Barrick Chief Innovation Officer Michelle Ash addresses participants at the start of the hackathon
More than one hundred people descended on a Toronto coding academy to participate in Barrick’s first hackathon. Participants included students from six universities, several start-ups—one from as far away as Sweden—and a wide range of aspiring innovators.
There were software developers, data scientists, UX designers, electromechanical engineers, mathematicians, and at least one astrophysicist. Some individuals had mining experience, but most participants were new to the industry.
“Take no offence to this,” said Garlam Won, an innovation consultant and hackathon participant, “but I thought the mining industry were dinosaurs, and they weren’t capable of innovating. So I was pleasantly surprised when I heard that Barrick Gold was participating in a hackathon like this… They are very open to new ideas, they are very cognizant of what’s going on in the industry, they know exactly what the problem is, and they’re open to taking suggestions to solve those problems.”
“We had some young people that had very limited information about the industry, yet they managed to create some great solutions.”
A hackathon is an event that typically occurs over several days in which a large number of people meet to engage in collaborative software and hardware development. Often, participants split into teams and compete to develop solutions to specific challenges. Barrick presented two challenges at the hackathon, called “Unearthed Toronto” and managed by Unearthed Solutions, an Australian-based company that helps drive innovation in the mining and resource industry around the world. One challenge sought new ways to detect, track and optimize maintenance work at Barrick mines. The other asked teams to develop innovative tools to consolidate exploration data from multiple sources.
Participants split into 15 teams and spent 54-hours between March 3rd and March 5th developing technical solutions. Four judges, including two from Barrick and one from Cisco—Barrick’s flagship partner in a company-wide initiative to digitally transform its business—evaluated the final prototypes. The top prize went to a team that created a machine-learning algorithm that collects and analyzes exploration-related data from disparate sources.
“The presentations were amazing,” says Michelle Ash, Chief Innovation Officer at Barrick. “We had some young people that had very limited information about the industry, yet they managed to create some great solutions. I couldn’t be more thrilled about the results of this hackathon.”
The winning team, along with the other finalists, will present their prototypes to a team of senior Barrick leaders, including the company’s Chief Operating Officer, Richard Williams. The first and second place teams also received cash prizes of $2,500 and $1,500, respectively. Barrick’s Heart of Gold Fund, which supports charitable endeavors in Canada, matched the cash prizes and will donate the funds to a charity of the winning teams’ choice.
Barrick plans to sponsor as many as five hackathons this year around the world, as the Company looks outward to find new ways to solve operational challenges. Working with partners like Unearthed is key to addressing these challenges and exposing Barrick to the hi-tech community, which has traditionally shied away from mining.
“We are poised to face approximately one trillion dollars of digital impact over the next 10-15 years,” says Zane Prickett, Director, Unearthed. “This is evidenced by the two challenges Barrick entered at the hackathon. Unearthed is building an innovation pathway within the resources space by working with great partners and great innovators to run these type of events that will deliver long-term value.”
Stay tuned for a special podcast about Unearthed Toronto that will feature the voices of participants, judges, and event organizers from Unearthed and Barrick.