL, Liebherr, Philips, voestalpine, and ams we had 5 amazing innovation challenges that forced our student teams to give their best.

Key success factor 2: the students

Like every year, also this year the real protagonists of this event were the participating students from around the globe. It is their job to come up with customized solutions for challenges that seem almost impossible to solve even for professionals. Like in any other innovation task, we try to set up diverse, t-shaped teams which means multiple backgrounds aligned by great interest and curiosity for innovation. In this year’s marathon, this meant a wide range of different fields of study – from human medicine to computer science, from architecture to cell biology, from law to linguistics and participants from 25 countries. Convince yourself by watching some video snapshots from the application process for our event:

Key success factor 3: our physical working environment

Really different from the years before was our working environment. If you think this is not important in an online setting, our experience was a different one. Whereas the students were spread across the world, we as the coaches and the organization team moved into the rooftop restaurant of the TU Graz and turned it into our mission control center. What we achieved by this was direct lines of sight and the possibility of spontaneous coordination meetings between us coaches and with our camera and technology team. It felt a little bit like being in the NASA headquarters. Check out here what usually is a restaurant:

Key success factor 4: our virtual working environment

To make the collaboration of team members sitting around the globe possible we used the online collaboration platforms ZOOM, MIRO, and Mentimeter. During the 24 hours, we learned how powerful online collaboration can be when some simple elements are in place. Zoom allowed us to easily switch between breakout groups for the teams and a plenary setting for all the participants when important announcements where on the agenda. Via Mentimeter we had regular “team health checks” via online voting to figure out how the energy level, satisfaction, and happiness of the participants were progressing over time. And finally, MIRO was used to document all the thoughts, ideas, and concepts the teams have been working on.

Key success factor 5: the organization team

An event like this is not a one-woman show. What it takes is a team working together in a highly professional and goal-oriented manner where everyone can rely on each other. In our case, the team was more than just us coaches who facilitated the event and supervised student teams, but also a camera team, a media team, and our project manager Mario Fallast from TU Austria. While the coaches were supporting the teams with tools and methods how to analyze their tasks, brainstorm for new and innovative ideas, formulate concepts and finally work out a prototype for their final solution, our camera and media team as well as our project manager kept all participants of the Forum Alpbach well informed about our activities during the 24 hours. Curious to get to know us? See here:

If by now you wonder about the company tasks and team results let us show you an example:

You would like to see even more? On Youtube, you can find the 5 winning final pitches from all participating companies:
ams AG

From feedback, after the Marathon, we learned that not only we but also the students and the companies were thrilled by as well the quality and the quantity of the results.

But it was more than just the results that made the whole Marathon a success: the team building, the passion, a common 24-hour experience we will probably not forget too soon.

Or simply said: so much more than you would think is possible online!

All videos produced by dkmotion.

TU Austria Innovation Marathon was hosted by TU Austria, the federation of the Austrian Universities of Technology in Vienna, Leoben, and Graz.

Do you want to solve important tasks with your global teams? With outstanding results? And with high energy? But no travel? Contact us and we are happy to support you!