Could you invent something amazing, from scratch, in just one day? That's the question the Vodafone 24 posed to some of the UK's most innovative students...

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It’s amazing what you can achieve with nothing but focus, enthusiasm and a tight deadline. Oh, and coffee. And that’s precisely what the Vodafone 24 is all about – a brand new type of competition that looks to uncover some of the most innovative students in the UK, all in the space of just 24 hours.


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With the first one, which took place in November, under our belt, it’s time to look back at how it came to be, what it’s all about, who the winners were and why they’re so worthy of praise. And to do that, we’ve been chatting to one of the event’s creators, Bryan Hill from Vodafone’s technology innovation team.

Encouraging innovation

“About a year ago, we began talking about how we could promote innovation in universities,” says Bryan. “One of our remits is to encourage a culture of innovation, so we bounced some ideas around and came up with the concept of a competition.”

“We really want Vodafone to become better known as a great graduate recruiter, and we thought that this would be a top way to help, so we asked some of our recent graduate worker’s colleagues what they thought of our idea.”

That original idea? To create a competition that’d see students battle it out to solve a set of problems. It sounded brilliant, but there were some teething problems:

“The winning team would grab a paid placement at Vodafone, while the others in the top three would each win iPads.”

“The original concept was to target one or two universities, and have a competition that ran over a couple of weeks with different stages. But the feedback we had was that it all seemed too complicated. Our graduates suggested that it needed to be constrained in terms of time, and it needed clear goals and targets. And, critically, the prize needed to be something like a placement or work experience that would help students get a job.

“With all that in mind,” says Bryan,“we came up with our prizes: the winning team would grab a paid placement at Vodafone, while the others in the top three would each win iPads.”

Prizes in place, it was time to kick things into motion.

A non-hackathon

“In tech there’s the concept of a ‘Hackathon’, where you get a bunch of people together over a weekend, set them some challenges and see what they can come up with in that time-constrained, intense environment. Normally these hackathons revolve around writing code,” Bryan says, “but we wanted ours to include people who were less technical.”

And to make it even more inclusive, the length and the locations of the event would need to be flexible too: “We also wanted to keep it shorter than a weekend, and we wanted to incorporate Vodafone’s ‘better ways of working’ ethos. So we came up with a virtual event. Students could work wherever they wanted, and for however long they wanted during a 24 hour time period.

“Students could work wherever they wanted, and for however long they wanted during a 24 hour time period.”

Bryan explains that the key to the first ever Vodafone 24’s success was to keep it really agile: “We gave people a registration period to get themselves into teams and sign up. We didn’t know how many people would be interested, because this was a leap into the unknown for us. So we decided to keep the whole thing quite lightweight; we ran the whole event through a closed Facebook group.

“That way most people would be able to sign up easily, it could be contained, you can post files, have discussions and comments and it’s totally free. In that respect, Facebook was the perfect ready-made platform for the first ever Vodafone 24.”

“We emailed a bunch of universities and promoted it through our graduates and other channels, and waited to see who would apply. The registration period was three or four weeks, and we ended up with more than 200 people and 28 teams from 59 different universities, of which 19 ended up submitting entries. Having set ourselves a goal of 100 people and 20 teams,that was a really great result.”


And then it was time to begin. “We sent the first 20 team a big bag of sweets and snack foods, and then on midday on Saturday the 30 November we released three challenge questions. Each team then had until midday Sunday to get their entries in.

“These entries could be a presentation, document, video, website or anything – whatever they wanted to do, they could do, as long as it took on one of our three challenge questions, all asking for a mobile phone product or service idea:

1. If your phone could do something magical (within the bounds of reality), what would it be?
2. What could you measure and gamify about your life?
3. How can technology help in disaster zones?

Just like that, the first Vodafone 24 was underway. “We ran mini quizzes on the Facebook group throughout,” Bryan adds, “and had discussions with people, and tried to keep everything really engaging throughout. We had some people awake for the whole of the 24 hour period.”

And the results? Pretty mind-blowing: “The quality of the entries,” Bryan says, “was astonishing…”

…And that’s where we’re going to leave things for now.

Next week we’ll be taking a look at the teams who came in joint third, before moving on to what the second and first place teams achieved in the weeks after. Trust us when we say: you’ll definitely want to stay tuned.

Interest piqued? If you’re a student and this all sounds right up your street, don’t worry: “We have to make certain tweaks to the process, but we’ll definitely run another Vodafone 24,” Bryan tells us; “maybe within the next few months.” In the meantime, there’s more information on Vodafone’s Graduate scheme here.