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Demystifying hackathons

Over 80% of Fortune 100 companies conduct hackathons to drive innovation. More than 50% of the hackathons are recurring events, indicating that they are a reliable tool for sustained innovation…..

HackerEarth analyzed close to 1000 hackathons conducted over a 2-year period around the globe. The U.S. leads the way with over 350 hackathons every year, followed by India and the U.K. Additionally, the survey found that private companies accounted for almost 50% of all hackathons conducted, universities hosted about 30%, and, interestingly, non-profit and government organizations conducted over 10%.

For more insights such as the following,

You can read the complete Global Hackathon Report here

What is a hackathon?

Hackathon is a tool to drive sustained innovation and crowdsource solutions to address pressing real-life business problems and social issues. A hackathon is typically a time-bound competitive event where participants collaborate to build proofs of concept and minimum viable products for a specific pre-defined problem or to innovate.

Why should you conduct a hackathon?

Hackathons have some clear advantages over traditional innovation management processes. They are inclusive, agile, promote multidisciplinary collaboration, and have shorter innovation cycles that are better suited to addressing fast-changing consumer demands.

Along with generating new ideas and future proofing a business, hackathons help de-risk product development, improve employee engagement and retention, find excellent talent, enable customer focused innovation and engagement, accelerate the speed of innovation and problem solving, enhance collaboration between teams, bring about cost savings through R&D, and build community, brand, and leadership.

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How does a hackathon help in innovation?

“If you look at history, innovation does not come just from giving people incentives; it comes from creating environments where their ideas can connect,” says Steven Johnson, an American author. In a way, hackathons complement traditional innovation methods. Through hackathons, companies harvest ideas and knowledge to take their technology to the next level. With the added advantage of crowd-driven ideation, companies can now move fast, reduce the time-to-market, and get ahead in the race.

Traditionally, the responsibility of coming up with innovative products, services, and business models was assigned only to a handful of people within the organization. Generally, a dedicated R&D or a specific unit for innovation was assigned to the task. Nowadays, companies, both big and small, conduct hackathons to drive innovation. With the way the workforce today is connected today, collaborative innovation is easy. Concrete ideas derived from hackathons have helped deliver top-notch products, better customer experience, and greater revenue.

Companies have interpreted the hackathon concept in various ways. However, McKinsey says that top companies haven’t fully understood the potential of hackathons as tools of disruptive innovation.

How can you organize a hackathon?

The entire process of organizing a hackathon, marketing the event, driving registrations, ideating, and creating prototypes typically takes 30 to 40 days. An innovation program cannot get more agile than this.

Once you (the organizer) have decided why you want to conduct a hackathon, the next steps include deciding whom you want to engage and how you want to engage. Depending on their objective, companies may thus opt for either an internal hackathon or an external hackathon.

Internal Audience – Internal Hackathon

If the objective is to engage your employees, promote a collaborative work environment, or create a culture of innovation, an internal hackathon is your best bet.

What is an internal hackathon?

Conducted only for employees, internal hackathons give them the freedom to forget about everyday responsibilities and restrictions and build something innovative. Teams collaborate to develop a proposal, build a prototype, and pitch ideas to senior management to secure funding or win recognition. These events promote a maker culture that’s important in today’s tech companies.

Companies such as Google, Whirlpool, and Facebook hold internal hackathons to encourage new product innovation by their employees. For example, the Like button, chat button, and timeline of Facebook were created during its company-internal hackathons. Companies keep a closer watch on their data as well while employees “flex their creative muscles” at low risk.

What are the benefits of internal hackathons?

Internal hackathons are an excellent way to drive innovation within the company. If done well, periodic hackathons can help to

  • Establish a process of creative ideation

    The only way you can be consistently innovative is when the pace at which you are generating creative ideas and testing prototypes is higher than the pace at which your external factors are changing.

