I have participated in a couple of hackathons prior to organising HackLBS 2021, and while 48 hours of hacking are intense, being on the other side definitely has its challenges as well. Remember, a hackathon should be as much of a learning journey as a fun one for participants, so your goal is to design the best experience for them to collaborate and innovate!
Reflecting back on HackLBS 2021 with the rest of my amazing team, here are our five tips to building a smooth and memorable hackathon (virtual or not!).
1. Build powerful partnerships
Increase credibility by building strong partnerships with experienced Hackathon organisations (e.g. Hackathons UK) to perfect the event to the smallest detail. Reach out as well to other universities for potential event collaborations and to attract the best talent outside of your institution. Finally, don’t forget to generate relationships with experienced entrepreneurs and professionals (who have different skills and industry backgrounds) to provide your participants with the best mentors throughout the hackathon.
2. Develop an efficient communication strategy between and with participants
First, the way and frequency in which you communicate with participants will determine the success of the event, especially if it is virtual. Be sure to have a detailed plan of all the channels you will use to connect with and inform hackers prior, during and after the event (the plan should include the frequency of announcements and communications). Second, a hackathon is a relationship-oriented event; thus, facilitate opportunities for participants to connect. Make it easy and practical for hackers to interact with one another by choosing one main event channel (e.g. Slack) and by organising group activities.
Bonus: writing a comprehensive information pack for participants to refer to before and throughout the event can be helpful for those who are not comfortable with messaging channels (e.g. Check out our Info Pack).
3. Attract a balanced mix of talent
Maximise diversity in skills as this will determine the quality of projects submitted. Indeed, building successful products and services will depend on the complementarity of teams. If your hackathon is business-focused, a balance of design, coding and commercial expertise is key to building viable business models and user-friendly prototypes. This is where your partnerships with other universities and organisations will be useful to attract diverse talents – leverage their channels to market your event. Then, to enable people to find the right team, invite them to share their background and needs on your main communication channel and set-up speed networking sessions.
4. Build a strong operations task-force
Operations and logistics are at the heart of organising a frictionless hackathon. Be advised to put together a team of two-three individuals who are detailed-oriented, proactive and committed to delivering the best experience to hackers.
5. Do not underestimate the power of marketing: advertise the hackathon months before
Whether your hackathon is internal or open to other universities, make sure to raise awareness at least three months prior to the event by leveraging your universities’ channels, your strong partnerships and social networks. Most importantly, you should understand your target talent and use adapted channels according to study levels, country and skills. For instance, some students might be more active on Facebook groups while others will only look at LinkedIn or Whatsapp groups.
While these key tips were especially useful for HackLBS 2021 team, they are not exhaustive and you might need to adapt depending on your situation.
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.