Banks take on hacking culture as Desjardins teams up with Hacking Health


As the head of technology and innovation at one of Quebec’s largest banks, Federico Puebla came across a fair amount of resistance when he started floating around the work “hacking” to his Desjardins colleagues.

“As you can imagine, as soon as you say ‘hackathon’ in a financial institution they ask you if you’re out of your mind,” laughed Puebla. The programmer by trade was educated at the Université de Montréal before taking on positions at IBM, CGI, InterDoc and ultimately Desjardins.

It was 2015 at the Semaine de l’innovation en santé in Montreal when Puebla met Hacking Health’s founder, Luc Sirois. The guys immediately decided that they had to find a way to work together. Their first thought was a hackathon relating to health.

Fortunately Puebla convinced enough hands at Desjardins’ insurance office to support the endeavour. What resulted was the Défi Innovation Desjardins – Hacking Health in November, 2015, where 250 participants produced 25 projects.

“The feedback we got from the participants was ‘weekends are great because we can be very creative but it’s bad at the same time because achieving product-market fit is hard.’ So we said, ‘Ok, how can we have the same experience, but over a five to six- week period?’”

The Coopérathon 2016 by Desjardins and Hacking Health is the result of this feedback. The ambitious, six-week hacking initiative will combine health and fintech projects, ultimately crowning one grand prize winner.

It all starts this Saturday, September 24 with an information session at Notman House. On October 1 Notman House will host a “Mixologie Sociale,” where participants can mingle with project-submitters and other potential partners as they decide what type of project they’ll tackle. October 7 marks the official kick-off of the hackathon, while the next day will provide a bootcamp to prepare participants for the following month.

During this time Desjardins will provide several optional workshops at Notman House aimed at things like design, value proposition, business model canvas and more.

The grand demo day will take place on November 4 at Complex Desjardins for the final pitches. There’s only ten spots each for winning projects in fintech and healthtech.

These days Puebla can be seen strutting around the offices of the Desjardins Lab at 175 Boulevard René-Lévesque O.

“The good thing about working in an Innovation Lab is we’re always just trying new things,” Puebla told MTLinTECH. “It’s our bet and we’re not totally sure of the outcome but we believe its going to increase the conversation rate from a typical creative weekend to more solid and robust outcomes.”

That was part of the process. Puebla wanted to give these teams more than just a weekend to create something legitimate.

The winners won’t walk away from six weeks empty handed, either. They’ll receive office space at Notman House for a period of time and they’ll get some sort of cash prize that will be released over time. They’ll also have access to a roster of about 15 C-level executives and “experts” in the field who will volunteer their time to coach projects.

Moreover, all participants will receive a survival kit of sorts, including perks from sponsors like Amazon Web Services and more.

A select number of projects working within the three fields of AI, VR or blockchain technology will also receive prizes.

“Desjardins has a social mission and they want to do good for society, they want to tackle important issues for their people and healthcare is at the top of the list of the things that matter to people,” said Sirios, the founder of Hacking Health. His organization now boasts 400,000 members worldwide over 38 chapters in 21 countries. “For us, we want to help improve peoples health in technology, foster innovation and improve healthcare, so that’s why we teamed up.”

For Puebla, it was Desjardins’ openness to supporting new technologies that served as the driving force behind both his office and its initiatives.

“Desjardins is a micro-culture. We’re 50,000 employees, we’re making $2 billion in profit every year but we’re pushing innovation forward because we know smaller players do represent a threat,” said Puebla. “We don’t want to wait and see. We want to be leaders in the field and we want to provoke change. There will be resistance because people will judge by their own paradigms.”

“But it’s a great place to be.”

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