  • Rapid prototyping

    More experiments allow you to test out a large set of hypotheses and conducting not-so-perfect experiments also means that the cost of failure is low while giving you many insights. Internal hackathons are the perfect environment for rapidly prototype and test validity and feasibility before full implementation.

  • Jump start product roadmap

    Hackathons help to quickly check the feasibility of some of the ideas that can be taken up in the immediate roadmap. The dedicated time that one gets during the hackathon along with the competitive spirit and adrenaline rush can accelerate product development.

  • Come up with a future roadmap list

    Even though all ideas generated at a hackathon don’t get implemented, they can become a good reference list for future road-map discussions.

  • Promote cross-functional collaboration across engineering and non-engineering teams

    This can facilitate collaboration between different teams but also give engineering teams a better perspective on the customer and make the non-engineering teams more vested in the product.

What are the typical objectives of an internal hackathon?

  • Crowdsource ideas from a company’s existing talent
  • Reinforce company values
  • Help assess the company’s existing employee pool based on the presentation skills, team collaboration ability, etc.
  • Drive engagement by focusing on self-directed and dynamic learning
  • Develop a diverse and flexible work environment by encouraging empowered teams
  • Promote transparency in the management by facilitating talent mobility and ensuring a culture of recognition
  • Identify people with the right skills and attitudes

What are the basic steps of an internal hackathon?

Companies need to find themes that are fun for the employees yet in line with business goals.

Following are the basic steps of an internal hackathon, but there are a lot of details that need to be ironed out:

  • Decide the purpose: Define the goal of organizing a hackathon, which is generally one of these—crowdsource ideas or solutions for innovation, increase product API adoption, testing, internal engagement, and marketing or employer branding.
  • Define the problem statement: What is the exact problem you are trying to solve or what are the opportunities that you want to exploit via innovation?
  • Set the theme: Based on your avenue and problem statement, you define the specific theme that you want the participants to work with. Provide as much context and insights as possible for the participants.
  • Keep enough time to plan: Depending on the scale of the event, you need anywhere from four to eight weeks to properly plan for the event.
  • Engage people from across: Ensure your teams have people with different skills and from all levels to avoid groupthink and encourage networking and teamwork; diverse ideas spell quality.
  • Make time for good breaks in between: Some engaging games or good food keep up the motivation levels and make sure that a good result is achieved. Robert J. Moore from RJmetrics says that if the times of these breaks be defined, hackers take them as milestones and are inspired to hack through each of them.
  • Have a deployment process in place: An important metric to measure the success of a hackathon is that it gets deployed in working projects. It is a motivation factor for teams that their projects will be deployed and will be accessible for people. Judge ideas based on novelty, feasibility, simplicity, design, and business value.
  • Decide on prizes or opportunities: Although the idea is to embed an innovation-driven culture in the organization, prizes (reward points, gift vouchers, incubation) always help.
  • Wrap-up: After the hackathon is over, showcase your work to the world. Share pictures and videos on your website; do a blog post with the winners; and get the story out in the media.

What are the stages of an internal hackathon?

As with any hackathon, the first step will be idea submission. The event which could be a hackfest for 24 to 48 days or a two-phase hackathon where employees across all levels of the organization and its branches world over submit their ideas via an idea management platform. This phase could last between 2 and 4 weeks. In the second phase, an offline event could be held on Day 15 or 30 of the campaign where chosen ideas are translated into prototypes. Following the presentation and judging, the winners are announced and feted.

Who owns the IP rights in an internal hackathon?

In case of an internal hackathon, all rights are owned by the organization conducting it. The company has the full ownership of the inventions made by its employees.

* Companies need to ensure that employee agreements have provision for hackathon participation; when employees go for external hackathons make sure those are not related to the employer’s business interests to avoid conflict. Companies should provide IP counsel about IP risks and opportunities before the event; it doesn’t pay to prohibit participation and alienate them.

What factors indicate the success of an internal hackathon?

