Albert Embankment, 30 January 1918: a factory fire claims the lives of seven London firefighters, the greatest loss of life for the London Fire Brigade (LFB) outside of World War Two. The factory destroyed, LFB built its new London headquarters on the very same site, breathing new life into the area following its greatest tragedy.
Although the headquarters moved to Southwark in 2007, Lambeth maintains a strong connection with LFB. To the rear of the old headquarters sits the former fire vehicle workshops, where LFB carried out research as well as refits. Now under the banner of The Workshop London, this site provided a wonderful historic space for some more modern research: the Gyana immersive data science hackathon, or Samsara.
Hackathon participants working at the start of the day
Over 100 teams signed up for the opportunity to win one of three prizes provided by our sponsors: developers U+I Plc, property investors Ellandi, and public space rejuvenators Make Shift. Each prize was worth £1000 for the team and £1000 for a charity of their choice. The data-hackers were a diverse bunch: students, professionals, freelancers, employees, novices, and all ages. Their challenge was to find new insights from a wide selection of datasets, using the new Vayu platform by Gyana, in the domains of environment & sustainability, wealth distribution & economic reform, and equality & social justice.
Our keynote speaker Nigel Morris got things started. Nigel is a global brand guru of 30 years’ experience, and has built a company worth £8Bn. Putting the tech world in context, he recalled that technologists tend to overstate the impact of technology in the short run, while underestimating it in the long term.
Nigel Morris, the Keynote speaker, opening the SAMSARA event
It was not just the data that the competitors had to battle, in its variety and breadth, against the broad nature of the challenge themes. The previous night had been the coldest yet this winter, and the heaters struggled to provide warmth in the draughty, spacious old workshop. Everyone was using a new tool for the first time – Vayu – though as a codeless tool this a rapid and easy learning exercise. While most of the competitors had already downloaded their free version of Vayu from the Gyana website, there were some technical challenges, as you might expect with a new software that is under regular enhancement.
Gyana technical staff were busy getting people started and addressing questions on the fly. Mobile Italian barista Cappuccios not only brought their espresso van but competed in the competition too. Volunteers helped ensure things went as smoothly as possible, keeping people well fed. Isha Foundation meant that people took a well-earned break with a session on mental health. And a cluster of people gathered to work around the main heat pipe, like a London-based land version of a hydrothermal vent smoker.
Just half a day after starting work, the teams were asked to draw their investigations to a close and submit their findings. While the ten finalists were being selected, the audience listened attentively to a stellar set of speakers: Gyana’s own techies Floris List & Sascha Hofmann gave advice on how to get into NoCode; serial entrepreneur Dr Irene Lopez de Vallejo spoke knowledgeably on how big data will affect the Internet of Things; Barry Carter of KPMG recapped what judges look for in the winning entries; Merlijn from the Isha Foundation spoke on the importance of mental health; Holly Russell Kennedy showed how Ellandi uses Gyana to drive value from data; Eoin Condren from sponsors (and hosts!) U+I plc explained how they apply data science to real estate; and Mick Gregorovic from the CTO office at London Stock Exchange Group gave an insightful presentation on how they use big data.
Proptech diversity champion and MD at Amro Real Estate Partners, Ami Kotecha, led a panel discussion on the reality of big data. She was joined by Thomas Hellmann, Professor of Entrepreneurship at Oxford University, Vishal Shah, investments at U+I Plc, and investor Serge Chiaramonte.
Panel discussion (L->R): Ami Kotecha, Vishal Shah, Prof. Thomas Hellmann, Serge Chiaramonte
At 6pm sharp the ten finalists made their pitches, each cramming up to 5 hours’ analysis into 3 minutes. All made a good account of themselves but the judges, our speakers joined by Founders Factory CTO Jeffrey Ng, made an unanimous decision on the 3 winners.
Samsara winners from different sectors and age groups
Fabio Oliva and Robert Vardanyan, studying engineering and medicine respectively at Imperial College London, established a correlation between mortality and mobile broadband pricing, which included compiling their own health index of African countries. They concluded that health was indeed wealth, and proposed subsidising mobile data to promote longevity. They chose the Society for Orphaned Armenian Relief as their charitable recipient.
Samsara winners team: Fabio Oliva and Robert Vardanyan
Dean Allsopp, a freelance data scientist and Simon Collery, an African non-profit specialist, investigated the effects of Hepatitis B immunisation on mortality. “Spending on our sustainable goals has achieved something positive”, they concluded, adding that effectiveness of spend should also be factored in. They elected Homelessness charity Crisis to receive their prize.
Samsara winners team: Dean and Simon
Sifan Zheng and Shefali Singh, medical students at King’s College London, were both new to data science. They looked into the apparently high rate of women’s employment in Niger and the very high rate of pregnancy, often in teens, with a remarkable (and unsustainable) average of 7.4 births per women. Their analysis and practical suggestion to increase the rate of teenage girls attending secondary schools combined with more women secondary school teachers won them a prize. Their chosen charity was WECare Worldwide, run by UK vets for street dogs in Sri Lanka.
Samsara winners team: Shefali & Sifan
While the winners were congratulated over well-deserved refreshments, Britain’s Got Talent finalist Justin Peng serenaded us from the main stage. It had been a long and sometimes arduous day, but well worth the effort.
With Samsara concluded, our plucky datahackers headed off into the cold London night, the old workshops falling quiet again. But not for long – the whole area is being regenerated under a development led by U+I, building a new fire station, permanent LFB museum, homes and offices. Samsara means rebirth in Sanskrit, and could not be more aptly named for our venue, for the day and for Gyana.