Last week, three Lifebit team members crossed the English Channel, and arrived in Brussels, Belgium to partake in the 2019 GSK #HackDays competition!
There were a total of 28 startups taking on six different challenges of the vaccines industry. Lifebit participated by offering a solution to help limit the use of living models in vaccines development. And not surprisingly, Lifebit’s AI Engine was instrumental in developing an answer to an age-old problem in applied research.
Tom Sharrock, part of our Business Development Team, shares this unforgettable experience…
Our HackDays experience started bright and early on Wednesday 20th Feb. We caught the 8.15am Eurostar from London to Brussels and arrived at the Event Lounge venue just in time for lunch. We were warmly welcomed by the BeMyApp team, received a quick tour of the venue, and then shown to our work-space where we would be based for the next few days. We were allocated a nice airy corner office which we shared with two other friendly startups (working on a different challenge to us of course!).
Over lunch, we met all of the other exciting startups taking part in the HackDays. Then, before we knew it, it was time for the first pitches! For this initial pitch, each team had 3-minutes to introduce themselves and the idea they planned to work on during the HackDays. We introduced Lifebit’s AI-Engine and explained our plan to undertake a bespoke adaption of the platform in order to reduce the number of animal models used by GSK during the vaccine development process. Following this initial pitch, we quickly realised the standard of ideas at the HackDays was very high, and we had a lot of work to do!! We scurried back upstairs to the office and began to think how we could apply a bespoke implementation of the AI-Engine to demo our solution in just 24 hours!!
First things first, we needed data. Luckily, we managed to secure time with a GSK mentor early in the afternoon who pointed us in the direction of publicly available datasets. The data was quite sparse, not ideal when using Machine Learning (ML) algorithms, but was adequate for us to begin working on our PoC (Proof of Concept). At 5pm, it was time for our first feedback session with GSK mentors and TechExperts (from Atos, Altran, Microsoft & Siemens). We briefly explained our solution, our plan for the PoC, and received some great questions about our solution’s architecture and infrastructure requirements.
For the rest of the day, Niklas (Senior ML/AI Engineer) continued hacking the AI-Engine’s code, while Tom (Business Development) & Maria (CEO) worked on our commercial proposal. The evening flew by, and at 9pm we realised the commercial proposal was nowhere near being ready for the morning. Thankfully, remote reinforcements – in the form of Pauline (Head of Operations at Lifebit) helped us finish up the documents. At 11pm we called it a day, enjoyed a Belgian beer in the hotel bar and then headed straight to bed!
We awoke on Thursday morning knowing we had lots to finish before our semi-final pitch at 4pm. Niklas – fuelled by copious amounts of caffeine – coded tirelessly. Amazingly, by 2pm he had generated a functional PoC that demonstrated our AI-Engine’s solution to reducing the number of animals used during the vaccine development process. We incorporated the demo into our pitch, and at 4:45pm pitched our solution to the GSK semi-final judges. We came out of the pitch happy with what we had achieved in such a short period of time.
At this point we were very ready for a break. We headed to the conference’s networking session to relax, refuel and meet members of GSK’s vaccine development teams. We then enjoyed some time playing Xbox and unwinding in the Event Lounge’s chill-out area. We would not find out the results from the semi-final pitches until the next morning.
In the morning, just one hour before the final pitches, the results were announced. We were delighted when we heard “Lifebit” announced as one of the finalists!! The team was very excited by the prospect of pitching our AI-Engine solution in the final and having the opportunity to win €15,000 and further collaboration with GSK. At 10am, the pitches began. The quality of pitches was, again, very high and we thoroughly enjoyed learning about all the ideas and solutions which other startups had developed during the HackDays. We were the penultimate team to pitch in our session and Tom thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
At 3pm it was time for the results…
We were delighted, amazed and shocked when Lifebit was announced as a winner! After a moment of disbelief, Niklas & Tom managed to compose themselves to go back on stage and accept the prize.
The GSK HackDays was an exhilarating, challenging & extremely fun experience. The event enabled Lifebit to form connections and collaborations throughout GSK vaccines and with other startups from across the world. We would like to thank both GSK & BeMyApp for organising such a great event and we can’t wait to start working with GSK to further develop our AI-Engine’s solution.
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