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Angela makes winning connections in trans-Atlantic contest

By Calum MacLeod

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Hackathon health prize winner Health winner Angela Davidson (top right) with teammates Farinaz Fallahpour and Wenxuan Sun.
Hackathon health prize winner Health winner Angela Davidson (top right) with teammates Farinaz Fallahpour and Wenxuan Sun.

International links helped Inverness woman Angela Davidson to a winning place in an online event which brought together bright minds from both sides of the Atlantic.

The former Muirtown Primary Pupil, who is in the fourth year of a geography degree at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, partnered up with Farinaz Fallahpour from Ontario in Canada, and Wenxuan Sun, who is originally from China but currently studying at Bodo in Norway, to create an app which will help people affected by irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) to manage their condition.

The trio were participating in the multi-national Think Rural, Think Digital! competition, which brought together 18 to 30 year olds from across the north Atlantic region in a 48-hour "hackathon" to use their digital expertise to provide essential health care services or promote a sustainable recovery for the tourism sector.

The 11 mixed teams included participants from Scotland, Norway, Iceland, Greenland, Faroe Islands, Maine and Ontario, and the chance to make new friends was one of the things which attracted Angela to the event.

"Somebody I know participated in it last year," she said.

"I looked at it and thought it aligned with my degree so I thought I would give it a go.

"Making new friends was part of the appeal. I've hardly spoken to anybody except my flatmates and my boyfriend for the last three months so I liked the idea of getting to know somebody new."

Although she had no prior knowledge of her teammates, Angela said it was easy for them to get along.

"The biggest challenge was the time difference. Canada has a four hour difference and Norway has one hour, but it was just a case of arranging the best time for us all," she said.

The team's winning idea for a personalised digital health app, called BRENT and inspired by the migration of the brent goose, was a team effort, Angela said.

While Farinaz came up with the idea of an app that would act as a personal health coach, it was Angela who suggested it should be tailored to dealing with the impact of IBS, something she has struggled with herself.

The app's key features include a human-like response, customised food and symptom information to enable users to make the right choice about the food they eat, diet and lifestyle recommendations, a record of meals and emergency visit alerts.

However, Angela revealed she was surprised when the BRENT app was named the health category winner.

"I was shocked! We got to see everyone else's submissions and they were all very good," she said.

Like the tourism app winners, Angela's team will each receive £4637 to develop their project further, but will also have the opportunity to attend a 12-week online entrepreneurship programme run by California-based hackathon specialist, AngelHack's HACKcelerator.

Angela acknowledged she would love to see the become available to the public and being part of the hackathon had made her think about her future career.

"Prior to this weekend, I didn't really know what I wanted to do after university," she said.

"But my degree really links in well with technology and digital applications. It's opened up my eyes to other possibilities."

Think Rural, Think Digital! was delivered by Highlands and Island Enterprise (HIE) and the Nordic Atlantic Cooperation (NORA) intergovernmental agency with support from the Scottish Government, the Nordic Council of Ministers, the State of Maine and the Cooperation Council of Ontario.

Kateryna McKinnon, European manager at HIE, said: “We were really pleased to see such great interest from creative young people from across the North Atlantic in this second successful online event. All the teams delivered very exciting innovations, which address our region’s specific preconditions. This was a fantastic opportunity to generate great ideas and prototype solutions which could be developed into commercial products, but also help accelerate the sustainable recovery of our regions.”

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