  • High participation
  • High cross-functional collaboration
  • High ideation rate
  • Relevant and quality ideas
  • Top-quality proofs of concepts and prototypes
  • Positive feedback from the employees

Read more: Measuring innovation performance

What are external hackathons?

In this type of hackathons, a company engages people within and outside the organization. The invites are often influenced by the themes and goals that are set.

According to Gartner, “CIOs can use external hackathons to change culture, improve customer experience, find new revenue opportunities, reduce costs, engage new ecosystems, and improve talent management.”

External Audience – External Hackathon

External hackathons help companies engage with external audience. The external audience can be a developer community, data scientist community, or even the general public.

2300+ Developers

686 Teams

52 Applications built

KONE tapped into the HackerEarth’s 2M+ developer community through an external hackathon to crowdsource innovative ideas to modernize elevators.

Deputy General Manager – KONE IT India

The global elevator market is expected to grow from $88 billion to $125 billion by 2021. That’s a steep rise.

This market expansion will provide a massive opportunity for elevator manufacturers who can develop innovative, next-gen smart elevators.

KONE, one of the world’s largest elevator manufacturers, took an interesting approach of leveraging the open-innovation model to capitalize on the market expansion. It partnered with IBM to launch a hackathon-based innovation campaign.


Of the 52 applications built, KONE shortlisted the top 10 teams from the Phase 2 and they will go to KONE’s Chennai R&D center for the final Phase 3 round and work on actual elevators to showcase their ideas and build something to make People Flow® more effective and smarter. The winning ideas were chosen based on Novelty, Design, Technical Intelligence, and Business Impact and were awarded a cash prize of $10,000.

What are the benefits of external hackathons?

  • Exploring new technologies
  • Driving business innovation
  • Sourcing incubation programs
  • Creating potential startups
  • Branding of products or an organization
  • Creating solutions for social causes
  • Analyzing data to make predictions
  • Rewarding innovative thinking

*If the focus is on the output, the objective could be IP development, branding, or innovation.

How do you choose to engage?

In this type of hackathons, a company engages people within and outside the organization.
The invites are often influenced by the themes and goals that are set.
According to Gartner, “CIOs can use external hackathons to change culture, improve customer experience, find new revenue opportunities, reduce costs, engage new ecosystems, and improve talent management.”

Onsite Hackathon

Online Hackathon

Hybrid/ 2-Phase Hackathon

Onsite hackathon

At onsite hackathon, participants work collaboratively to innovate at a physical location. In this format, organizers will need to consider time, geographical, and logistical constraints while designing the event. In onsite hackathon, organizing workshops, hosting knowledge-sharing sessions, and getting the venue, tools, and other aspects of the working environment ready are important.

Online hackathon

Companies use online hackathons to engage their employees simultaneously across different geographies and time zones to solve a problem or drive innovation and used to engage with external audience of wider geography. They are also used for narrowly-defined coding challenges, which test participants’ experience and expertise.

6214 Registrations

4100 Teams

144 Submissions

3 Ideas chosen

3 non-profit organizations partnered with HackerEarth to solve the biggest problems of democracy in an online hackathon.

A robust, dedicated platform, such as HackerEarth, is used to connect with the right audience, set reasonable goals around what work will be accomplished during the hackathon, gather and record the ideas and prototypes. Along with providing greater reach,  this format makes it easier for organizers to shortlist, monitor, and coach participants and evaluate their ideas using an automated platform.

Although most activities involved in the organization of onsite and online hackathons are similar, certain tasks such as registration, rules, and promotion will include a few different subtasks as well. Hand-holding participants can also be easier than in in-person events.

Online events enjoy obvious advantages:

  • Less overhead costs (venue, transportation, staff)
  • Larger and more diverse audience (no geographical constraints)
  • Better quality deliverables, which are more complete, when the challenges run for a longer duration
  • Improved chances of success via social media (sharing, reach)
  • Community creation

Online hackathons come with a unique set of rules. You will have to clearly address issues related to submissions and judging. Here is an example of an FAQ section and a Rules section that can give you an idea about the kinds of queries participants of an online hackathon may have.

