A hackathon is a fast-paced innovation competition that challenges participants to use their skills, creativity and awesomeness to solve some of the key challenges facing business.
Hackathons tap into the brightest minds in a company or industry sector, and groups work with mentors to create innovative or template solutions to business problems, with the objective of improving productivity. It’s the wild frontier of innovation – fast, furious, a bit manic, and also the best fun.
Importantly hackathons are not, and have never been, about illegal or abusive technical acts. Hackathons are creative, positive spaces where ideas are ‘cut together’ quickly (hacked) over a day or two.
For most hackathons, teams of 4-5 members will come together and ideate, build and pitch a solution to a given problem. It’s a competition with teams battling against one another and the clock to deliver the best solution. And it’s not just about building a PowerPoint deck.
We use our custom-built hackathon platform (theair.works), which is designed to support all the workshops, rituals and resources needed to build solutions, and with the capacity for teams to work simultaneously in documents together and to participate in workshops, as well as meet with mentors and subject matter experts.
A hackathon is all about teamwork. Teams can be formed by the participants or by event organisers, where skill sets and preferences for hackathon problem areas can be taken into account. These teams work together to ideate solutions and then will work together and independently to build a solution and an argument or use case for their solution. To achieve this epic outcome, team members will need to take on different personas within the team. Each persona will have different tasks and skill sets they will bring to the project.
There are four basic hackathon team member personas:
- Hacker / Builder
- Hipster / Designer
- Hustler / Storyteller and business plans
- Humanitarian / Subject matter expert
Builder, coder and digital genius. This person will build technical solutions and interfaces that will bridge the gap between networks and users. And in three sentences they will deliver the solution to all important question of “how”?
Think: MacGyver of coding. Vint Cerf of the internet.
Designer, UX expert, journey mapper. This person wants whatever the hacker builds to be cool, sleek and customer friendly. They have the vision (always executed in the correct shade of blue).
Think: Coco Chanel of elegance. Steve Jobs of design.
Communicator and calculator. This person knows how to make complex ideas understandable, and is resourceful with time, money and people. They test the market, find the right tools, keep everyone on target and they sell a pitch like a master.
Think: Sheryl Sandberg of strategy. Richard Branson of sales.
Humanitarians are people with lived experience and have the insight into the problem areas on the front line. They think like a user. They want change and want to find a way to work together for the better.
Think: Greta Thunberg of school strikes. Lasoo of truth.
The event can be run over a single day, or 2-5 days but regardless of event length, there are four sections to it.
At the beginning of the event you will receive a briefing in the plenary session where you will receive advice about how to tackle the challenge. You will also meet the mentors and be guided through the process of the event.
Teams get down to the business of developing solutions, validating the approach, and refining the idea for presentation. We encourage teams to test their proposed solutions with their team members and mentors.
At this point, teams meet in their team rooms ideas are generated around the problems, and possible versions of the solution are prototyped. This is the stage that a Lean Business Canvas may be used to help drive the development of the project and divide tasks.
Teams present their pitches to the hackathon judging panel. Pitches can be delivered by one person or by any number of team members. Pitches should last five minutes, during which teams need to explain the scope of their solution, talk about the value created, as well as present a demo of the solution operating.