Students offering solutions to major health challenges at Tartu i-Days hackathon 2023

At the end of last week, from October 27-28, the 6th EIT Health i-Days student hackathon was held, where more than 50 innovation-minded students gathered to solve various real-life health and biotechnology challenges. At the two-day hackathon, the participants had the opportunity to participate in both design thinking and pitching training, as well as get support from mentors who helped the teams find the most important and distinctive of their solutions. The hackathon ended with a pitching competition where ten formed teams competed for the title of the best team. The panel of judges considered the teams’ presentation, potential, understanding of the challenge and selected the Team Testwell as the winner, and at the end of November, they will have the opportunity to defend their idea at the European i-Days final in Barcelona, Spain.

The first day brought the iDays teams together and gave them the initial tools to work on ideas

This year’s hackathon differed from the previous ones with a longer and more comprehensive list of real-life challenges, as there were as many as 12 of them (find a comprehensive list of challenges here), with various areas covered, from oral hygiene to antibiotic-resistant bacteria and from collecting medical information to rural healthcare workforce.

The first task that the hackathon moderator Vaido Mikheim (Startup Estonia) gave to the students  was to make a introductory pitch of their idea. Once 10 ideas had been presented, the teams had the opportunity to scout new team members to ensure that the team had all the expert skills needed. Hackathon participants were from various higher education institutions – e.g. University of Tartu, Tallinn University of Technology and Tallinn University of Health, but also many guest students from different corners of the world, whose specialties varied from medicine and (digital) healthcare to computer science and journalism, which also meant that the teams formed were as multidisciplinary as possible,with knowledge and skills from many different fields.

After assembling the teams, the participants immediately had the opportunity to dive into their idea, because Liina Pääbo (Tartu University Hospital)* started introducing the nature and different aspects of design thinking. At the end of the workshop, the teams also got “homework” – to engage with the users of their own solutions to understand if and how the developed solution relates to the citizen. The first day ended with a long teamwork session. Although the work with the mentors officially awaited the teams only the next day, some mentors who arrived the night before started already making the first rounds and supporting the teams. For example, the health innovator Madis Tiik (Estonian E-health Foundation) worked with the students until late in the evening, and managed to give feedback to most of the teams present. The last brave teams left the venue only at night. Despite this, it was not easy to find signs of fatigue on the students’ faces the next morning – a motivating atmosphere, novel ideas and great minds together – it can have an energizing effect!

“I found iDays to be a very positive experience. It was my first hackathon that I have ever participated in and it was really cool to be in such a motivational environment in which you could see the passion that everyone has for healthcare and helping others. I found the mentors to be extremely extremely helpful in our idea and pitching process and I am forever grateful for their advice and dedication to helping us. It was really great that this event confirmed that if you stick with what you think is important, trust your idea, and collaborate with like-minded individuals, then people will listen and you will impact others.” – Ashlyn Finney, Tartu i-Days 23 participant

The second day of the hackathon – inspiring presentations and workshops with practical tips

Saturday morning started with Madis Tiik’s presentation “Healthcare 2040″**. In his presentation, he spoke of the predictions for 2040 and the latest innovations and implications to healthcare. Madis strongly believes that technological innovation and the underlying business models can make a tremendous difference in the lives of patients and in the work of doctors in the near future. However, to understand the future, we need to understand the past and present.

The second presenter of the day, Riin Ehin (Contenta Ltd, BioCC)*** introduced the essential steps to implement one’s innovative ideas in her very practical and comprehensive presentation. She went through the most important points on the journey of emerging startups: ensuring that your ideas remain your own; how can networking and different disciplines lead to success and how to seize every opportunity towards establishing your start-up.

The third presenter was Merike Leego (EIT Health)****, whose presentation was a comprehensive overview of EIT Health’s possibilities – programs and funding opportunities from teams in the concept phase to projects expanding foreign markets. In addition to the inspirational speakers, Liina Pääbo also conducted the second part of the design thinking workshop, encouraging the audience to constantly think along by asking the teams accompanying questions about their team’s value proposition, business canvas and user feedback.