2-Phase hackathons

Hybrid events, which have both online and onsite phases, improve levels of engagement significantly. The initial ideation phase is online, which gives more control over the shortlisted ideas, and the prototype building phase, which is onsite.

4500 Participants

211 Submissions

14 Finalists

3 Ideas chosen

Future Group conducted a hybrid/2-phase hackathon to crowdsource digital solutions to master customer data management.

The entire process is slightly shorter than it is for online hackathons, lasting from 30 to 60 days. A two-phase hackathon gives the opportunity for better interaction with the participants, mentoring and branding.

Imperatives of organizing a hackathon

Stage one: Deciding the format, timing, website, date, venue, sponsors, rules, giveaways

(4 months before the event)

Once the objectives, the context, and the purpose of the hackathon has been decided, you go to

Stage 2. This should be done well in advance, at least 3 to 6 months before if possible.

Choosing hackathon theme and problem statement

For a solution that makes a difference in terms of quality and relevance, a succinct, focused theme is non-negotiable.

Before you get gung-ho about the hackathon, be it online or onsite, you need to have clearly defined goals in place if it is a themed hackathon. Unlike open-ended hackathons, themed hackathons expect participants to work on specific projects, such as those that require you to use a company’s technology or for social good. The diversity of creative ideas could be less than exciting, but it might be more amenable to a first-time hacker and to get sponsors. Choosing a broad theme is likely to be less restrictive.

For a company hackathon, the organizer or committee will need to identify key business areas that are suffering because of definite challenges that haven’t been addressed satisfactorily. A well-defined problem statement will define your hackathon strategy. Focusing on the challenge during the event will require mentors in the form of managers, experts, or speakers to provide real-time feedback to guarantee solutions are designed keeping in mind the end user.

Themes can be anything from boosting the visibility of a brand to creating a new startup to developing a new app for disaster management to designing a launch campaign. Here’s a table with a few popular hackathon themes.

Hackathons often have broad themes or domains and then sub-themes. For example, healthcare can be the theme and re-engineering patient experience can be the more focused challenge statement.

Here’s an example from a recent hackathon conducted for GE Healthcare (HealthHack), India.

Purpose (Why hackathon): Crowdsource Solutions for real-life business problems

Theme: Digital Healthcare

Problem Statement:
There is a lack of quality and experienced healthcare professionals in rural India. This in turn leads to a lack of quality maternal care, delay in diagnosis, and hospital overcrowding. Some of the possible solutions were providing hands-on training for these inexperienced professionals and establishing remote ICUs and remote patient-monitoring systems.

Themes: Based on the possible solutions for the problem statement, the themes of the hackathon were outlined:

  • Contextual training platforms
  • Video Content Analysis
  • Contextual care protocols

Read more about GE Healthcare Hackathon>>

Choosing your target audience

Choosing your target audience depends on the problem you are trying to solve and the success criteria.

Before you find your community of interest—employees, developers, startups, customers, or students, decide how creative and technically competent you want them to be. How relevant will your audience be if the objective of the hackathon is digital transformation or brand enhancement? You would want the deliverable to be an idea, a scenario, a prototype, an app, an interface, a proof of concept, or a turnkey solution; these different levels of completion also decide your participant group.

Hackathon Format

Is your hackathon a physical or a virtual one? Will it be private or public? Will registration be free? How many stages will there be?

Duration of Hackathon

Is your hackathon going to be for 24/36/48 hours or longer?


Does your proposed date fall on public holidays or in the holiday season? Check websites like Meetup or tweet to find out it of it clashes with niche conferences or other similar hackathons. Your target audience will tell you what days are most likely to work; for example, students could find weeknights tough. Weekends are most popular. Ensure you factor in extra minutes to prepare the venue and clean up after the event. Hackathons are more frequent between January and April and September and November in Europe and the U.S.


