2020 virtual health hack

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused millions of events around the world to be cancelled or postponed indefinitely. In the wake of the crisis, companies had to quickly learn and adapt how to manage the mental health of remote working teams, running entirely virtual events, to spending the majority of your working day on Zoom. For Black Pepper, it was no different.

One of our main events is the June hackathon, which focuses on solving technical challenges to benefit social good. For a bunch of smart people with very inquisitive minds, running our annual hack often serves as an opportunity to break from a high-pressure project and be a little playful and inventive. This year we needed this more than ever, so we decided to run the whole thing virtually on Google Meet.

Long before the COVID-19 crisis, we had chosen “health” as the topic. And we had invited a handful of health-focused organisations to put forward their technical challenges.


By June we’d received 11 hack suggestions from health organisations such as Neuroendocrine Cancer, King’s College London, ThankWell, Healthwatch Warwickshire, Touchline Tech, EMIS Health and Connect Well- Social Prescribing Project.

At 11 am on the 25th, a delegate from each organisation pitched their hack, remotely, to our entire organisation. They gave a brief description of their challenge and what they were looking to improve. The hacks were all extremely varied, ranging from very simple to mind-bending complex. Here’s a short description of each.

  • Neuroendocrine Cancer - assist NET Patient Foundation by creating an e-learning/booking page for a Neuroendocrine Cancer Nursing
  • Predicting suicide hack by King’s College London - create an algorithm that could combine a large number of factors to improve our ability to identify the highest risk group of patients.
  • ThankWell - build an easy way to send a genuine message of thanks directly to a person, team or organisation that has cared for them.
  • Healthwatch Warwickshire - Looking for an easy way to engage with the public (publish communications, ask questions, add links, surveys, etc.)
  • Touchline Tech - Templating options within a sports tech app - A live scoring, digital graphics and social media tool designed to help non-league and grassroots football clubs connect with their community, promote the club more professionally and generate additional sponsorship revenue.
  • Connect Well-Social Prescribing Project submitted 4 hacks. One of them was to find a way to translate automatically documents and be able to change the format.
  • Risk simulator app by EMIS Health - create a nice web app that builds in the core qrisk functionality and plots possible simulated trajectories for the risk-based on given patient state and probable clinical changes.
  • Preterm children app by King’s College London - create a child-friendly survey to gather data about children’s friendship groups


On the day of the hack 8 teams formed around 8 different projects. To enable easy communication each team created their own Slack channel and virtual room.

To keep our hackers full of optimism we incentivised them further with delicious pizza. This year's hackathon was sponsored by a local favourite - BIRTELLI’S. Everyone received a Pizza Kit including all the ingredients to make 2 delicious pizzas. As the hack continued into the evening (and for some into the night) we all enjoyed our favourite home-baked Birtelli's pizza crafted by us!

This year’s Hackathon was very different from normal with everyone working remotely. Somehow it didn’t feel as much fun as usual, because we are a very social bunch of people and we couldn’t all squeeze into our usual hack space But the results were amazing, and I was pleased to see some remarkable hacks created by some very smart people in just 24hrs. Well done everyone!

Simon Jones
Innovation Director, Black Pepper Software
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The following lunchtime, we reconvened (virtually) and each team was given 3 minutes to demonstrate what they achieved in 24 hours. This year prizes have been allocated by a judging panel of innovation experts as Jordan Erica Webber and Black Pepper’s innovation Director Simon Jones.

The Hackathon this year was different from usual because everyone was working from home, so I missed the buzz of overhearing everyone else's challenges alongside my own. Even so it was a really enjoyable 24 hours and having the Pizza kits from Birtelli's was an excellent touch, it helped me feel connected to everyone else hacking and making their pizzas from home and sharing our experiences.

John Cooke
Managing Director, Black Pepper Software
You can watch all showcases here!


A hackathon is not just about solving a challenge, social good or pizza. It is also about the prizes. This year’s top 3 hacks were:

3rd prize winners were: Sam Warner, Theo Matthews, Mark Hobson, Rhys Davis for their hack "KCL preterm children hack"

I chose the Preterm children app project because it was a very well defined hack and felt like you could achieve something of value in a short space of time, but also because Laila put together a good pitch and made me feel like it was a project i wanted to help with. What I enjoyed most was getting to feel like a proper team, having an always on Google Meet and working late into the evening was really fun. Also, being able to not only build a functional UI, but feeling like I had enough time (because the rest of my team was doing the hard work) to add in some visual design polish with stuff like loading spinners and a finish screen (both excuses to involve dogs in the hack).

Theo Matthews
UX Developer, Black Pepper Software

2nd prize went to Chris McCourt & Rohit Shukla and the "Touchline Tech hack"

1st prize went to John Cook and the "Risk Simulator hack" submitted by EMIS Health.

I chose the Risk Simulator project because I felt it was something really worthwhile, I changed my lifestyle a few years ago and I feel that a tool like this could really have helped inspire me to make those changes earlier. I was amazed and overjoyed when I discovered that my project came out number one. I wasn't expecting it because all the other projects were fantastic and demonstrated so many wonderful ideas. I guess a topic like Health in 2020 really gets everyone enthused to go that extra mile.

John Cooke
Managing Director, Black Pepper Software
Watch winners announcement here

It was great having the opportunity to work on something to benefit the health space. It was very well organised and great fun to do - thanks Black Pepper!

Matt Gerrard
Full stack developer, Black Pepper Software