Perhaps we should start with what a hackathon is. Most think it’s just for computer programmers hacking the night away until someone builds something awesome. That’s part of it but the trend is moving towards inclusion of disciplines outside of computer science to electrical engineering, medicine, finance, and more. Hackathons are not just about computer programmers anymore, they are a fertile ground to spot talent from a wide range of disciplines through entrepreneurial merit and by its very nature, leadership, and persistence.
Hackathons are a commitment to attendees. You are committing to work with a number of individuals, some from different disciplines, on one project for 48-72 hours straight. Very little sleep and lots of Red Bull and bad food. And at the end of it, there’s a prize but that’s not what it’s about. It’s about winning because you took the resources you had and built the coolest possible thing you could. Some hackers build software, some build hardware, some get far more abstract and come up with a genius business plan and model.
So what does your organization stand to gain from getting involved with hackathons? They are where you’ll find the next generation of innovators in your space. By getting involved either sponsoring or even just attending as an organization you can gain insights into the way this new generation of innovators and entrepreneurs think and even discuss your business with them and you’ll be surprised by the feedback and ideas you’ll get. On the flip side, you can also mentor teams or students providing expertise in exchange for tremendous insight. The hackathon is the new job fair and your pool of talent is far more precise.
The winners of hackathons can range from a team that turned an Arduino kit into a robotic leg to a team that built a location-based networking app to a group of entrepreneurs who built an umbrella rental kiosk. Some teams even mix up disciplines even further such as a team that turned a computer monitor and a mirror into a mirror that displayed voice-activated iOS and display screens in real-time. The difference is clear that hackathons aren’t just about programming or hacking software, they are simply a competition where innovation is rewarded and all disciplines are welcome.
How Can Businesses Benefit from Hackathons?
Are you launching a new product? Bring it to a hackathon and give a prize away for whoever does X, Y, or Z with your product. This gets it into the hands of people who had nothing to do with its development and provide a fresh perspective from different disciplines. Not only will this provide feedback about your new product, but the ideas and reactions to different parts of your product will also allow you to iterate before launching with a perspective that would have cost a fortune elsewhere, say from a research and development department.
There’s also an opportunity to meet other sponsors, establish relationships with universities where hackathons are mostly held, and make your presence known as a forward-thinking, innovative company in the process. Hackathons are relatively cheap to sponsor and are a great way to learn and test out ideas and new projects or products.
Looking to get involved in hackathons? A great place to start is https://mlh.io/.