Big brands that have recurring hackathons can update the website when required. But for a first-timer, your website should have a unique and appealing design. Ensure your website has all details pertinent to the hackathons—registration, eligibility, requirements, timelines, learning resources, judges, winning criteria, prizes, swags, referral programs, etc. For example, get your sign-up form ready and explain the registration and selection processes.

Be clear about the Creative Commons License and the IP rights on your website. Here’s an example (check out Article 12).

Choosing the hackathon venue

Deciding where you are going to hold your hackathon needs some work.

  • If you are looking for space that doesn’t require you to pay, then you can look for places on-campus. You can contact the people in charge in universities or use a campus advocate who can cut through any red tape. Once you’ve won over your campus ambassador, he or she can “sell” your hackathon to the administration. Lofts are also an option.
  • If free venues are not available on campus, you can approach companies that wouldn’t mind freeing up space for you. You can also look for co-working spaces. Some companies host events if you agree to display their logo. If nothing works, go online.
  • You need to zero in on the right location once you know how many participants are likely to be there. You’ll need enough space to seat your participants, others, and place the equipment. So, arrange for chairs, banquet-style, circular, or rectangle tables depending on what you want it for—hacking, workshop, eating, etc.
  • The venue must be easily accessible via public transport and with provisions for the differently abled, elevators, spaces to relax and sleep, and gender-neutral restrooms.
  • The venue must be secure for the people and the equipment; there should ideally be insurance in case of fire or theft.
  • Perhaps the most important of all, fast, secure, and reliable Wi-Fi for hacking and connecting all devices is the primary point on the venue checklist. Also, check for ethernet cables, ports, and servers that you need to host a successful hackathon. Read more
  • You will need power strips or extension cords for every table, and projector, microphone, etc. for presentations.
  • If your participants are under 18, you will need to satisfy any related legalities and have staff for supervision in case of overnight stay.
  • Check if the venue places restrictions on advertising, photography, catering, and delivery.
  • Remember to book as early as you can and check for all kinds of fees and regulations!

Hackathon sponsors

This is could well be the hardest task. Getting people to part with their money is never easy. How can you raise funds for a student or non-profit hackathon? First, you need to come up with a budget. Once you have your estimates, you devise a plan for sponsorship. Whom do you target and how? Sponsors will buy in when they want to boost the brand’s visibility, recruit skilled workers or interns, or get real-time feedback on application programming interfaces or some product or service.

Create a budget

  • Know everything you need to about the revenues, costs, and how much you intend to spend on each attendee. You need to appear credible to your investors/sponsors.
  • Have your budget estimates include food, drinks, travel, security, facilities, hardware, staff, branding, and swag packs. Set aside an emergency fund.
  • Watch this video for extra information about budgeting for your hackathon.
  • Here’s a sample budget.

Know when to approach your sponsors

  • Network well ahead of the event to rope in funds from “key” players in the field. Talk to developers in your network or ask for introductions, lookout for fundraising announcements, use sites such as or to find useful contacts.
  • Approach your potential sponsors keeping in mind the financial quarters when big companies are likely to have set aside a budget for similar events.
  • After deciding the level of sponsorships (i.e. pricing) you require, email or schedule calls with prospective companies. You should create value for tiered sponsorships to get their buy-in. Here’s an example of a sponsorship package.
  • While you are armored with a pitch deck and confidence to sell your event, be sure all basic information has been chalked out (hackathon objectives, date, expected participation, venue, value propositions, website, etc. and the differentiating factors).

Create value for your sponsors

  • Be ready to offer custom packages if you can and negotiate. Sponsors can help by also giving you judges or mentors, if not money.
  • Make sure your sponsors are happy so that they are likely to back more events in the future. Regular professional communication is key to convincing them they got their money’s worth and more.
  • Watch this webinar for extra information about raising sponsorship.
  • Once the event is done, remember to thank your sponsors publicly on your website and via social media, if they allow it.
  • If your sponsors are popular brands, exploit the fact by displaying logos.

