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How to run and host a hackathon? A complete guide for hackathon events.

Updated: Oct 4, 2023

Decoding hackathon

The world of hackathons is constantly evolving over the past few years. Hundreds of companies conduct hackathon events to drive innovation. Over a 2-year period, thousands of hackathon event took place around the globe. The U.S. leads the way with over 350 hackathon events every year, followed by India and the U.K.

decoding hackathon

Additionally, the survey found that private companies are 50% of all hackathon events conducted, universities hosted about 30%, and, interestingly, non-profit and government organisations conducted over 10%. In 2017, hackathon events were top innovation channel for fintech.

What is a hackathon?

Hackathon is a tool in a form of event to drive sustained innovation where individuals or teams of participants collaborate together to come up with amazing solutions that addresses real-life business problems and social issues. From brainstorming to design to using new software and technology to problem-solving, participants build proofs of concept and minimum viable products for a specific pre-defined problem or to innovate.

what is hackathon

Why to conduct a hackathon event?

Hackathon events are very much advantageous over traditional innovation management processes. These events foster a dynamic environment for learning, networking and competition. Hackathon events basically have shorter innovation cycles that are better to rapidly prototype solutions in a dynamic and creative way. Whether you aim for solving real-world problems or inspiring entrepreneurial ventures, hackathon events serve as a catalyst that only promotes innovation but also contributes to fresh ideas, skill development and formation of valuable connection that hence enhances your personal and professional growth. That is why hackathon events are compelling choice for organisations and communities to bring positive and effective change in various domains.

The role of hackathon events in fostering innovation

" If you look at history, innovation does not come from just giving people incentives, it comes from creating environments where their ideas can connect." ~ Steven Johnson

Hackathon events serves as a breeding ground for innovation. Through hackathons, companies harvest their ideas and knowledge to take their technology to next level. In a hackathon event, participants from diverse backgrounds collaborate intensively over a short period, promoting time efficiency and rapid problem-solving that leads companies to move fast, reduce the time-to market and get ahead in the race.

process of innovation

Traditionally, the responsibility of coming up with new innovative ideas often involves longer planning cycles, structured research and focus on stability and reliability. Traditional methods prioritise in-depth analysis and long-term development, while hackathon events excel at rapid ideation and prototyping.

How can you organise a hackathon event?

First key note is setting a clear vision and purpose for the hackathon event. The entire process of organising a hackathon event typically takes 30 to 40 days. This includes marketing the hackathon event, getting registrations, ideating and creating prototypes.

You need to define a problem you want to solve or the goals you aim to achieve, ensuring that they resonate with participants. Once you have decided why you want to conduct a hackathon event, the next step is to defining your target audience. You need to decide whom you want to engage and how you want to engage in you hackathon event. Depending on their objective, companies may thus opt for either an internal hackathon event or an external hackathon event.

Now let's understand more about internal and external hackathon event.

Internal hackathon event

Internal hackathon events are organised within a company, for the employees to drive innovation. These hackathon events gives employees the freedom and resources to experiment, collaborate and solve internal challenges. Teams collaborate to develop a proposal, build a prototype and pitch ideas to senior management to secure funding or win recognition.

Companies such as Google, Whirlpool, Facebook hold internal hackathon events 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 hackathon event.

Benefits of an internal hackathon event:

Internal hackathon events offers plethora of benefits for companies to drive innovation and keep their employees engaged. If done well, periodic hackathon events 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 hackathon events are the perfect environment for rapidly prototype and test validity and feasibility before full implementation.

  • Jump start product roadmap: Hackathon events 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 event 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 event 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.

internal hackathon event

Typical objectives of an internal hackathon event:
  • 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

Basic steps of an internal hackathon event:

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 event, but there are a lot of details that need to be ironed out:

  • Decide the purpose: Define the goal of organising a hackathon event, 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 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 event 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 organisation, prizes (reward points, gift vouchers, incubation) always help.

  • Wrap-up: After the hackathon event 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.

External hackathon event:

External hackathon events are generally organised by external entities such as, companies, universities, non-profit organisations, community groups etc. These kind of hackathon events are open to vast group of people from various backgrounds, including programmers, designers, entrepreneurs and more.

External hackathon events helps companies to engage with external audience. Such hackathon events helps change culture, improve customer experiences, find new revenue opportunities, reduce costs, engage new ecosystems, and improve talent management.

The global elevator market is expected to grow from $88 million to $125 billion by 2021. This market expansion will provide a massive opportunity for elevator manufacturers who can develop innovative, next-gen smart elevators.

Benefits of an external hackathon event:
  • Exploring new technologies

  • Driving business innovation

  • Sourcing incubation programs

  • Creating potential startups

  • Branding of products or an organisation

  • Creating solutions for social causes

  • Analysing data to make predictions

  • Rewarding innovative thinking

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

format of hackathon

Types of hackathon event:

On-site hackathon event:

An on-site hackathon event is where participants gather in a physical location to collaborate on innovative projects in a give time frame. These hackathon events offer an immersive environment, enabling teams to brainstorm and create solutions while benefiting from real-time interactions and support. The proximity of mentors, peers, and resources fosters an atmosphere of shared learning and rapid development, making on-site hackathon events a unique platform for innovation and problem-solving.

