Copernicus Hackathons foster new business ideas with Copernicus data

Copernicus Hackathons

The Copernicus Hackathons are a valuable asset of Europe’s Earth Observation (EO) programme: Copernicus Hackathons foster the use of Copernicus free and open data amongst different developer communities. They are one of the four elements of the Copernicus Start-up Programme of the European Commission (EC), which is composed of:

Copernicus Hackathons
Copernicus Accelerator
Copernicus Incubation Programme
Copernicus Masters

Hackathons are events that gather a large number of people representing various fields of expertise and having different skills with the aim of developing a software, starting from an idea and ending with an operational application. A hackathon can last several days and is basically a coding competition at which software programmers, developers, designers and other specialists come together to build and design something for a specific purpose or field. Hackathons can involve the usage of the latest technologies (e.g. autonomous vehicles, artificial intelligence (AI), etc.), solving business or humanitarian problems (e.g. water quality, deforestation, etc.), usage of open data (e.g. climate data, Earth observation data, etc.) or any other thematic areas defined by the organiser. The specific role of the Copernicus Hackathons – initiated by EC in 2018 – is to foster new ways of using Copernicus and data and to encourage innovative business ideas.

During the first round, 10 Copernicus Hackathons took place in 9 different countries across Europe. As a result, 377 participants have collaborated in the intense programmes and competed to deliver the best applications based on Copernicus data and services and have developed 80 brand-new applications. These solutions are related to topics such as infrastructure development, marine protection, urban planning, climate change, forestry, agriculture and many more.

The abundance of ideas is as diverse as the backgrounds of the participants. For example, the winning idea of the 2018 Copernicus Hackathon in Athens is called SatShipAI. It aims to fill a gap in the existing maritime surveillance capabilities, by providing ship detection, type classification and size estimation from satellite imaging. The gap stems from the fact that the Automatic Identification System (AIS), mainly used for maritime surveillance, is a co-operative system: rogue actors can always switch off their AIS transponders or even spoof it to become “dark” vessels. SatShipAI is under development by Nodalpoint Systems.

Christos Iraklis Tsatsoulis, member of the winning team and team leader of SatShipAI states:
“The Copernicus Hackathon was a really great experience on many levels, and the awarded prize opened up an array of highly non-trivial opportunities. It was a much-needed, relatively straightforward way for teams like ours, outsiders to Earth observation but with solid expertise in artificial intelligence (AI), to enter the field of big satellite data. Such transitions are not always easy, but the Copernicus Hackathon facilitated it in a great way.”

Besides prizes from the regional organisers, each winner – or winning team – receives access to the Copernicus Accelerator (a 9-month coaching scheme organised by the EC).

This is also mirrored in the success story of SuperVision Earth. In October 2018, four people, who previously didn’t know each other, met at the Copernicus Hackathon organised in Darmstadt (Germany) by cesah, FabSpace 2.0 Germany and HVBG. Louis, Sebastian, Jan and Karsten formed a team, shared their individual expertise and developed a promising idea to leverage Copernicus data in order to become a global provider of information on infrastructure development. After winning the final pitching event of the Copernicus Hackathon Darmstadt, the team entered the Copernicus Accelerator. Next stop for the team was the ESA Phi Week at ESRIN, Frascati (Italy) in November 2018. Their pitch was selected as the best in the FabSpace 2.0 competition. With lots of enthusiasm from such great results, the team developed the idea further by turning their focus to monitoring oil and gas pipelines with data from space. In December 2018, they attended the Copernicus Accelerator Bootcamp in Marseille (France) where they won the best elevator pitch award. They have three key ingredients to success: a motivated team, a promising idea and great timing. However, presenting a great pitch is one thing, but developing a successful business is a challenge on a different level. In April 2019, the team was accepted into the ESA BIC Darmstadt. None of the founders would have expected the Copernicus Hackathon participation to take them this far – and now even further.

Jan Kolmas, part of the 2018 Hackathon Darmstadt winning team and co-founder of SuperVision Earth, explains: “Winning the Copernicus Hackathon in October 2018 granted us access to the Copernicus Accelerator, which, in addition, created the impulse that we might be onto something. After we won the pitching competitions at the ESA Phi Week and at the Copernicus Accelerator Bootcamp, we were certain that we should continue working together and turn our idea into a business. In the following months, we developed a business plan, assisted by our mentor and had access to webinars and success stories, all of which are available through the Copernicus Accelerator. The mentor, in particular, has been a key asset for us. Since we have limited business experience, an experienced entrepreneur giving us practical advice and keeping us on track was extremely valuable.”

Do you want to start a successful business?

The second round of the next 9 Copernicus Hackathons started in Bulgaria in April 2019. Further locations across Europe where participants are invited to attend free of charge are Ireland and Spain in May, Latvia in June, Italy and Croatia in September, and Italy again in November 2019. Dates for Denmark and Greece will be announced soon. More information can be found here.

Regional organisers are key to the success of the Copernicus Hackathons

The programme allows organisers to host their own Copernicus Hackathon with 85% co-financing (up to EUR 20,000) from the EC! The Copernicus Hackathons are highly interesting for organisations all across Europe to:

  • scout international high-tech ideas based on Copernicus Earth Observation data
  • develop new business ideas for their region to boost innovation and promote start-up creation
  • contribute to the increase in the number of users of Copernicus data and information within their region

Interested organisations can apply by 31 May 2019 to become a Copernicus Hackathon organiser for the third round at

The fourth – and last – application round will start on 1 June until 15 November 2019. Don’t miss out on this chance!

Paweł Kwiatkowski from Kapitech, the Polish Copernicus Hackathon organiser adds:
“Three cities, wonderful participants and a unique finale! The Polish Copernicus Hackathon hErO (EO hackathon for regions) was a great way to introduce the Copernicus hackathons programme. We are very pleased that we had the opportunity to organise the first Copernicus Hackathon in our region. By organising it, we gained important insight into the potential of Polish participants and we received fantastic results as well as thoroughly positive comments from all of the attendees.”

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