24-hour innovation: Necessarily driven by technology?

The second “24 hour business camp” event was concluded last week and the results have been moderately publicized. More specifically, the tangible results consist of some 60 business ideas, presented in one-minute pitches.

The form of the event is a college-style challenge where teams work for 24 hours straight to develop a proof-of-concept web service that could be the core of a new startup. According to the organizers, the purpose of the event is to prove that “all you need to start a company today is a computer and the Internet.” Here is a quote on the philosophy behind the event:

…the 24 Hour Business Camp provides an excellent opportunity for young entrepreneurial minds to explore their abilities in an inspirational environment. The event is open to anyone with a great idea, but is mainly targeted towards the developers’ community and student entrepreneurs from the SSES partner schools, allowing for a good mix of people and competences.

Watching the webcast of the final pitches is somewhat arduous, but I have done it. What strikes me is, first of all, the high levels of energy and commitment exhibited by the participants.

Secondly, my experience as an interaction design teacher kicks in, and I notice how strongly the presented ideas are shaped by implementation technologies. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, though; in order to go from a vague idea to an implemented service in 24 hours, it is certainly advisable to go for a mashup of existing components.

Finally, and related to the second point, the degree of innovation exhibited by the participants is mundane at best. There are numerous proposals for special interest communities, a fair selection of location-based information services, some pledge sites and, of course, a number of proposed tools for Internet entrepreneurs. Only a couple of proposals catch my interest for being innovative and ingenious, most notably smsgrupp.se which amounts to a LISTSERV service for text messages. Simple, elegant, and clearly pointing to a latent need — qualities that I personally would have liked to see more of in the presented proposals.

It is instructive to reflect about what kinds of views on innovation, design quality and entrepreneurship that 24hbc and similar events promote. Going from scratch to proof-of-concept in 24 hours seems to encourage repurposing of existing ideas and recombination of existing components. Perhaps this is the right level of “innovation” for commercialization. Or perhaps it is simply a case of the organizers getting what they are asking for.