How SOS Alarm applied a structured process to their hackathon

At the award event that concluded the SOS Alarm hackathon, CEO Maria Khorsand announced that the company would move forward with all five concepts presented instead of just the winning team’s concept (which was the original plan). When was the last time you were at a hackathon where top management cared about the ideas presented and had an internal system in place to take care of them? What is the story behind this remarkable result?


Using the hackathon format to strengthen your brand and execute on Innovation Strategy


In the fall of 2017, Swedish emergency service operator SOS Alarm decided to run a hackathon to generate ideas for future service offerings. The internal innovation teams wanted input on questions like:


  • How will an emergency call be handled in the future?
  • Will a call always be a call, or will technology enable better solutions?
  • How can we design a smart smoke detector?
  • How can we save more lives with the help of new technology?


The hackathon was part of a larger initiative with the goal of establishing innovation as a habit within the SOS Alarm organization. Like many companies today, SOS Alarm has a hard time finding employees with the right combination of competence and talent. In order to strengthen their employer brand, the company decided to invite students to take part in the hackathon. This approach had two advantages: it fostered a bond between the company and top Swedish technology universities, and the students’ new perspectives contributed greatly to finding answers to the questions mentioned above.


Students warming up with an icebreaker at the hackathon kickoff


A structured process leads to better results


When planning a hackathon, there are many parameters to consider in order to make it successful. This is the process SOS Alarm and Innovation360 crafted together in order to fulfill SOS Alarm’s goals with the initiative.


Finding a sponsor

Scope, goals, and desired outcome for the hackathon was anchored and decided on an executive level, aligning with SOS Alarm’s overall innovation strategy. This is a crucial step in assuring a clear return on investment for the organization.


CEO Maria Khorsand opening the final with an inspiring speech about the power of innovation


Planning logistics, catering, and venue to foster creativity

A small planning group was created to figure out details such as scope, optimal dates, venue, guest list, invitations, catering, traveling, accommodations, and the actual agenda. Divide and conquer is the way to move fast.


The off-site location helped the teams focus, network, and dive into the challenges without distractions


Outreach and invitations to find a diverse group of participants

SOS Alarm’s communications team made sure that the information about the organization and the event was inclusive and aligned with the company’s values. The goal with this step was to encourage aspiring participants to apply. The invitation website was created with the platform Confetti and shared on several channels to get the word out. Making some noise on social media later helped get Swedish IT magazine IDG to cover the event (link).

The landing page for the invitation website


Positioning SOS Alarm as an innovator by collecting insights from their ecosystem

During hackathons, participants often fall in love with one idea early in the process. It might be a great idea, but it also might have little or no validation with the intended user group. To make the innovation process customer-centric and driven by real needs, an open ideation campaign was set up using the ideation360 platform. An iFrame was integrated into a blog post with relevant data points, open questions, and an invitation to submit ideas. The blog post was shared with doctors, firefighters, ambulance staff, and SOS Alarm customers. Take a look at the blog post with the iFrame here. The hackathon teams received the insights as an input for their ideation session at the event. This way of working with your ecosystem has several benefits:


  • It positions the organization as open and innovative.
  • Customers and partners feel invited into the process.
  • The ideas generated in the hackathon meet real customer needs and thus provide a better business opportunity.
  • It challenges the team’s perspectives in ways that might not have been possible in a closed ideation.


Fostering an innovation culture at SOS Alarm by ideating with the organization

An internal ideation campaign was set up in order to capture ideas from the organization and make the hackathon inclusive to employees who did not participate. In this way, the organizers were able to source great ideas from all of SOS Alarm as a complementary input to the open ideation with the ecosystem.



SOS Alarm employee Andreas Höglund reading a pitch poster at the finals


The agenda

The hackathon started Saturday morning and ended Sunday afternoon. The teams were free to spend their time as they wanted, but for those who wanted support, Coaches from Innovation360 provided guidance and a structure for how to follow the innovation process. All teams decided to follow the process and used the tools, methods, and frameworks available in each phase (discovery, ideation, selection, development, and commercialization). Because participants didn’t jump right into executing the first idea that someone came up with, the quality and relevance of the final ideas were much greater.


The Innovation Process used in the hackathon (
Source: Penker, Sävenstedt, Jacobson, Lindblom 2017)


The pitch

Sunday afternoon arrived, and the jury took their seats to listen to the five teams pitching their final ideas. They all did great! As a coach, you are very proud when all ideas are backed up by well-formed hypotheses and data from experiments. According to the jury, all teams arrived at interesting findings and concepts, so they made the decision to move all ideas forward in the process.


The team from Linköping University pitching their idea using LEGO prototypes


To give you a glimpse of the progress at the time of writing:


  • One prototype is being developed as a proof of concept that could save SOS Alarm both money and time.
  • One concept is being run through hypothesis-testing to evaluate the potential need, value, credibility, and solution.
  • Three out of five teams have agreed to some form of collaboration to further test their ideas and potentially implement them.


Why was this approach to a hackathon successful?


“Intensive but very fun and inspiring. Amazing how much can be achieved in a short period of time.
SOS seems like a company to work for in the future.”

—Participating student


“Working with students in a hackathon format is extremely rewarding for us.
They are fast, innovative, and challenge assumptions we’ve always taken for granted.”

—Mattias Hindfelt, CIO at SOS Alarm


Could we foresee this result? To a large extent, yes!


  • We followed a process and trusted the process, and the process did not let us down.
  • We received support and attention from top management by aligning the theme of the hackathon with prioritized strategic initiatives within the innovation strategy.
  • The time constraint and off-site location helped teams and internal staff focus on the challenges and stay committed to run the extra mile.
  • By collecting insights from the ecosystem prior to the hackathon, the teams were off to a flying start.
  • The ideas were developed by students with diverse backgrounds, which created new insights that could be grounded on-site by SOS Alarm staff.
  • Having innovation coaches support the teams allowed the ideas to be pushed further and stretched to the boundaries of creativity.


The winning team from Chalmers University together with SOS Alarm CEO Maria Khorsand


In summary, the SOS Alarm hackathon was a great example of how powerful this format can be when you have a dedicated organization willing to go the extra mile to get all the components in place. Thank you for letting us be your partner in this! It is not every weekend that you get to be part of innovations that have the potential to separate life from death. You can view a recap video of the event here.


Don’t hesitate to contact us if you want to learn more about the art of succeeding with your innovation event.