Biotech leader Roche leverages Code4Life Hackathon to unlock innovation, tap talent

  • Two Taylor’s, one HELP team are winners from over 50 teams across 18 unis
  • Roche benefits from infusion of new ideas, positions as employer of choice

Martin Kikstein, General Manager, Roche Services & Solutions APAC describes Code4Life Hackathon as a platform for students to shine and co-create.

It is not surprising that, as a global leader in pharmaceuticals and diagnostics with over a 100 year history, Swiss-based Roche Group is not known for technology, even though, unknown to most, the Liquid Crystal Display or LCD was invented at Roche.

But, as with all large companies, technology is a key tool used by it to deliver value to its stakeholders and it is eager to attract top engineering and software talent to its ranks. So what does Roche do to create this awareness in the market that it is in fact a cool and challenging place for top tech talent to consider?

Biotech leader Roche leverages Code4Life Hackathon to unlock innovation, tap talentWell, it has been organizing hackathons, specifically its business unit based in Malaysia, Roche Services & Solutions APAC which is its regional hub for its Asian shared services operations.

As Edward Chin (pic), Community Lead, GIS, Roche Services & Solutions APAC notes, “we have been providing sophisticated IT and finance services for the region and the world, so we do want to be branded as an employer of choice for tech savvy talent.”

With this being one of its key motivators for organizing the hackathon, it focused on attracting students, especially at university level with its Code4Life Hackathon that launched in 2019.

“We chose to engage universities as part of our efforts to spur innovation and upskill emerging talents by giving students a platform to co-create and shine,” said Martin Kikstein, General Manager, Roche Services & Solutions APAC. This upskilling is also a corporate responsibility pillar of Roche. “It is our way to give back,” adds Martin.

Naturally last year the hackathon morphed into an online experience with the Code4Life Inter-University IT Virtual Hackathon, a 5-month long hackathon that started in June.

While Martin admits to some concern over student response to an online event, that was quickly dispelled with the participation of more teams than anticipated. More than 50 teams across 18 universities in Malaysia participated.

A five month timeline is certainly unusual for a hackathon but long horizons are par for course with biotech companies where innovation takes time and is not reliant on those mythical eureka moments.

Bottom row: First place team from HELP Academy with Choi Ha Ly (left), Sharlene Chin Hui Wen (middle) and Piao Ruilin. Top row: 2nd place team from Taylor’s University with Natalie Leong Yuin May (left) and Zara Basyirah. 3rd place is Christina Kang Xiaoxi (right) from Taylor's University.

For Roche Services & Solutions APAC the five-month period also allowed this to be a meaningful knowledge immersion programme aimed at spurring innovation among the students. It also allowed the participants to interact and get to know Roche Services & Solutions APAC staff who acted as mentors for the more than 50 participating teams.

Chin feels that this interaction has been beneficial for both sides. “There was lots of interactions between participants and staff and this gave participants a feel for the Roche culture.” The hope is that the experience during the hackathon has created an indelible memory for the students that if they ever consider a career in healthcare, they would knock on Roche’s door.

The interactions also helped Roche staff. Being exposed to fresh ideas, unencumbered by structure and heirachy, or, “being stuck in the old ways” as Martin puts it, has been refreshing.

“I’ve really been surprised by the quality of the proposals and enthusism of the students. It shows that youth are capable of much more than we give them credit for,” he says.

The hackathon culminated in a 2-day pitching event, with 16 finalists, presenting via live stream to a panel of Roche judges. The three winning teams were:

  1. Overall winner, Team Patientive from Taylor's University gained the highest score and prizes worth RM15,000 for their innovative solution named Patientive App, featuring a mobile application that allows patients to personally request for healthcare professionals to assist them with utmost convenience and continuous support.
  2. Team HelloWorld! from the HELP University emerged 1st runner up with a cash prize of RM10,000 for MyJourney. This entry features an algorithm that provides symptom analysis to aid doctors in providing a more reliable prognosis through the collection of patient's self-diagnosable data.
  3. Team MyBrain from Taylor's University won RM5,000 cash for their proposal which uses electrophysiological monitoring to record electrical activity in the brain to identify addiction behaviours.

Guided by its corporate mantra of Doing Now What Patients Need Next, Chin notes that the pandemic has accelerated the need to discover new healthcare solutions and digitization solutions that will enable health providers better care for patients. “It is encouraging to see the young generation harnessing technology to develop solutions for the community and healthcare industry.”

Held in collaboration with Malaysian Digital Economy Corporation (MDeC) and TalentCorp, the Code4Life Inter-University IT Virtual Hackathon also saw participants benefit from mentoring and master class series conducted by Roche experts and external speakers with live Q&A sessions.

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