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Hackathons: what it is and how to organize them correctly

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Our article today will be devoted to hackathons — from participation to tips for organizing your first hackathon, so as not to collect all possible mistakes, but to avoid at least some pitfalls.

Startup Jedi

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If you look at it generally, you can say that a hackathon is an event where members of the community gather to jointly solve a problem. Well, in the case when we are talking about the IT sphere and startups, hackathons are usually called events lasting from 24 to 48 hours (less often shorter or longer), where teams formed in advance (or gathered at the event itself) assemble a prototype of a product or service to present it at the end of the event.

As you might have guessed, the topics for the hackathon can be any area — from open data (the Ukrainian Incubator 1991 Open Data Incubator holds an Open Data Challenge for startups that work with open data) to sports (you can recall the joint hackathon of the Ministry of Youth and Sports of Ukraine and the Ukrainian Startup Foundation, held in late 2020 in Kyiv). From this, it follows logically that in the current conditions, you do not even need to gather teams in one place, but rather announce the dates and topic of the hackathon for its holding (look at the list to get inspired).

What stages are there at the hackathon:

  • presentation of ideas/projects;

  • forming a team (optional);

  • development of a prototype solution;

  • mentoring sessions (one of our next materials will be about mentoring in a startup);

  • presentation of the prototype.

Optionally, after the presentation of the prototypes, if there are prizes and judges, the teams that are awarded by the jury will be awarded.


The moment when the ideologist of the project needs to “infect ‘’ other participants with it in order to form a team, or to intrigue the jury, if the winners of the hackathon are supposed to be awarded at the end. Consider the project presentation stage as a pitch (which, in fact, it is) — the only difference is that the goal of this pitch will not be to “sell” the project to investors but to “sell” it to the participants of the hackathon. Therefore, focus your presentation on the goals of the project and the positive changes that it will bring to people’s lives when it is implemented.


If your presentation was successful, and the members of the hackathon are not formed teams, then after the presentation, the founder will have an exciting process of gathering “his” team, which will show the success of the first “sale”. And even if no one approached you after the presentation — do not despair, the hackathon is not over for you yet. After all, you can still join the team of another project, do not give up this opportunity, because the hackathon is about changes, and not just about the implementation of your personal idea.

When forming a team at a hackathon, pay attention to the fact that, as in life, you should balance your team as much as possible (you should not take all the backend developers to the team, especially if you yourself are well versed in the architecture of the future application, but rather offer a place to the interface developer or frontend, who can do much more for your project).


Once the team is composed, the goals for the hackathon are agreed upon and an action plan is outlined for the next 24 hours, then there is only one thing left — to focus entirely on development so that at the end of the hackathon you can present a working prototype. During the creation process, do not hesitate to contact mentors or other participants for advice and ideas on implementation. After all, as they say, one team is good, and more people taking part in the development of the project is even better. Distribute your team efforts in such a way that you can participate in mentoring sessions on topics that interest you. And most importantly, to be able to present a prototype of your product to the audience at the end (there is nothing more offensive than to realize at the last moment that the time at the hackathon was wasted).


One of the significant stages in the hackathon is the mentoring sessions, during which more experienced entrepreneurs and developers share their experience in creating products, and often the mistakes that were made in this process. Do not miss the opportunity to listen to them, and in the best case, take an active part — as this is another opportunity to exchange experiences and get to know other participants, and a network of contacts is one of the values that can be obtained as a result of the hackathon. When choosing a mentoring session, as well as at the stage of team formation, choose the one that will be most useful to you, and not the one where you will hear what you already know (continuing the example with the backend — listen to the session about marketing or building a business model, if you are already well versed in building a server solution for your application).


The end of the hackathon usually involves the presentation of the solutions that were created by the teams during their participation in the event. And if at the start you only needed to present an idea to infect other participants with it, then the final pitch should be entirely devoted to the achievements of the last 24 hours (or other time while the hackathon lasted). During the final presentation, the jury, if there is one at the event, will decide on the winners and distribute the prizes.


There is no clear answer to this. For sure, you can find both examples of projects whose prototypes were created as part of the hackathon, and opposite examples, when, despite the created prototype, the team did not stay together after the hackathon was completed, but scattered to go about their business. Anyway, the hackathon is a great opportunity for an entrepreneur to test their idea and try to implement it in the first approximation. It will definitely not be worse, as you will get valuable personal experience in any case.


At the end of today’s material, I would like to give some advice to those who decide to organize their own hackathon.

1. First, and perhaps most significantly, enlist the support of existing players in the market (from the accelerator to the media) to make your hackathon truly an event in the life of the community. There is nothing worse than cancelling an event because no one has registered for it.

2. Secondly, agree on “bonuses” for the participants of the hackathon (yes, now we are talking about all the participants, not just the winners). These can be T-shirts, stickers, or some other merch that will remind the participants of the hackathon about the time they spent at the event.

3. Third, the prizes and the jury — we have already written that some, or rather most, hackathons invite experienced entrepreneurs in order to determine the teams/projects that they liked the most at the end of the event. Make sure that the participants know in advance who will judge them, and the jury is ready to spend several hours evaluating the final presentations.

4. Fourth, mentoring-the jury members themselves can also be mentors who will talk about their experience in creating a product, successes and obstacles on the way to success. Or maybe it will be completely different people who will connect to the hackathon only to hold a mentor session — it’s up to you, as the organizers.

5. Fifth, at the final stage of the hackathon, it would be nice to talk about its participants in the media (after all, you took care to invite their representatives to your event?) — for the winners, an interview with a specialized publication can be an impetus for creating a full-fledged product, and for the participants — an opportunity to remember its atmosphere.

8 Jun 2021


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