Hackathons can help solve social problems: DPM Heng

Start-ups and hackathons are often associated with business ventures but they can also be used to solve societal challenges, said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat yesterday.

"As we come together to look at how transformation can bring every one of us a better life, I think it's important that we think about it not just in the business sense, but also across a whole range of activities," he said at the closing session of this year's Startup Weekend Singapore.

These include activities in the areas of mental health and environmental sustainability, Mr Heng added.

Startup Weekend Singapore is one of South-east Asia's largest open innovation hackathons. The 54-hour hackathon has been behind some of Singapore's notable start-ups, including virtual classifieds platform Carousell.

This year, more than 450 participants took part from their homes, with the top 10 teams live-streaming their pitches. They had to come up with solutions to problems related to mental health, vulnerable populations, sustainability and the environment, or the future of work.

The winner was LePlants, a mobile marketplace concept that aims to link community urban farmers with interested buyers. This would prevent food wastage and bolster food security in Singapore, its team leader said.

The team's prize, which included credits to training courses and product analytics services, was worth up to $259,000.

One of this year's guest speakers was Mr Justin Kan, founder of live-streaming platform Twitch, which was sold to Amazon for nearly US$1 billion (S$1.38 billion) in 2014.

The fact that so many people now have smartphones that are essentially a "computer in their pocket" opens up new opportunities for training and education, Mr Kan said.

Meditation apps, for instance, are simple but powerful tools that can impact many people and impart new skills, he added.

"I think those opportunities exist all over, especially for the mental wellness space and education and retraining space," Mr Kan said.

"They're just waiting to be discovered, and even sometimes very simple apps can start creating a significant change for people."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 28, 2020, with the headline Hackathons can help solve social problems: DPM Heng. Subscribe