Potential hackathon sponsors

  • Corporates can easily fund their internal hackathons to drive innovation to give ideas from enthusiastic, bright employees a fighting chance to add to the commercial success or to support social responsibility.
  • Developer tool companies, such as Mashery and Mailchimp, and organizations, such as Kauffman and Ford, will sponsor your event for various reasons—say, social cause, entrepreneurship, recruiting, and branding. Sponsors can help by extending cash for services, co-branding, adding believability, promotion, or contributing in kind.
  • Students can also approach entrepreneurship or technology or innovation organizations within universities; they can also broker deals with local companies, such as restaurants, who want some free advertising, or with trade associations, other education institutions, local and provincial governments, and IT vendors and firms.
  • If you don’t want to buy your way in, try developing relevant collaborations with companies such as SendGrid and Twilio to make inroads into the developer community and co-host hackathons.

Hackathon code of conduct

Create a pleasant, safe, and non-discriminatory event for a diverse set of participants. Having a well-defined set of rules helps in case of any issues cropping up during the event.
  • To maintain a welcoming environment, formulate policies to deal with all kinds of harassment and lack of respect for others’ opinions, and remind all attendees that it is up to them to make the experience amazing.
  • Communicate the code of conduct via the website, posters, and any other published material sent to sponsors, participants, speakers, hosting team members, and make people acknowledge their agreement to the terms and conditions.
  • All attendees need to understand what behavior is expected of them.
  • Have a proper reporting policy or channel by mentioning in the document whom to contact and how. Train your team before the event and designate some people specifically to deal with any kind of crisis and escalate.
  • All violations should be kept private, if possible, and handled impartially by following a clearly defined chain of custody.
  • Decide what the outcome of the breach of conduct will entail for the person.
  • Most important tip of all: Don’t judge the victim. Once the details have been noted, offer support, arrange escort, or contact law enforcement if required.
  • Although this blog has been written in relation to conferences, it can work just as well with physical hackathons.

Judges and Speakers

  • Naturally, your judges must have the aptitude required to make knowledgeable decisions about the hacks.
  • You can invite people from companies you would like as sponsors.
  • Network with the movers and shakers in the field and have a few names to pull out of the hat once the basic details of the hackathon have been locked down.
  • Developer evangelists, university deans, celebrated subject matter experts, and local bigwigs of top organizations can also be excellent choices.
  • Tell your judges what the winning criteria (such as business potential, relevance to the theme, practicality, technical complexity, etc.) are before the event. Prep them about what features the hacks or deliverables must have, talk about the scoring system, and encourage them to jot down notes during demos.
  • Emphasize the importance of fair judging.
  • Letting the judges meet the hackers before the presentation is a good idea because it gives them a better chance to impress the judges with a more comprehensive explanation and demonstration than is possible in a 5-minute demo.
  • You can either let your judges pick winners or you could have a voting system where others (employees, public, sponsors, consumers, etc.) can also help select the best projects.
  • Don’t have too many finalists because your judges most likely won’t have the bandwidth to test and evaluate so many submissions.
  • Select speakers just like you would choose judges.

Hackathon prizes

  • Nothing draws people to a competition as the promise of awards and recognition.
  • Giving all participants something rather than awarding only the winner can be more motivating.
  • If you want your hackathon to offer superb opportunities to learn and network with peers, cash prizes or gadgets need not be advertised as prizes.
  • Depending on the goal and sponsors, you can offer valuable chances of getting into incubator or accelerator programs, internships, and scholarships. However, if you are organizing tech hackathons, try giving the best gear in the market; it will be much appreciated.
  • As much as possible, try to make the prizes available on the day of the hackathon, else give the teams clear instructions on how to collect it later.
  • Look at some popular gifts and opportunities apart from cash prizes.
  • Check out the eligibility of the winners and possible legal (e.g. tax laws) issues before you give away the prizes.

