Tips for Organizing a Successful Hackathon
So, you want to host a hackathon, but you don’t know where to start. Don’t worry, it’s not that hard, and there are plenty of resources out there that aim to help. Namely, the one that you are reading now. In this piece, we will discuss how you can organize a successful hackathon. The organization of a hackathon is standard, starting out with an introduction to the event, then an official kickoff where the attendees will pitch software ideas and create teams based on their skill sets and interests. We mentioned earlier that hackathons can last from 24 hours to an entire week. Without further ado, lets get started.
Choose a theme. A hackathon must have a theme. For instance, if you are interested in tackling an education centered education, student engagement would be an excellent choice. It doesn’t matter, if you think strategically.
Attend hackathons before you start planning. If you are planning a hackathon for the first time, you should attend a variety of them before organizing your own. That way you can get a first-hand view of what works and what doesn’t. If you feel as though planning is not your forte, you can hire a freelance planning group like Hacker League or AngelHack to help. And yeah, always remember the first rule of hackathons: make sure you bring a boat load of snacks.
It takes time to plan. Depending on the scope and size of your event, you need anywhere from two to six weeks to adequately prepare for your hackathon. Think about the number of attendees that you will have, the number of activities, and the general scale of your vision. No matter how long you think it will take to plan, always add an extra week for good measure.
Find sponsors. Hosting a hackathon can be very expensive. Unless you are a business that would rather shoulder the costs yourself, think about securing sponsorships to pay for the event. To make sure you get a variety of sponsors to participate, always use tiered sponsorships and make you price points feasible. You will find that the costliest purchases for a hackathon will be the venue, prizes, food, etc.
If your event is being sponsored by a company or group of companies, you want to make it clear to them that sponsorship does not equate to a partnership. Meaning, don’t feel compelled to implement their ideas and don’t let them bully you. Make sure you remember why you are organizing your hackathon in the first place. If a business wants carte blanche to run a hackathon, perhaps they should host their own.
Book the venue. As soon as you know your proposed dates for the event, go ahead and book the site. Even if you live a small town in rural America, you should be able to find several potential options. Don’t wait! Finding the right space to hold your hackathon is very important. Choose a venue that is easily accessible, quiet, has plenty of space and Is not too hot or cold. If people are going to be there for up to a week, we want them to be comfortable, right?
Create a web presence. You need a place for your attendees to find out about your event and register. Make sure you include info about the theme of the event, where it will be located, when it will take place, etc. Building a presence on the web does not have to be expensive. A plain one-page site will do, and you can use tools like GitHub Pages or Smore to create them easily and quickly. For a quick and easy way for them to signup for the event, use Eventbrite. They give you all the tools you will need, and participants can even pay for the event. The event will also show up on their calendars, which can help you with advertising.
Find participants. Reach out to existing network and let them know about the hackathon. In addition to people from the journalism community, look for other influencers who can spread the word. Also, don’t forget about college students, they love hackathons. You may want to attend as many hackathons as you can to tell the participants about your event. Also, use websites Meetup to make the appropriate reach-outs to sponsors and companies. Make sure that you only reach out to people who will benefit from your event. Find out who will be able to help during the event. Believe you me; you will need help.
Set your ground rules. If you plan on hosting a hackathon competition, where you will undoubtedly be judging winners, you need to document and disseminate your rules at least a couple of weeks before the contest. Disputes over the outcome of an event or disqualifications can taint an otherwise successful event.
Find the right judges. After the hackathon is over, the teams will present their product. Sometimes you will even have a jury that judges the demos and ultimate choose the winning product. This jury is usually made up of organizers and sponsors. Make sure you choose the right judges, as they can make or break your event. You want to choose people who are responsible, trustworthy and well thought of in your industry.
Don’t forget the cool prize. Also, since most hackathons are competitions, you want to present the winning team with a prize of some sorts. Since the hacking community is often known as quirky, you want to come up with something that is unique and off the beaten path.
Did we miss any tips?