U.S. embassies partner for COVID-19 economic recovery

Hosts Triin Preem (left) and Joao Rei, both with Garage48, take a selfie with the teams at the closing ceremony for the hackathon dedicated to pandemic economic recovery. (© Marie Rosalie Hanni)
Hosts Triin Preem (left) and Joao Rei, both with Garage48, take a selfie with the teams at the closing ceremony for the hackathon dedicated to pandemic economic recovery. (© Marie Rosalie Hanni)

U.S. embassies in Estonia, Latvia, Denmark and Lithuania partnered to virtually co-host the 48 for the Future “hackathon,” implemented by private partners Garage48 and Startup Wise Guys on December 3-6.

The hackathon let participants design a mobile phone app or other tech solution to address the complexities of the post-COVID-19 economic recovery.

More than 600 people from 70 countries and 27 states in the United States spent three days coding and collaborating to develop their ideas.

“In 2020, the coronavirus that conquered the world left a strong mark on the economy, changing many areas forever,” said Mari Hanikat, the chief executive of Garage48. “In order to adapt to the new reality and emerge stronger, we must look to the future for sustainable solutions that will strengthen our economy for the long run.”

U.S. Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy and the Environment Keith J. Krach highlighted how “innovation is a cornerstone of free economies worldwide. It’s how we’ll get through this pandemic and come out stronger on the other side.”

Some who entered the competition were beginners, while others were advanced coders and innovators with substantial experience, the organizers said. Thirty-seven teams of varying levels competed in the final round for the top place, gaining experience and winning prizes such as spots in a Startup Wise Guys program and tickets to innovation events in Estonia.

More than a dozen organizers and firms contributed mentorship and communications support during the hackathon, including the American Chambers of Commerce in Estonia and Latvia, the University of Lynchburg, Microsoft, and Google for Startups. The event organizers assigned expert mentors to cover 21 time zones at once, helping competitors around the world code their ideas into existence.

The challenge asked teams to develop solutions that advanced the future of:

  • Trusted networks and information sources.
  • Education.
  • Work.
  • Health.
  • Travel, tourism and hospitality.
  • Entertainment and sports.
  • Small- and medium-sized enterprises.
Byron Sowerby, the lead of the team that designed the winning app, celebrates. (© Marie Rosalie Hanni)

The winner was a mobile phone app called Gambit. It was created by a team called Recovery Companion from Estonia and Australia, the organizers said.

The app tracks a user’s energy, sleep and activity levels and food consumption to identify potential food intolerances. Based on those statistics and patterns, the app then made food recommendations.

Other finalists included an app that allows a user to prioritize sustainability goals while shopping for clothes, and an app that allows users to borrow money from others in a trusted community.

“Each year around this time, the U.S. State Department showcases the importance of innovation to our economy during National Entrepreneurship Month. The pandemic adds urgency to that message, as innovation will be a key driver of post-crisis global economic recovery,” said Brian Roraff, the chargé d’affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Tallinn. “The teams that participated in this event really delivered, and the U.S. Embassy in Tallinn was proud to be a part of it.”