The last workshop of the day was conducted by Vaido Mikheim*****, where he talked about the dangers and opportunities of the pitching, also highlighting the three fundamentals of pitching: “Be comfortable, Be convincing, Be confident”. Whether the teams learned from this was soon to be heard. Before demonstrating the skills learned, the teams had the opportunity to discuss their ideas with their mentors, the best experts in their field. At the Tartu i-Days following experts helped teams with their ideas: Riin Ehin (Contenta OÜ, BioCC); Merike Leego; Anna Dudkina (Dermtest; TalTech); Epp Reedik (Tallinn Health Care College); Karl Sander Noor (South-Estonian Hospital); Kerli Norak (North Estonia Medical Centre; TalTech); Liina Joller-Vahter (Power Algae; University of Tartu); Martin Argus (Tallinn Health Care College, Valukliinik), Sven Parkel (Tartu Biotechnology Park); Riina Hallik (TalTech); Tanel Ross (Estonian Ministry of Finance, TalTech); Teele Orgse (Pärnu Hospital, TalTech).

i-Days grande finale – pitching competition

After the mentor rounds, the teams had some time to reflect on what they had heard in the previous days and then bind the ideas together, to present their ideas to the panel of judges. Jury members were – Sven Parkel, Liina Joller-Vahter, Tanel Ross, Teele Orgse, Merike Leego and Kristi Mõistus (Tallinn Health Care College). It was quite a difficult task to pick the best of these 10 new and innovative ideas that are dedicated to better the world and improve people’s health. After energetic and truly inspiring presentations, accompanied by questions and comments from the judges, it was time for the award ceremony.

“Personally, It was a very useful event for me. It gave me the opportunity to convert my idea into reality. Also, collaboration with the mentors was very helpful and helped us to improve the idea. Last but not least,  thanks to the iDays, I managed to leave my comfort zone by pitching my idea to other people which was a big personal success for me.” – Berna Sarraf, Tartu i-Days participant

The team BioSynth won the special prize of the Estonian Society of Medical Students and the Society of Biosciences Students. In addition, the same team won a 500 EUR prize from EIT Health to further develop their idea. The team’s idea is with the help of artificial intelligence to engineer synthetic prion proteins specifically designed to combat bacteria, such as the notorious MRSA.

Team Uter won tickets to sTARTUp Day 2024 for the best pitch. Their team is determined to treat postpartum haemorrhage (PPH), still a major problem causing maternal complications and death worldwide, with a belt surrounded with sensors that can detect the activation of the uterine muscle and that could perform a fundal massage on women to prevent excessive bleeding. In conclusion, the device will make the management of postpartum hemorrhage more standardized and safer.

The Tartu Biotechnology Park special prize was won by the Water Rehab team. This team’s idea is to use a bioremediation agent to fight pathogens, heavy metals, contaminants from fertilizers in open water bodies. These solutions won’t disturb the sediment, are preventive and sustainable and adjustable for different regions.

The winner of the Tartu i-Days was the team Testwell, who aim to reduce redundant laboratory testing by applying TestWell – a REST-API software that re-uses data by checking previous lab tests in the background of a hospital information system. Team TestWell will bring their idea to the i-Days Winners Event to pitch against all the other winners of European i-Days.

Tartu i-Days had another successful year – students got to know the development of business ideas and various support measures in an inspiring and supportive atmosphere. For many students, it was the first time to prepare and validate their business idea, communicate with users, discuss ideas with mentors, and defend their ideas during pitching. The event was also a good opportunity to network with students and mentors from different educational backgrounds.

This year, EIT Health i-Days took place in 23 European cities throughout October and November. The i-Days 2023 hackathons will end with the Winners Event on 30.11-1.12.2023, which will be held in Barcelona, Spain.


* – Liina Pääbo/Tartu University Hospital – Design thinking workshop

** – Madis Tiik/Estonian E-health Foundation – “Healthcare 2040”

*** – Riin Ehin/Contenta Ltd, BioCC – “How to implement your innovative ideas”

**** –  Merike Leego/EIT Health –  EIT Health support to start-ups

***** – ">Vaido Mikheim/Startup Estonia – Pitching workshop