Event Report: Making Space Work for Humanity

On Wednesday 4th May the University of Hull Alumni Development and Alumni Relations team and University Student Entrepreneurship Service @startuphull were delighted to welcome keynote speaker Joshua Western back onto campus for a day long project with entrepreneurial students. Under the expert guidance of Josh and his fellow University of Hull alumni, five teams of students were tasked with developing a concept for a product or service that uses the potential offered by space and new technology to address one of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Hackathon Prize Winners with some of the Hull Alumni who worked with them during the day including Josh (second from left), Graham Robson (forth from left) and Graham’s colleague Ian Howard (right).

After nine hours of work, the teams were ready to pitch their ideas to our panel of alumni, and prizes, funded by a University of Hull alum, were awarded to the most ‘space-worthy’ idea, the most entrepreneurial idea, the student who was the best presenter and the student who was the most improved over the course of the day. The last prize was the most difficult to award, because after a gruelling day it was clear that the students had benefitted greatly from the experience and from the advice and knowledge of the alumni who were helping them.

The day started with a short team building exercise so that students could meet and get to know their new team mates – the people they would be working with through the day. Then Josh gave his keynote – talking about his career, the work that his company Space Forge does, the success they have, and their goals for using new and advanced technology to dramatically reduce carbon emissions. Josh then set the team their challenge for the day: to develop a concept for a product or service that used space technology to solve the problems of humanity on earth today.

Andy Parkinson then gave a short talk, by video, looking at tech trends and the ethical questions that we need to answer when thinking about sustainable development and technological advance. The students then had the opportunity to start looking at some of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and to think about what questions they might want to address and how they might address them.

Graham Robson (MBA, 1998) then gave a micro talk on strategy and finding your purpose and set challenges to the teams to help them get to the heart of their projects and their motivations. Other micro-talks on the day included Graham Niven (Economics, 1981) and Nick Tyldsley (BA Marketing, 2007) as students were given the chance to learn about marketing, financing and pitching their ideas.

At the end of the day we heard pitches from all five teams. One team had an idea for using satellites to update local apps to help people plan journeys on public transport to make the city more sustainable. Another team wanted to manufacture super strong materials in space to make for more durable structures on Earth. Another team wanted to use block chain for monitoring and delivering fair elections. One of our prize winning teams was ‘Space Sensors’ who won the prize for most Space Worthy idea – an idea for using satellites to monitor movements of people and changes in climate to see what measure would be needed where in order to help displaced communities. The team who won the prize for being Most Entrepreneurial had an idea for solar panels in space that would transmit the energy to Earth using mirrors.

An intense 9 hour day ended with refreshments and celebrations with certificates being handed out to attendees in recognition of their work and effort. This was a really good day, with students clearly eager to learn from our alumni, take on what was a really intense challenge, and hone their planning and pitching skills. We’re looking forward to doing something similar next year!

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