Hackathon: How a virtual event can unleash creativity and innovation

In the first of a two-part series, we hear from London Business School’s Hackathon organiser Zoe Chrysostom about her experience of organising and running the HackLBS 2021.

“I never thought I’d have so much fun and learn at the same time”, a participant said.

For the last 6 years, the LBS Entrepreneurship Club has opened its doors to UK students for a 48-hour hackathon. The hackathon gave participants the opportunity to work on a real-life business idea, build a prototype and pitch it to experienced VC and angel investors as judges. With this year’s pandemic, I had the pleasure to help organise a virtual hackathon and it turned out to be the highlight of my LBS experience. Here are my favourite bits from HackLBS 2021:

The hackathon kick-off!
The hackathon kick-off!

A global and diverse event

What I found amazing with HackLBS 2021 was the diversity of people it brought together. With no physical barriers, there were over 350 applications from more than 70 different universities around the globe. From India to California, more than 35% of students came from outside the UK.

And they had the opportunity to leverage this diversity on different occasions such as the pre-hack speed networking sessions. Also, being virtual not only allowed the event to welcome a more balanced mix of coding, design, and business skills, but it surprisingly turned out to be a convenient medium. A funny fact – winners of the Women Empowerment challenge explained how half of the team in the UK worked on refining the business model during the day, while the other half in Asia focused on prototyping during the night. That’s what you call working around the clock!

The hackathon was truly a global event
The hackathon was truly a global event

A 360 degrees learning experience

I also loved that the hackathon was accompanied by educational sessions. While the actual event only lasted 48 hours, we tried to engage students several months ahead by organising a series of ‘Pre-hack’ workshops. The aim was to prepare hackers on essential design tools and business frameworks to use when building a product. Indeed, they were created to be informative for all. On the one hand, non-business students had the opportunity to learn from Keyvan Vakili, a Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship at LBS, about the art and science of marketing sizing. On the other hand, business students discovered best designing practices with more than 3 hours on how to build a prototype using Figma. The highlight was learning from a leading business incubator, Stryber on how they create MVPs for many of their clients. Julien Ritter gave fantastic insights and now I have ‘The Lean Start up’, by Eric Ries prominently displayed on my bookshelf.

Pre-hack workshops offered a great learning experience
Pre-hack workshops offered a great learning experience

3 challenges, 43 submitted projects, 3 winning teams

Finally, the best for last: our winners. At HackLBS, hackers were challenged to tackle real-world problems faced by business leaders. From the Sustainability and Women Empowerment challenges to the Open Creative aka Hackers Paradise challenge, I think these constraints really pushed students to target a more niche sub-problem and be more creative. My personal favourite was Found, a community platform for women suffering from breast cancer, designed to support them at every step of their journey. First, the team showed great branding and design skills by building a 12-screen prototype covering all the main user touch-points. But most importantly, I appreciated the team’s vision of a more contextual and goal-oriented social media platform – a clear gap in the market. If you want to know about all the projects, check them out here!

The winning teams: Found, Farnance, FairInterview
The winning teams: Found, Farnance, FairInterview

Curious how Hack LBS 2022 will go about as lockdowns ease across the globe– will it be a hybrid version of a physical and virtual hackathon? Either way – looking forward to it!

Special thanks to Robbie Jakob-Whitworth from Hackathons UK, all judges and mentors including Jeff Skinner, Director of Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, for all of his support.

Written by Zoe Chrysostom and sub-edited by Agnieszka Prawda on behalf of the Hack LBS 2021 team (Kathryn Larin, Lance Hung, Jimmy Toh, Yash Dandavate, Krasen Dimov, Marileni Benopoulou).


About the author: Zoe Chrysostom is currently a Masters in Management student at London Business School and has previously studied Fashion Management at London College of Fashion. She is highly interested in how the latest technologies impact customer experiences and is looking to make an impact in retail and digital innovation after her master’s.

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