Students tackle Sustainable Development Goals at University of Surrey’s Hackathon17

On 13th June, 30 students joined together in multidisciplinary teams to tackle the SDGs in a sprint-like workshop over 3 days.

With 18 disciplines represented across all three University Faculties, the hackathon event created an arena for a diverse group to work on problems, encouraging collaboration between students from all levels of study, from Foundation year to PhD.

Participants were designated teams based on a mix of levels and disciplines, with challenges chosen by the teams at a later stage after team building exercises and a workshop on the importance of team roles.

Problem statements relating to SDGs 2 “Zero Hunger” and 3 “Health & Wellbeing” were posed by several clients including health and nutrition giant, Yakult, who were this year’s industry sponsor, plus local charity GRACE and the University itself, all of which called for a campaign, product or service to solve a specific problem faced locally, nationally or internationally.

The on-campus event based in MySurrey Spark, a new entrepreneurial space at the University, consisted of both taught business sessions and enriching “spotlight” sessions around the topics of health, wellbeing and food waste, equipping students with an understanding of how to create a sustainable business and moreover to think innovatively, communicate effectively and work collaboratively to achieve their goals.

Teams learnt how to create and deliver a pitch to present their ideas to a panel of academic and external judges consisting of Professor Esat Alpay (FEPS), Doctor Kathrin Cohen Kadosh (FHMS) and Ben McCallan (Trustee of Zero Carbon Guildford) as students competed to win cash prizes and activity vouchers.

The hackathon, organised by Student Enterprise and academics from each Faculty, encouraged collaborative working, an understanding of the issues existing in the world around us, and a gave students a flavour of entrepreneurship.

Team leader, Ana Moreno Amaral, from winning team Feed the World said, “Participating in the Hakathon17 was an amazing experience. It gave my team and I the opportunity to explore and tackle problems which affect us as well as people in our community. It brought together complete strangers from all types of different backgrounds allowing for a wide range of perspectives and ideas to be brought to the table, leading to innovative solutions. The mentors and organisers ensured that the Hakathon17 ran smoothly in a comfortable and welcoming environment. It truly provided an irreplaceable experience to be the change we want to see by guiding us through the first steps and providing us with the tools to do so.”

A PhD mentor from the Centre for Environment and Sustainability along with MBA mentors provided guidance throughout the week, and prizes were awarded by Professor David Sampson, Pro-Vice Chancellor Research & Innovation and Professor Osama Khan, Pro-Vice Chancellor Education on Wednesday afternoon at the Innovation for Health Learning laboratory.

Student Enterprise Manager, Kat Mack, say, “Myself and the other organisers were keen to offer an opportunity for students to gain vital skills through collaborative, multidisciplinary working over the summer. It’s not every day that students get to work with such a vibrant mix of people with such varied talents, and it stands them in good stead for their careers ahead when they will need communication and interpersonal skills to work with colleagues on common projects. The sustainable development goals are an excellent theme for sprints like this because they underpin what businesses must do as we become ever more conscious of our responsibility to the planet and those who inhabit it. All good businesses and good businesspeople should be aware of the impact they are having on the world around them, and if we can encourage even one new, sustainability-minded business to launch from this hackathon we will be delighted.”

To find out more about Hackathon17 contact Kat Mack on

The winning team, pictured here with Hackathon17 organisers, collected £1000 prize money and £500 seed funding to start their business idea of reducing food waste on campus.