Most Popular Gifts

Gift Certificate


Smart Watch

Go Pro

Amazon Echo

Gaming consoles


Portable hard drives

Apple MacBook

Paid Holidays

Hackathon promotion

  • You can say that letting the world know about it is perhaps the best way to get the right mix of attendees. You need to be very clear about what skill sets you are looking for.
  • Promote your event using low-cost channels—blogs, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google Groups, Map, Mailing lists, Websites, and ask attendees, your employees, and community honchos to spread the word. (Tip: Try not to spam.)
  • Outreach campaigns must target developer groups, universities, and startups.
  • Use PR measures, such as a press release, to let media know about your event, including all the relevant details (theme, vision, timeline, prizes, and sponsors).
  • Co-working spaces, incubators, and accelerators can help you with startups.
  • Contact university admins and campus ambassadors to get your foot into the academic sphere.
  • For internal hackathons, use emails, posters, social media, and intranet to get the employees interested; involved the management, asking them to become mentors or judges to show that everyone is working toward the same goal.
  • Your community managers can maximize participation using email campaigns, radio ads, and other media channels.
  • If you don’t have enough resources to manage the promotional campaign, employ partners—advertising agencies can bring in innovative ideas, PR agencies can help with visibility, call centers can help to interact directly, and specialized networks can help with more accurate targeting and outreach. However, measuring ROI can be tough.
  • Encourage challenging and inspiring discussions on the “wall.”
  • Your social interface has to be lively and up-to-date.
  • Compelling copy goes a long way in capturing people’s interest.

Guidance, knowledge transfer and support

It is essential to provide as much contextual knowledge and technical support to the audience for them to better understand your theme and problem statements.

Accenture conducted a Blockchain hackathon targeting the developer community. It organized a series of webinars on the topic to enhance the knowledge of the participants.

  • Your designated team members must address all technical and general queries as soon as possible.
  • The tools (e.g. SDKs, APIs) and resources should be easily accessible and well documented.

Getting ready for the event

    (1 month to 1 week before the event)
  • To stay on top, try using organizing tools to track all aspects— technical, logistics, participation, etc.
  • Choose the finalists from the idea submissions; get the best projects ready for the day of the hackathon.
  • Arrange for workshops or information-sharing sessions for potential participants.
  • Start sending reminders to attendees 7 to 10 days before the event.
  • Finalize your speakers.
  • Contact and sign on food caterers and miscellaneous vendors such as T-shirt suppliers.
  • Get the travel itinerary of attendees and arrange for cost-effective and efficient transportation. In case of travel reimbursements, tell the participants how they can claim it and when. For participants who live in other countries, send an official invitation which makes apply for the visa easier.
  • Get the final headcount. Confirm attendance a day prior to the event. Sometimes, half the people won’t turn up. Although you may be happy with the number of registrations, close to 30% do not submit a hack.
  • Prepare your schedule. Look at this example.
  • A day before the hackathon, go through the event with your organizing team, like a dress rehearsal.
  • Ensure any last-minute changes in the schedule are communicated to the attendees via social media or in-person.

Putting it all together on D-Day (Day Zero)

After months of planning and worrying about the hackathon, you don’t want to leave anything to chance. Make a checklist. Get to your venue early or the night before and set up everything you can possibly.


Get the venue ready

  • Set up the chairs, beanbags, and tables.
  • Get the premises, including the dedicated hacking, sleeping, snacking, and recreational areas and restrooms, clean and ready.
  • Place proper signs to guide attendees.

