How to Host an Effective Hackathon

Hackathons are a valuable tool for emerging companies to explore new ideas and tackle hard-to-solve problems. These multi-day or week-long sessions allow employees to go beyond their day-to-day responsibilities and try something new without fear of failure. 


How does it work? Some hackathons are organized to attract outside talent, but we will focus on hosting these experiences with internal teams. Participating team members block a specific amount of time to collaborate on a project, setting aside all tasks and meetings that could get in the way. Organizers may provide the Hackathon’s objective, while others may leave their colleagues to propose their own solutions. No matter the structure, this protected time is about putting everyone’s energy into prototyping an idea to propel the company forward.

Are you ready to begin hosting your own startup hackathons? If so, our Endeavor experts recommend the following tips:


Know Your Goal

Every effective hackathon has a clear goal in mind. Most hackathons aim to uncover innovative ideas that can be folded into the company’s long-term plan. Still, they can be used for several other purposes as well.

For instance, hackathons can be the perfect opportunity to get new team members working together. We all know that the early stages of getting to know new colleagues can be awkward—and it can be even harder to develop an operating rhythm. Hackathons provide a space where everyone can come together with the same goal to solve a problem in a short amount of time.


Understand the Importance of Timing

While the “where” component of hackathon planning is undoubtedly essential, so is the “when.” No matter how well-designed your hackathon is, you will not generate optimal attendance unless you host it during the right time of year. 

Is your team up against critical deadlines? Are there projects that don’t have a flexible deadline? Adding the hackathon to these timelines can create even more stress for your employees. If your session date is fixed, it’s your responsibility as a leader to help find that flexibility within those projects. 

And it goes without saying—don’t schedule your hackathon over a holiday. Time spent away from the desk recharges employees. It’s essential to maintain that boundary when planning company-wide initiatives.


Get the Word Out

How can anyone attend your hackathon if they don’t know when and where the event will be? Marketing your session to the company is critical to getting team buy-in. Sometimes, it’s as simple as explaining the hackathon and adding fun “plus-ups” to the experience.

Are you tired of sitting in the office? Book a new workspace for the duration of your event and market the hackathon as a “getaway.” Want to reward hard work? Bring in catered meals throughout the experience and provide snacks along the way. You can also adapt your strategy if you have a partial or fully-remote workforce. For example, send out delivery service gift cards for breakfast and dinner instead of catering meals.


Choose a Clear Ruleset

Once you know when your hackathon is happening, it’s time to plan the “how.” How long will the hackathon last? What team sizes? Do participants get to select their own groups, or are they randomly determined? What criteria for choosing a winner?

Potential participants will want to know the answers to these questions before signing up. If this information is difficult to find or not readily available, you may have trouble garnering interest.

You can check out past hackathons and review the rules they used if you need some additional inspiration. For instance, HackHarvard is one of the most well-known hackathons in the nation and has a very straightforward ruleset that can be copied.  


Pick and Announce Your Prize

What sort of prize do you intend to offer the winner(s)? Would you prefer to provide a cash prize, some other form of incentive, or a combination?  You can always explore alternative prize options if you don’t have much cash to burn. For instance, you could offer the winner extra days of PTO. No one ever complained about more time off!


Endeavor: Your Next Hackathon Host

The final component of a successful hackathon is the workspace. Your participants will need a comfortable and inspiring place to work during the competition. At Endeavor, we offer hourly, day-long and even weekend rentals that work great for business events. Our comfortable and “energetically professional”  environment provides the ideal location for hosting startup hackathons or other on-site events.

To learn more about meeting and event venues or talk about hosting your next hackathon, contact Endeavor today.