Disrupt London hacks for good

TechCrunch Disrupt, one of the most important technology startup events of the year, returned to London’s Copperbox Arena this week – and organisers curated an event that highlighted technology that works for good as well as for profit. Julian Blake reports.


Ahead of this week’s TechCrunch Disrupt London events, a 24-hour hackathon brought together teams of developers and engineers together to devise tech solutions to some of the big challenges facing refugees fleeing conflict worldwide.

More than 21m refugees, over half under the age of 18, have been forced to flee their homes, according to UNHCR.

Techfugees, the international non-profit created last year by TechCrunch European editor Mike Butcher and led by former Migreat director Josephine Goube, is coordinating the technology industry’s response to the international refugee crisis.

The Techfugees global community now stands at more than 15,000 people, sharing information and innovating through digital across 27 countries.

Hack teams presented their plans to a panel of judges and an online audience of thousands.

The hackathon produced three winners – ReFuTweeet, ResID and Sensei Hub. Watch the winner announcement.

“We’re looking for smart and innovative ways to use Whatsapp, Facebook or more old-school tech like Bluetooth and text into powerful tech to solve challenges,” Goube told DigitalAgenda ahead of the hackathon. “We are hoping to see some kind of clever chatbot, maybe a clever Facebook app or automatised matching system for translators with situations.”

The winning teams from the Techfugees challenge will be given a year’s membership to TechHub, offering access to workspace, a global entrepreneur network and a growth support programme. They’ll also visit the Grande Synthe refugee camp in Dunkirk and receive support, mentorship and promotion from Techfugees HQ.

Techfugees is pushing a crowdfunding campaign on gofundme to raise £100,000 to deploy tech solutions in northern France, Greece and Jordan. As of Friday December 2 the fund stood at just under £2,800. “We need to push more,” agreed Goube, pointing to difficulties conveying the benefits of complex long-term projects.

josephine goube“The money is going into supporting a refugee learning French and making friends, into a refugee knowing how to code and thinking of starting an app business, into a refugee couple able to reach out daily to their families back in the country and building emotional resilience,” explained Goube. “These things take time.”

The TCD hackathon was supported by Twilio, IBM Watson and Amazon Alexa.

Elsewhere at TechCrunch Disrupt, speakers included Google DeepMind’s Mustafa Suleyman, who is leading the company’s efforts to use artificial intelligence for good in hospitals and elsewhere, and there ws an on-stage appearance r4o fast-rising 3D body scanning business Open Bionics.

Watch the Techfugees crowdfunding video.

(Article updated December 4, 2016.)