Insights in health & wellness branding


AT Mentors MIT Hackathon Teams Focused on COVID and Africa

22 September 2020   |   Andy McAfee

With the myriad challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic imposed on our families, the agency and our clients, it would be too easy to forget how other nations are faring. Especially, poor countries with inadequate healthcare services and insufficient resources during typical times. All too often, that includes Africa.

I was honored to be a first timer among AbelsonTaylor execs who mentored teams in the 2020 Hackathon, “Africa Takes on COVID-19,” in May. Together with Mitch Apley, Jody Van Swearingen and Laura Bartmess, the AT mentors helped student groups develop ideas for solutions that addressed COVID-19 problems on the continent.

The virtual 2020 cohort included 1,250 participants (50 percent from Africa) representing 106 countries (44 in Africa), 174 teams, 200-plus mentors, 70-plus partners, 40 judges, and 30 winning teams.

Groups were divided into more than a dozen pandemic-themed tracks with subjects unique to Africa. I mentored the Surge Readiness track, focusing on Ghana, where a growing amount of COVID-19 activity was predicted for the country given its population density in cities and hospital space limitations.

What an amazing experience. Our three students worked tirelessly and enthusiastically around the clock to ideate, research and develop their innovation. Each team had only three minutes maximum to illustrate their challenge, present their solution, and detail their business plans. Three students, 72 hours, three minutes to pitch.

Our Surge Readiness team devised a COVID care app to deal with the overcapacity in hospitals because of coronavirus. Understanding the local health system was key. In Ghana, pharmacists, not physicians, are often the first line of healthcare treatment. The app would enable pharmacists to triage patients using algorithms and questionnaires, sending patients home to quarantine who didn’t have more serious cases, providing mobile healthcare to those unable to get care in a hospital, and identifying available hospital capacity when it was needed.

Little did I realize at first how useful, relevant and applicable my experience in honing their message and communicating quickly – what we do to pitch business—would be to the group. Indeed, we face many of the same challenges as we share our capabilities with clients in the pitch process.

Overall, the MIT Hackathon did an amazing job pulling people together around the world and implementing a program that leveraged entrepreneurial and brainstorming innovation and tools tied to the times. Although I’m hardly an expert on Africa, COVID or MedTech, our agency expertise in distilling and presenting ideas and telling stories is essential, whether it’s used to create a new campaign or a COVID solution for Africa. It was great to see I could make an impact and a difference.

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About the Author

SVP Group Creative Director, joined AbelsonTaylor in 2003 and has helped build the direct-to-consumer (DTC) practice for the agency. In that role, he has created some of the most recognized and long-running campaigns in DTC history. Work that he and his team created has won accolades including the DTC National, Global, In-Awe, MM&M, PM360, Pharma Choice, and Rx Club awards. His campaign for an oncology drug that treats lung cancer was inducted in the Medical Advertising Hall of Fame.