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A Starter’s Guide to Organizing a Hackathon

Talent Assessment | 2 Min Read

A Starter’s Guide to Organizing a Hackathon

Digital transformation is altering established paradigms, and an increasing number of companies are exploring avenues to innovate, lending greater popularity to hackathons. Hackathons have been embraced by the tech community and are associated with a certain level of ‘cool’ quotient. 

Now, if you have been plugged into the tech industry for years, chances are you’ve seen hackathons evolve from tech-only events to more inclusive and innovative conventions. Here is a brief guide to help you successfully organize a hackathon if you are new to the concept.

What is a Hackathon?

Hackathons are brainstorming marathons that bring together problem-solvers and technology enthusiasts to hack a solution of a predefined challenge within a specified time frame, aimed at collaborative innovation.

A hackathon is often organized by a tech company, for coders and tech enthusiasts to come together for a stipulated time to collaborate, brainstorm and devise a working solution to a predefined challenge or problem. Hackathons help organizations access the best talent for recruitment, facilitate open innovation, engage with internal and external communities and build a brand name. While hackathons have been generally accepted as tech-focused events, attracting coders, engineers and analysts, numerous organizations are opening up these events to non-tech participants to include problem-solvers and innovators from every domain.

Hackathons are seen as reservoirs of creative ideas, and many organizations reward or recruit the winners and encourage them to create an MVP or prototype or implement the solution. Participants toil continuously for 24 or more sleepless hours, bonding and eating copiously. 

Hackathons can be online or offline, internal or external – each with a distinct objective and requiring a different plan of action. However, organizing a hackathon is being relooked at, as companies aim to drive the maximum ROI with the minimum effort and input. When many organizations are working from home and seeking ways to stay abreast of their employee engagement and recruitment plans, online hackathons have often emerged as a one-stop solution.

What is the Benefit of Hackathon?

Benefit of Hackathon

The benefits of organizing an internal and external hackathon are multifold, each with its suite of benefits. The primary benefit of hackathon organization is its ability to crowdsource ideas. Hackathons are playgrounds for tech enthusiasts to experiment with new technologies and create something new and innovative.

With hackathons always being associated with technological development, organizing a hackathon often brings organizations in the media limelight, positioning them as the voice of change, creating a strong employer brand and recall value, helping organizations attract and hire the best talent.

Internal hackathons are a great way to engage employees, build a learning culture, and foster hustle and innovation. Hackathons nurture problem-solving skills, cross-team collaboration, inclusivity and innovative team-building experience for a fruitful exchange of perspectives. They also present employees with a platform to explore their creative boundaries or discover innate interests and abilities.

Lastly, hackathons help organizations get multiple working prototypes in a very short span, accelerating the product roadmap. Hackathons expedite innovation, from a couple of months to a couple of days.

How Do I Start a Successful Hackathon?

The secret sauce to a successful hackathon is the combination of great ideation and efficient execution.

Hackathon preparation starts with an idea, a tactical strategy, an overarching theme and a specific objective. Ask yourself important questions, such as the kind of problems you want to solve by organizing a hackathon. Or what you wish to achieve with it? Hackathon planning requires one to be prepared with all the answers and initial decisions, including the problem statement, the number of participants, teams, stages, judges, etc. for a seamless event. One must consider the logistical implications of onsite versus offsite events to start a successful hackathon. Considering the current state of affairs, choosing an online hackathon platform takes away half your hackathon organization and execution hassles.

What is an Online Hackathon?

An online hackathon is a digital event that brings together people, especially from a tech background, with similar interests to innovate, brainstorm, and solve a problem statement within a given time. Similar to an onsite hackathon, an online hackathon is virtual and requires an online platform for participation and collaboration.

The reasons for a steady shift toward online hackathons are many. Logistical hassles are one of the biggest challenges in organizing physical hackathons. The dates have to be fixed, and the venues have to be booked months in advance. Crowd management at an expansive scale needs to be taken care of. Add to that, the provision of comfortable spaces, unending food supply, breakout rooms, etc. 

Another deterrent to conducting physical hackathons is the significant costs involved in the implementation. Mercer | Mettl’s State of Hackathons 2018 report states that, on average, organizations spend INR 8.55 lacs to conduct physical hackathons. Online hackathons can be executed in less than half of this amount*. 

Online hackathons are great for accessibility and global outreach, another facet where online hackathons outdo physical hackathons. Physical hackathons require participants from distant corners to gather in one place, limiting potential participation.

How Do I Organize My Hackathon Online?

Organizing a hackathon is substantially more efficient and effortless with the right hackathon partner, which provides a robust platform and contributes to the event’s overall success. Online hackathons are resource and cost-effective, and allow you to streamline and structure the various stages of hackathon organization.