Check for possible power and hardware issues

  • Make sure the hardware toolkit is good to go—enough power bars, extension cords, and network cables; uninterrupted secure wi-fi; top-quality wi-fi routers; a projector; a couple of extra laptops; audio/PA equipment; open and accessible ports with few firewalls; traffic monitoring; IP whitelisting; and DHCP/subnet capacity (Tip: You can outsource networking requirements as well!).
  • Let attendees know they are responsible for the security of their devices.

Kicking off the hackathon

  • Get your registration/help desk ready to check participants’ IDs, liability waivers, forms for minors.
  • Give the participants any promotional pamphlets you need to, name tags, login credentials.
  • Welcome attendees with a formal/informal presentation going over the hackathon objectives, the schedule (like the one above), and the rules.
  • Introduce the organizers, volunteers, speakers, and hackers.
  • Get the first meal ready.
  • Remember to update social media to help maintain the exciting atmosphere.
  • Be sure to take questions if any.

Keeping things going

  • Help individuals make their pitches, form teams, pick corners.
  • Communicate timelines and rules for every step of the hacking process—brainstorming, pitching, formulation, and presenting, including meal times.
  • Make sure mentors/advisors are available to the participants.
  • Public listing of hacks is recommended; use a service, such as Dev Post or HackerEarth, or Etherpad/Google docs/Wiki pages.
  • Answer questions about Intellectual Property clearly; with a couple of exceptions, IP rights always belong to the hackers; read the following for more information:
  • After judges announce the winners, it is time for the post-mortem; you can use online voting systems as well.

Post-hackathon activities

  • Thank your participants, sponsors, hosts, speakers, judges, mentors, data providers, press, and volunteers.
  • In your concluding talk, talk about the community, the website, mailing lists, and mention any upcoming events.
  • Arranging a cocktail party or a trip to the local can be a great way to conclude your hackathon.
  • Get nice videos and photos of the event for future marketing purposes.
  • Do a thorough analysis of the participant data and any other relevant statistics, channels used for outreach, quality of the hackers and their submissions, and get “like–dislike” feedback from the attendees.
  • Follow-up blogs, tweets, emails, and demo videos or presentations are great after-event tools to maintain the “connect.”
  • For internal hackathons too, communicating details about the events, hacks, and winners plays a big part in boosting a company’s image, be it in terms of employee. satisfaction, collaboration, or innovation; companies can recruit the best talent or roll out feasible projects after the hackathon or fund/incubate the winning idea.
  • For online hackathons, once qualifying submissions have been judged and winners declared, ensure that you publish the results and let them know.
  • Turn interviews into blog posts or case studies.
  • Work with them to nurture their ideas or develop their prototypes if possible.

Choosing your hackathon management platform

  • Dedicated platforms to conduct hackathons are available in the market. These customized tools publish your hackathons, and they manage them. They ensure optimum integration with internal social networks, IT systems, and other existing tools.
  • From an organizer’s perspective, the platforms give easy access to participant data and submissions, allow external voting, offer a forum for discussion, let mentors easily help the hackers online, offer customization of platform design, allow export of projects, and offer a real-time stats dashboard.
  • Judges and mentors must be given login credentials.

A hackathon management software solution — Sprint

HackerEarth’s hackathon management software allows you to host a hackathon and manage it end-to-end with ease.

The steps of the hackathon workflow are as follows:

  • Create a hackathon
  • Market the hackathon
  • Build registrations
  • Manage teams
  • Evaluate submissions
  • Publish leaderboard

Sprint confers the following advantages:

  • Ability to conduct hackathons from anywhere
  • Targeted brand visibility
  • Solutions to real-world problems
  • Extension and promotion of an organization’s work and culture
  • Crowdsourcing and collating ideas and picking the best
  • Online collaborative development environment


We’ve come up with this basic guide relying on expertise gleaned from conducting hundreds of hackathons world over. Although there’s no one-size-fits-all strategy, the above-mentioned points should help you maximize your efforts in organizing an effective and well-designed event for any kind of organization to achieve its desired outcomes.

80% of Fortune 100 companies use hackathons to foster innovation.