The Odyssey Hackathon, where the world collides with blockchain

The Odyssey Hackathon

This year I was present at the Odyssey hackathon in Groningen for the first time, the largest blockchain hackathon in the world, which this year also focused on Artificial Intelligence (AI). I joined two student teams from the Minor Mastering Blockchain at The Hague University of Applied Science. This way I was able to experience the hackathon from the point of view of participating teams. During the Odyssey Hackathon, which lasts 48 hours, 100 teams built blockchain and AI solutions for assignment givers from the business and government sectors. In the course of the days it became clear to me that the hackathon is a beautiful reflection of what is happening around the world when it comes to blockchain integration and the friction that sometimes results from this. It was interesting to see this happening before my own eyes in this temporary small society.

The “problem” of the third party

Resistance around blockchain usually has something to do with blockchain technology making the intermediary, also called the third party, superfluous. Three parties are represented at the Odyssey Hackathon: the assignment givers, the teams that take on the assignments and Odyssey as the organizing and guiding party. Some assignment givers who participate in the hackathon function as intermediaries in the outside world. You can probably already feel it coming… are they actually looking for a blockchain solution that might make themselves superfluous?


The Odyssey Hacktahon opening ceremonie


An ounce of blockchain more or less?

I was impressed by the participation of large companies and the government in the Odyssey Hackathon. I did not know that so many large parties in the Netherlands are so open to blockchain. At the same time, I also didn’t think about the possibility of friction between these organizations and blockchain technology. Similarly, the participating teams didn’t always consider this either. Based on their enthusiasm and blockchain beliefs, they came up with complete blockchain solutions, resulting in the intermediary becoming superfluous and, in some cases, therefore the assignment giver itself. These were not the blockchain solutions that these assignment givers were looking for. After realizing this, it turned out to be quite difficult for the teams to be innovative within certain frameworks, but to still use blockchain. Clearly Blockchain cannot be framed. The best applications come up when you give blockchain freedom. So in some cases the real challenge was finding the use of blockchain in small, practical and quickly achievable solutions. Although this was a challenge, teams have certainly succeeded in coming up with decentralized solutions for centralized organizations. Are you curious about examples of this? Read more on



Is the only way the highway?

Now you might think that it makes little sense for companies to participate in the hackathon that have limitations in the blockchain solution they are looking for. But if we are honest, they represent a large part of the world right now. So, in fact, they are the parties we should seek cooperation with. And instead of not understanding each other, we should take steps to start understanding each other. And that is where the role of Odyssey comes in to play. They are the party that can mediate between the world and blockchain. Where those with a blockchain vision and a traditional vision collide, the core of adoption lies.

Because what is the problem? And is the only way elimination of the intermediary or are there also intermediate ways to go? And are those intermediate routes not necessary? Because we live in a world of rules and therefore there is not always room for 100% decentralized blockchain solutions yet. So that adapted solution is the first step to see what blockchain can do, how it works, where the problems lie and what the next step is. The actual experience of blockchain also helps traditional parties to better understand blockchain and to think about their own role alongside blockchain. Because who says they no longer have a role? I think the challenge for assignment givers is to dare to think openly about what blockchain can do in their industry and what role the organization can still play. I think this open approach will bring them the most value. Because blockchain is going to do what blockchain is going to do. 

During the hackathon, all gradations were present from 100% decentralised blockchain solutions to small first steps towards blockchain. And I think this is exactly what is happening in the real world. Blockchain can reform global processes to the core. You cannot expect this to happen in one smooth motion in every area. I think it is inevitable to walk both ways. If you want to skip the middle road and immediately build a new blockchain world, you won’t get far. There is no lawless land where blockchain can do what it wants. So concessions will have to be made and processes will have to take place in phases. In addition, large organizations can reach large groups of people and let them experience blockchain by applying blockchain in their processes. Cooperation is therefore very important. And blockchain is a social technology. We build blockchains for everyone. That means also for all the people who now work in large organizations. Let us do it together as much as possible.


The Odyssey Hackthon aftermovie


Odyssey as a mediator

An initiative as large as the Odyssey hackathon is a great pressure cooker that speeds up this process. I admire the organization for bringing together such large parties. As strange as it may sound, it was good to see that blockchain during the hackathon collided with the interests of traditional parties, as is the case in the rest of the world. The only difference at the hackathon is that Odyssey is there to accompany that collision. That is an important added value of the Odyssey hackathon. So let those collisions happen. Because if the real problems are found, we can build on that. We can sweep these sometimes conflicting interests under the rug, but I think it would be better to open up the conversation about this. Instead of leaving it as a giant elephant in the room. As well as that the blockchain visionaries sometimes will have to take a step back, the traditional organizations will sometimes have to take a step forward. 


Adoption through real life experience

All this has also made me think about the adoption of blockchain. We try to explain to others what blockchain is and what it can do. But it cannot be explained briefly. How can other people understand what it is really about? I think it is precisely those small steps that provide insight and get people to think. Experiencing Blockchain works better than explaining it I think. I would love it if a new blockchain world would be built next to the current world. Then it becomes visible what blockchain actually can do, without having to understand how it works and what it is. Leading by example. But again we have regulations. That freedom is not yet available … For now we will have to do with a mix of large, fundamental solutions and small steps. As much as I would like to live 100% on the Block, it will take time before we get there. As long as there are Odyssey Hackathons and large companies and governments that are open to this new technology, I have faith this future will come.

In my next blog I will give an outline of my blockchain utopia. If I can’t live in it now, then I can at least write about it …