Here is a step-by-step plan to conduct a hackathon, successfully and efficiently:

1. Conceptualize the event

According to Mercer | Mettl’s State of Hackathons 2018 report, 22% of organizations that have successfully conducted hackathons focused on ‘Identifying themes’ as the first step toward preparation.

Make the event focussed by identifying a goal. It might be to hire new talent or for purely marketing reasons. The objective and mode of your hackathon are important considerations when conceptualizing the event. Whether you want to build a brand presence, recruit through the hackathon, or engage existing employees, its design will differ accordingly. Whatever be the case, identify a mission statement and align the rest of the details – the theme, speakers, sponsors, how you would promote the event, and so on. Get your guidelines in place – you may need documents such as a participant agreement, code of conduct, or an overview of the judging criteria.

2. Configure online platform

The State of Hackathons 2018 also revealed that one of the top challenges of organizing a hackathon is to find the right platform and technology to conduct a hackathon for a great participant experience.

Choose an easily configurable, user-friendly platform, for both participants and judges. The platform must allow you to set up a white-labeled microsite with multiple stages, support marketing initiatives, and empower you to undertake all event-related execution on a single dashboard. 

Never underestimate the power of a better platform to take your hackathon organization a few notches higher. A platform with superior features is bound to affect your hackathon’s success.

3. Market the event

A significant concern for many hackathon organizers is also the inability to attract relevant bulk participation. 22% of organizations faced a challenge while marketing the event to drive organic participation.

In the digital age, you can easily attract participants through a strong social media presence. Additionally, community reach-outs, influencer partnerships and email campaigns help garner the necessary attention. Organizing a hackathon is pointless if there is no quality crowd to participate and brainstorm. Once the initial ideation and infrastructure setup phases are over, you can push your marketing efforts and engage potential participants.

4. Facilitate participants

Integrate registration portals onto your website and enable participants to create teams, strategize and collaborate with the same enthusiasm as they would in an onsite event.

5. Review submissions

Allow the judges to review and submit scores on different parameters quickly and efficiently. Choose a platform that allows you to do all this on the same dashboard, and based on it, automatically calculates results.

6. Post-event analytics

42% of organizations measure a hackathon’s success by the ‘quality of ideas and innovations’ generated during a hackathon, according to Mercer | Mettl’s State of Hackathons 2018.

Remember to analyze the event to measure its success and ROI, understand participant source, marketing impact, the difficulty level of the challenge, participant performance, etc. and host an even better event next time. Success can be evaluated on any parameter, based on the objective of organizing a hackathon, from community outreach, revenue production, quality of ideas, app building, feature development, to the number of press and social media mentions.

How Mercer | Mettl Can Help in Online Hackathon Organization

Mercer | Mettl helps you in hackathon planning, from inception to culmination. It has helped industry giants such as Amazon.com, Inc., J.P. Morgan Chase, Microsoft, Cognizant, HCL and the likes to conduct hackathons over the years.

Our fully online platform, Xathon, helps you set up a hackathon within minutes from anywhere, invite any number of participants and auto-grade the submissions for instant results – all this without any logistical hassles and at a fraction of the cost required to run a physical hackathon.

While Xathon helps in organizing a hackathon, our subject matter experts assist in hackathon preparation. Here is how Mercer | Mettl can help you conduct hackathons:

Expert consultations for ideation

Leverage our in-house expertise to collaboratively brainstorm on hackathon themes, problem statements, different rounds and target audiences according to the hackathon’s objective.

Library of assessments and coding simulators

Get access to Mercer | Mettl’s rich assortment of question banks and a wide range of simulators (coding, case study, spoken English) to test domain skills, business acumen and coding prowess.

Attract high-quality participants

Harness our network of tier-1 and tier-2 colleges, along with a dedicated and customized marketing plan, to make the right noise on the right channels within the right communities.

Public or private hackathon organization

Our scalable platform is suitable and customizable for organizing both internal or external hackathons.

Seamless participant experience

Our single-dashboard multi-utility platform allows participants to effortlessly form teams, complete multiple rounds and track the competition on the live leaderboard.

Originally published March 23 2018, Updated May 5 2021

Bhuvi Kathpalia

Written by

Bhuvi is a content marketer at Mercer | Mettl. She's helped various brands find their voice through insightful thought pieces and engaging content. When not scandalizing people with her stories, you’ll find her challenging gender norms, dancing to her own tune, and crusading through life, laughing.

About This Topic

A hackathon or ideathon is an event where people with different skill sets come together to solve predefined challenges within a specified time frame. Ideathons and hackathons are increasingly being used for corporate branding, hiring at speed, innovating and engaging employees.

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