Singapore Hackaton and Innofest

Julia Jäger

Published Juli 2019

Innovation ANU is an organisation committed to connecting research ideas with governmental institutions and businesses by providing a range of consultancies, advice and funding opportunities for start-ups.  


In early May, innovation ANU called for applications of PhD students for scholarships to attend a public health hackathon in Singapore. The idea of the hackathon was to tackle public health issues in international teams of ANU and National University of Singapore (NUS) students. Students were supposed to imagine to be health minister and weigh up the pros and cons of different policy settings to consider what basis they will make major decisions on. To do so Dynamic Simulation Modelling (DSM) technology was offered to help understand the outcomes of the respective policy. The organizers were looking for ideas that will disrupt the way complex health issues are understood and communicated to the public.


In addition the scholarship covered the entrance ticket to the Innovfest trade fair, which is Asia’s largest tech start up trade fair and other entrepreneurship related activities.  I applied with the support of my Australian supervisors and was thrilled to hear that my application was picked together with 9 other PhD students out of all departments of the Australian National University. On Wednesday the 26th of June we flew to Singapore and were placed in student accommodations on the campus of the National University of Singapore. After a night to relax we attended the Innovfest which is a platform for both established tech companies as well as smaller start-ups to showcase their ideas. Working in basic medical science can at times feel like an ivory tower and it was fascinating to be exposed to this quantity of real life applications based on research. Workshops and talks covering a variety of topics like the future of mobility, smart cities, smart medicine or economies were offered at four different stages with speakers coming from diversified backgrounds. As a young person entering work life, the trade fair was a stimulating environment to understand future trends and opportunities in the ‘forth industrial revolution’. Singapore as a front runner in terms of technology and smart city solutions, certainly is a great place for the trade fair and the willingness to accept technology as part of life and to improve life quality shows everywhere in the city. 

In the afternoon the PhD students met at the head quarter of SingTel the biggest Tele Company in Asia that invests in a variety of technological megatrends. During a two hour presentation we were introduced to three of the six areas of interest that the company is currently pushing and investing in. The areas included 5G and the possibilities it opens in comparison to 4G, smart cities and facial recognition. The presentation was very interactive, making it easy to see both benefits and disadvantages of the topics. Europe and Asia certainly have controversial views on some topics but given the environment of Singapore it is hard not to be impressed by their embracing approach to the future.


Thursday afternoon the Hackathon started and only then we were informed about our team members. The teams consisted of two NUS and two ANU students with health or IT related backgrounds to stimulate the exchange between the two universities. The hackathon was well organized and several workshops were provided on how to pitch, conceptualization & problem definition, policy decisions for population health, gamification & interactive information display and so on. In addition professors from NUS, ANU, University of Sydney and independent organizations that work in public health, medical research or technology were present to support the teams as mentors and answer questions. The mentors were extremely helpful during the hackathon and it was great to talk about their area of expertise afterwards in a more relaxed environment. The challenge of the hackathon was to come up with an idea that would improve public health and the final solutions ranged from apps to e.g. reduce texting and driving or smoking to national health system revolutions. The 48 hours were an intense time during which the lack of sleep and the fact that the team members didn’t know each other in advance added up on the stress level. At the end the teams came up with innovative solutions and almost all were approached by investors or professors to establish a cooperation and build on the initial idea.


In summary Singapore was a challenging but exciting experience. The city is a buzzing, international hub for innovation, with a high life quality due to intelligent city planning, one of the best universities in the world and a population that embraces technology for the better and for the worse. Innovation ANU put a strong focus on the interaction of students with professionals from medical start-ups, public health, science communication and politics. Working in medical science I enjoyed being exposed to a big spectrum of exciting opportunities that exist in and outside of academia and, in my opinion, are little promoted or encouraged by German Universities. Lastly, the trip was a great chance to meet some awesome people from ANU and NUS and I am very happy that I have been given the chance to participate.