At BenchSci, we're not just building world-class AI to accelerate scientific research; we're doing something that’s never been done, which requires us to constantly push the boundaries of what's possible. And what better way to spark innovation than with a company-wide hackathon? 

The Challenge: Advanced GenAI Tech Meets Creative Minds

This hackathon was designed to empower BenchSciers with hands-on experience using the most advanced Generative AI (GenAI) technology. We've made significant strides in developing multi-modal Large Language Models (LLMs) and advancing our ASCEND platform, leveraging the best-in-class models to empower scientists. Recently, we partnered with Google to validate its MedLM model (with early access) and harness its power to develop a market-leading solution for scientists. This tool assists them in effectively identifying and analyzing biomarkers accelerating preclinical research, and enabling our customers like Novo Nordisk to achieve a 60% increase in productivity. We are committed to pushing the boundaries of what’s possible with the latest technologies to solve highly complex and challenging problems scientists face. As we further our journey and scale up our innovation, we recognize the importance of building a strong foundation of innovation and cross-domain learning across our larger teams. With this in mind, our goals for this hackathon were: 

  • Learn by Doing: Rapidly upskill on our latest GenAI inventions and capabilities and discover new ways to integrate them into how we work.
  • Find the Gaps: Uncover problems where our platform could provide solutions beyond our current systems.
  • Get Inspired: Ignite a passion for this cutting-edge technology and the possibilities it unlocks.

The Results: Beyond Brainstorming

As a remote-first organization, we hosted our Hackathon virtually, with teams dispersed across Canada, the US, and the UK. We also embraced working within diverse time zones by extending the event over a couple of days, allowing teams to choose the schedule that best suited them. 

Forty-five participants from Engineering, Product, and Science formed nine teams, each focused on a unique challenge area. From rapid idea validation to building a fully functional tool that will support some of our development work, this hackathon fostered strong collaboration and innovation. 

“​​It was empowering to have the opportunity to work with a cross-functional team of talented engineers and scientists (all women no less!) outside of my regular team. I'm also grateful for the time afforded to me to dive into a new tool/skillset by working on an impactful problem and am left feeling much more confident in my skills.” - Lina Tran, R&D—Senior Engineer  

Given our goal to accelerate learning across a broader team, we celebrated winners across three categories:

  • Most Creative Idea - awarded to a proof of concept for querying and visualizing pathways within a reference knowledge base. This submission showcased a creative approach to a problem that we know resonates with users. Team members included Aileen Zhong, Amelia Guo, Amy Ford, Lina Tran, and Shannon McInnes.

    Most Creative Idea
  • Most Impactful Idea - awarded to a prompt debugger. This tool enables a side-by-side comparison of two prompts, making it a valuable resource for fine-tuning language models. As one judge remarked, "I want to start using this tomorrow!". Team members included Dylan McTiernan, Flavio Rossetto, Kay Tchani, Saraj Manes, Zahra Ali, Ning An, and Michael Troya.
    Most Creative Idea-1
  • Biggest Learning: awarded to a team for their clever use of a graph to increase speed. Their project provided quick validation for an idea the broader team had been working on, highlighting the power of creative problem-solving. Team members included Alex Manuele, Jakub Kosakowski, and Jiakang Chang, along with champion Maddie Jennings.

    Biggest Learning (4)

Why Hackathons Matter at BenchSci

At BenchSci, we're on a mission to exponentially increase the speed and quality of life-saving research to improve patients' health. This bold mission requires constant innovation and an unwavering commitment to progress. In the past year or so, the rapid evolution of GenAI technologies has posed great challenges and exciting opportunities for innovation in this domain. That's where hackathons come in—they're not just fun diversions; they're strategic investments in our future success. 

Operating in a space where we're constantly pushing boundaries, we embrace an iterative "build-measure-learn" approach. Hackathons are a powerful tool within this framework, providing a unique space for our talented team to explore new ideas and tackle challenges head-on.

Over the past year, we've introduced hackathons as a platform for our team members to delve into new technologies and push their creative boundaries. This was our third hackathon, and it continues to be a powerful tool for driving innovation and growth within our organization. These events provide:

  • Accelerated Learning: There is no faster way to master new technology than by applying it to real problems.
  • Empowered Teams: Hackathons provide a platform for everyone to contribute ideas and drive innovation. 
  • Collaborative Spirit: Cross-functional teams work together to tackle challenges, strengthening bonds and sparking creativity. We encourage folks across our business to participate, including our non-technical team members. It’s a great way to collaborate and gain even more perspectives and ideas.  
  • Problem-Solving Muscle: We foster a culture of continuous improvement by encouraging everyone to find solutions.

“Hackathons at BenchSci foster innovation and empower multi-discipline teams to master new technology while rapidly experimenting in a collaborative setting, pushing the boundaries of what our software can achieve, driving growth, and maintaining our competitive edge in the rapidly evolving field of GenAI.

As our FASTT values anchor our Hackathons, they are also tools that enable our team members to take on transient roles that daily operations would not allow them to, provide growth outside of their core competency area, and foster leadership across the whole stream. This results in personal development and more offerings to our portfolios in an environment that welcomes innovation.” Flavio Rossetto, Commercial Products—Senior Engineering Manager  

What's Next?

Building on the success of our hackathon, we have already brought several projects to production. We're now exploring ways to implement other promising solutions and leverage our cutting-edge GenAI innovations to enhance our platform even further. The excitement generated by this event is a testament to our team's incredible talent and passion for solving some of the world’s biggest problems. 

At BenchSci, we're not just innovating for science—we're innovating for the future. With our team's ingenuity, that future looks brighter than ever.