Code with Purpose Hackathon: Students Tackle Global Challenges with SAP Cloud Platform

Imagine if you could apply sophisticated, real-time technology solutions to connect people and resources to alleviate some of the biggest challenges facing society today, as identified in the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Ending hunger, ensuring the health and well-being of the most vulnerable segments of society, providing decent work and economic growth opportunities for the working population — where would you start? What type of solution would you create? Who would you create it for? Would you have the technical and business skills to make your solution feasible?

Those were some of the serious questions students needed to answer during the Code with Purpose hackathon, held in Barcelona, Spain, on the campus of Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB), School of Engineering, during the weekend of February 23 to 25. Twenty-nine students participated in the hackathon, representing five countries: Spain, France, Italy, Morocco, and Turkey. A diverse group of eight women and 21 men, the students comprised three academic profiles: from technology and computer programming; from the school of economics with a business background, for example, in Business and Technology; and from a design background with programming knowledge.

Organized by SAP Next-Gen, a purpose-driven innovation community that is an outgrowth of the SAP University Alliances program, the hackathon gave students the opportunity to apply their knowledge using advanced technologies like SAP Cloud Platform and SAPUI5, as well as design thinking, to develop applications in a time-critical environment.

“In alignment with SAP’s vision to help the world run better and improve people’s lives, the Code with Purpose Hackathon enables students to develop disruptive ideas and prototype apps contributing to social change,” says Ann Rosenberg, senior vice president and global head of SAP Next-Gen and SAP University Alliances. “We are pleased to partner with UAB to inspire, educate, and enable next-generation developers to link coding projects to social change supporting the UN Global Goals.”

It is the second hackathon that UAB has hosted in cooperation with SAP. Daniel Franco Puntes, dean of UAB School of Engineering, says, “The hackathon is a great experience for our students because they can have three pillars: training in design thinking; technical training in SAP technologies; and training in the ability to present their work.”

The event coincides with the 50th anniversary of the university, signaling continuity in its founding principles, as Dean Franco explains, “Another important thing is that the SAP hackathon is aligned with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. It is very important to put technology at the service of society. From its foundation, UAB has believed in social responsibility and social innovation promoting democracy and gender equality, and ending poverty.”

Design Thinking Applied to UN Sustainable Development Goals

The three-day event kicked off on Friday afternoon with a round of introductions, as the students quickly dispersed into five multi-disciplinary teams. The teams had a choice of three challenges, each linked to a United Nations SDG:

  • SDG #2: Zero Hunger
    Challenge: How can we smartly connect food donors with humanitarian organizations?
    Provided by SAP España.
  • SDG #3: Good Health and Well-Being
    Challenge: How might we make people look forward to old age?
    Provided by Innovation Alpha, a Barcelona-based innovation facility powered by Telefónica.
  • SDG #8: Decent Work and Economic Growth
    Challenge: How might we make construction sites a more fun place to work especially for young people?
    Provided by Landlog, a Japan-based joint venture of Komatsu, SAP, docomo, and optim, that provides an open IoT platform to accelerate the pace of innovation in construction production processes.

The students spent their Friday evening in a design thinking marathon session, intended to generate innovative ideas and creative problem-solving. Each team created a fictionalized user persona that they could empathize with as they built their prototypes on SAP Cloud Platform.

Even students experienced with coding and design thinking said the time pressure of the hackathon was the biggest challenge. SAP experts were on hand to assist the students. Jacqueline Dittkowski, a UX designer and design thinking coach who works with career starters and young professionals at SAP, noted that through the design thinking methodology, the students were able to set aside any initial anxiety as they developed empathy for the persona at the center of their prototype.

SAP University Alliances uses a “train-the-trainer” concept to scale design thinking and business model innovation by training professors and instructors on how to introduce these concepts in the classroom. Find out more information about upcoming workshops here, or contact

Students Learn Teamwork, Time Management, Business Case Presentation

After 30 hours of preparation, all teams were ready with a working prototype to present in front of the judges on Sunday. The jury comprised representatives of UAB, SAP, Landlog, and Alpha. A technical advisor was on hand to evaluate the quality of the coding behind each prototype. The judging criteria included creativity of approach, desirability based on user experience, technical feasibility, commercial viability, technical implementation (coding), and overall impression.

The prototypes presented were: BiteConnect, a gamified app that rewards people with a token for each food donation they make; Level Up in Construction, an app that gamifies routine work-related tasks to keep people engaged in their jobs; Keep in Contact, a network-of-networks app to provide services for the elderly; and ShareIt, a social app to reintegrate the elderly into daily life.

The jury asked questions to each team relating to the monetization and scalability of their prototypes. The experience of the hackathon taught the students how to present a business case, the importance of good teamwork, and effective time management.

After two hours of deliberation, the jury announced the winning prototype: Japan iConstruct, a gamified training app that aimed to combine technology with the construction industry by enabling employees to earn points while training for new positions.

“I learned so much, because I have never been in a hackathon,” says Ariana Cotano Castellá, student of Business & Technology at UAB, who presented the winning prototype. “I think it’s so important that I learned about presenting here and I learned about new technologies and ways to think, like design thinking.”

“I came to this challenge because I love coding and it’s an opportunity,” says Raül de Arriba Garcia, student of computer engineering at UAB, who worked on the winning prototype and is interested in cybersecurity. “I think the most difficult part is to learn about a language that I never used before and do something in just 24 hours of coding. This is the hard part, but I can say that the SAP language is quite easy to learn.”

The winning team presented its prototype at the SAP stand during Mobile World Congress. Watch the interview here: