The definitive guide to running a successful hackathon12 min read


Hackathons are used by more than 8 out of 10 fortune businesses to stimulate innovation.

More than half of these hackathons are recurrent events, demonstrating that they are a dependable instrument for long-term innovation.

With this knowledge at hand, how can you successfully run one? And what are the things you need to remember when holding hackathons?

In this article, you will learn how to run hackathons effectively. Let’s begin.

What is a hackathon?

A hackathon is a technique for driving long-term development and crowdsourcing remedies to serious, real-world corporate and social concerns. 

Here’s an actual image that was taken on a hackathon held by TechCrunch:

Hundreds of programmers gathered at a hackathon by TechCrunch

It is a time-limited competitive event where participants cooperate to create proofs of concept and minimal viable products for a specific pre-defined problem or innovation.

In this competition, participants think up and build ideas for applications, webpages, machines, and other projects. It’s usually participated by a team of two to five people who gather together to solve issues and establish unique innovations for a certain organization.

How does a hackathon event help in innovation?

Hackathons supplement established ways of inventing. Companies use hackathons to:

  • Gather ideas and information for technological advancements. With the added benefit of crowd-sourced ideation, businesses can now act quickly, minimize time-to-market, and gain a competitive edge.
  • Outperform standard innovative administration approaches. Hackathons are comprehensive and nimble. With competition such as this, more innovative ideas are stored, particularly in a technological aspect.
  • Encourage interdisciplinary cooperation and have faster cycles of innovations. Because of hackathons, companies feel more adapted to meeting and handling fast-changing customer expectations.
  • Gather up groups with the shared objective of solving issues rapidly, producing prototypes, and confirming market hunger. Hackathons allow teams to swiftly test multiple ideas and identify what works.
  • Identify alternatives to a problem.  A hackathon responds to a challenge and finds out actual customer demands which help participants think of different options with the aim of resolving issues quickly.
  • Test employee skills. Hackathons do not only allow employees to show off their tech skills. As they work in teams, they get to work on and are examined for leadership, communication, and teamwork.
  • Provide fun opportunities for learning. Through hackathons, employees learn essential work strategies and techniques for product development.
  • Discover potentials. Sometimes, hackathons can be used as a way to find out what other capabilities can people offer to increase organizational creativity and effectiveness.
  • Keep brand image. Companies that like to be seen as a fun, creative, and exciting workplace can hold hackathons and use media coverage for increased business prospects.
  • Save money. With hackathons, organizations can save money by avoiding the trap of spending millions in developing the incorrect product.

How to run a successful hackathon?

Running a successful hackathon includes seven steps:

Step 1: Choose a theme or problem statement for the hackathon

Companies must identify topics that are enjoyable for workers while still meeting business objectives. Several details must be worked out:

Decide the purpose

Determine the purpose of conducting a hackathon, which is usually one of the following:

  • Crowdsourcing ideas or solutions for innovation
  • Increasing product API usage
  • Testing
  • Internal engagement
  • Marketing or employer branding

Define the problem statement

What exactly is the issue you are attempting to tackle? What possibilities do you want to capitalize on through innovation?

Set the theme

Establish the precise subject with which you want team members to engage based on your desired outcomes and problem statement.

Don’t forget to provide each team with as much background and information as necessary.

Note that a clear, focused topic is non-negotiable for a project that matters, particularly in quality and significance. So choosing a theme or a problem statement is something that you should take your time deciding upon.

Step 2: Determine your participants

Decide how creative and technically skilled you want your target audience to be, and what roles do they play in developing the innovation you wish to accomplish.

Examples of target audiences or possible participants can be:

  • Employees
  • Developers
  • Entrepreneurs
  • Clients
  • Or even students

Remember to choose the people who can give you the results you want to achieve at the end of the activity.

Don’t forget to decide about the number, too.

Whatever you wish to gain — whether you want software, a prototype, an interaction, a feasibility study, a new business model, or anything else that could eventually be converted into innovation — use it as a primary factor in selecting your participants.

Step 3: Select a hackathon format

There are three types of hackathon formats. We have onsite, online, and hybrid. Choose which you think is best aligned with your goals.

1. Onsite hackathon

Participants in an onsite hackathon collaborate to develop something in a real, physical space. When creating an activity in this style, organizers must consider time, location, and logistical restrictions.

It is critical to prepare the site, materials, and other parts of the work setting for an onsite hackathon by arranging seminars, holding knowledge-sharing activities, and preparing the place, instruments, and other aspects of the work atmosphere.

2. Online hackathon

Businesses utilize online hackathons for their staff to participate in regardless of differences in geographical locations and time zones.

At the same time, an online hackathon is made to solve an issue or generate innovative ideas which put the participants’ knowledge and competence to the test.

Even though the majority of activities required in organizing onsite and online hackathons are identical, key jobs such as registration, regulations, and advertising will have a few distinct components.

Hands-on participation may also be more convenient than in-person activities.

3. Hybrid hackathon

Hybrid events, which include combined online and on-site components, significantly increase rates of participation.

The first brainstorming step is conducted online, allowing for greater control over the selected proposals, and the prototype creation phase is conducted on-site.

Step 4: Decide on the hackathon venue (or platform, if online)

There are four essential things that you need to remember when deciding on a hackathon venue:

  1. If you do not want to have it live on company premises, browse for available spaces. When you’re interested in having students for your participants, coordinate with university administrators to accelerate the paperwork.
  2. Whether you want to hold the hackathon online or in person, make sure that there is enough room to accommodate your attendees.
  3. Since this event involves great technological work, double-check the venue for a fast and secure internet connection. In connection to this, look for ethernet connections, ports, and servers that will be required to run a successful hackathon.
  4. Hold discussions with your participants about your requirements, rules, and expected outcomes.

Step 5: Organize the schedule and other details

Pick the date of your activity with care. Some important participants may not be available at your chosen time.

Remember that:

  • Summer, vacations, and other important occasions in your profession should be avoided.
  • Saturdays and Sundays are difficult for individuals who attend in their professional position.
  • Weeknights are difficult for parents.

If you want to do this online, be clear on what time your participants should log in to your virtual space, and what time they should start and end with the challenge.  Check that you and your audience can both access the app or the software.

Moreover, ensure that your chosen venue (physical) or application (if online) has the capacity to carry the total number of attendees.

Step 6: Start the hackathon

If you have appointed emcees, hand them a flow of the program.

  • Begin by introducing the organizers, the company, the sponsors, and what the hackathon is for.
  • Enumerate the rules, requirements, and expected outcomes of the activity.
  • Narrate the logistics.
  • Encourage the participants to stay in tune with the workshop and the competition.

Assign someone to spearhead in the workshop. Assess every project to make sure that everything is running fine. Don’t forget to ask and double-check whether anyone needs anything.

Put someone you trust in charge of workshop sessions. Make sure that it starts and ends in time, and technical difficulties are avoided or prepared to be dealt with.

Step 7: Post hackathon activities

Normally, these are the things that you shouldn’t forget for your hackathon activities:

  • Thank your participants, sponsors, hosts, presenters, assessors, advisers, data suppliers, media, and assistants.
  • Highlight the group, the website, the newsletters, and any upcoming activities in your last speech.
  • Create high-quality event videos, images, and recordings for future marketing purposes.
  • Evaluate attendee statistics and every other relevant information, including the outreach methods used to achieve the target number of participants, as well as their outputs and contributions. Moreover, ask for feedback from them.
  • Send your attendees with some follow-up blogs, emails, tweets, and even slideshows or short films about the event to maintain your connection to them.
  • Aside from launching feasible ideas and other concepts from the hackathon, you may also want to hire talented people that you’ve discovered because of the competition.
  • When qualifying submissions have been examined and finalists for online hackathons have been selected, publicize the results and notify them.
  • Create interviews that can be written into a blog post or case study.
  • Collaborate with winning participants for idea development and prototype construction.

But for record-keeping and improvement:

  • Make a note of everything that went well so you can replicate it on your next hackathon activities.
  • Identify everything that went wrong so you can prevent it the next time.
  • Calculate the overall cost of the event and the cost per attendee just to be sure.
  • Survey the participants to find out what they liked and disliked.
  • Write a blog about the event for both record-keeping and publicity.

Make hackathon work for you

Hackathons are great especially if you’re after technological innovation

But it’s not something that you can implement right away. You have to plan well for it and immerse yourself fully in the details to ensure its success.

Fortunately, we got the solution for you. Recently, we published a report that walks you through the steps of building an innovation campaign.

Through an innovation campaign, you can better track the activities and results of the campaign project and compare the results with other campaigns. Grab a free copy today and make the hackathon work for you.

Published On: November 29th, 2021Categories: Idea generation

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