Online hackathon event:

An online hackathon event is where participants from across the world come together virtually to tackle challenges and create innovative solutions. These kind of hackathon events are dynamic and flexible. In this digital setting, individuals or teams collaborate remotely, leveraging technology and online platforms to code, design, and build their projects.

Online hackathon 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

types of hackathon event

Hybrid hackathon event:

A hybrid hackathon event combines both physical and virtual world. Participants have the option to either join on-site at a physical location or participate remotely from anywhere in the world. Hybrid hackathon events offer a unique fusion of physical and digital environments, making them a versatile and engaging platform for fostering creativity, problem-solving, and innovation.

Hackathon event theme and problem statement:

Choosing the theme and problem statement for a hackathon event is a crucial step that sets the tone for the entire event. Unlike open-ended hackathon events, themed hackathon events expect participants to work on specific projects, such as those that require you to use a company’s technology or for social good. First and foremost, selecting a theme should align with the goals of the hackathon event.

hackathon event

Once a theme is chosen, defining a clear problem statement becomes the next vital task. This statement should be concise, outlining the specific challenge or issue that participants are expected to address. Consider input from industry experts, stakeholders, and potential participants to refine the problem statement and ensure its relevance.

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.

The problem statement should be broad enough to allow for diverse solutions, enabling participants with different skills and backgrounds to contribute meaningfully. At the same time, it should be specific enough to avoid confusion or ambiguity.

A well-chosen theme and problem statement will inspire participants, foster creativity, and lead to innovative solutions that can have a lasting impact.

Choosing your target audience:

Selecting the ideal target audience is an important aspect of any event planning. It depends on the problem you are trying to solve and the success criteria. Ultimately, choosing the right target audience is a dynamic process that requires flexibility, ethical considerations, and a keen eye on budget and resources to ensure a successful outcome.

Hackathon Format:

Is your hackathon event 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 event:

Is your hackathon event 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 hackathon events. Your target audience will tell you what days are most likely to work; for example, students could find weekends more suitable. Ensure you factor in extra minutes to prepare the venue and clean up after the event.


Big brands that have recurring hackathon events 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 hackathon events—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.


For a successful hackathon event it is very important to have a right venue that can accommodate all our resources from all participants to furniture including tables, chairs, power outlets etc and hence should be spacious enough. Because a hackathon event can be intense, but it's important to create a fun and supportive atmosphere.

Also, try that the venue you chose is easily accessible by public transportation and have parking facility so that participants can reach the venue on time. You should also look for sponsorships or partnership to reduce the cost of venue.

hackathon event venue

Finding right partners and sponsors:

Once you have clear vision about goals of the hackathon events, your target audience, theme of the hackathon event and what are your expectations for budget, you may start identifying potential partners and sponsors.

Make a list of all the potential partners and once your list is ready reach out to them with personalised professional emails or messages.

Create sponsorship packages that offer different benefits that will help potential sponsors to chose the best fit for them. Also, research for non-profit companies, organisations etc. in your industry that share your values and interests and are ready to sponsor or partner with you.

Judges and mentors:

Your judges must have the aptitude required to make knowledgeable decisions about the hacks. We may get started by creating online applications process for recruiting mentors and judges, this is a great way to know about their background, their skills and expertise so that they can support the participants in the best possible way.

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.

Ensure some incentives for them, it can be anything like networking opportunities, recognition, or anything else rewarding for them.

Prizes and incentives:

Nothing draws people to a competition as the promise of awards and recognition. It can be anything from cash prize to gadgets to job opportunities based on your budget. As much as possible, try to make the prizes available on the day of the hackathon event, else give the teams clear instructions on how to collect it later.

Hackathon event promotion:

You can say that letting the world know about it is perhaps the best way to get the right mix of attendees. 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. Contact university admins and campus ambassadors to get your foot into the academic sphere. For internal hackathon events, 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.

Hackathon event management platform:

  • Dedicated platforms to conduct hackathon events are available in the market. These customised tools publish your hackathon events, and they manage them. They ensure optimum integration with internal social networks, IT systems, and other existing tools.

  • From an organiser’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 customisation of platform design, allow export of projects, and offer a real-time stats dashboard.

  • Judges and mentors must be given login credentials.

Getting ready for the hackathon event:

To stay on top, try using organising tools to track all aspects— technical, logistics, participation, etc. After months of planning and worrying about the hackathon event, 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.

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.

hackathon event

On the day of hackathon event, get your registration/help desk ready, Welcome attendees with a formal/informal presentation going over the hackathon objectives, rules etc., introduce the organisers, volunteers, speakers, and hackers.

Communicate timelines and rules for every step of the hacking process—brainstorming, pitching, formulation, and presenting, including meal times.

Post-hackathon event activities:

Thank your participants, sponsors, hosts, speakers, judges, mentors and everyone. Talk about the community, the website, mailing lists, and mention any upcoming events.

  • 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.


In conclusion, running a hackathon event is something that requires a lot hard work to foster innovation , collaboration and creativity. This complete guide has provided you with a roadmap to arrange a successful hackathon event. As you embark on your hackathon journey, keep this comprehensive guide in mind, adapt it to your specific needs, and watch as your hackathon event becomes a catalyst for innovation and a source of inspiration for all involved. Happy hacking!

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