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7 tips to boost your Hackathon journey

A hackathon brings people together to explore new technologies, insights and business models, allowing them to provide answers to the increasingly complex challenges people, organizations and companies are facing today. All this in a short period of time. But how do you complete your hackathon journey successfully? In the following article, one of our Innovation experts Ruben Monsieurs gives you 7 tips based on his experiences at the yearly AE hackathon.

Build a battleplan

During a hackathon you and your teammates get a limited amount of time to generate an idea, build a validated business model and maybe even build a proof of concept. No matter if it’s your first hackathon or already one of many, to get the most out of the limited time frame a good preparation is king. Before the hackathon starts you should at least know where to start and have a high-level overview of which tasks you should fulfill in the timeframe. This is your battleplan. It will give structure to your hackathon journey. Build your battleplan using post-it notes because it will definitely change along the way.

Customer first

All too often we see ideas for services or products that don’t really seem to solve a real problem. The pitfall for many hackathon participants and generally innovators is falling in love with the solution and not the problem. I suggest that before you start your hackathon journey, your team starts by truly empathizing with your customer. You can use techniques such as defining a persona, creating an empathy map and customer journey or filling out a value proposition canvas to structure this thinking process. But most importantly, get out of the building and talk to the customer, or even better: observe them when they are trying to get the main use case done! This research will help you keep focus on the customer during your hackathon journey and on top of that it will help you in supporting your pitch with evidence and a clear purpose.

Get inspired by others

A successful hackathon should be a learning opportunity. Use your time to talk to other participants during lunch or just pass by there working space. Ask them about what they are struggling with, which actions they are taking or even ask them to give feedback on your pitch. Although a hackathon often has a competitive side, you will be amazed about how eager people are to help you. So just do it, it will definitely speed up your hackathon journey and remove a lot of uncertainties.  

Be prepared to pivot your idea

You start your journey with an idea, you have a battleplan and you want to stick to it. This is a good start but be prepared and open to change your idea and battleplan entirely. Along the way you will learn stuff by looking more in depth into your solution, letting other people challenge your idea and validating the assumptions you made by getting out of the building. Using these learnings, it is possible you will need to pivot your idea entirely but in the end you will work towards a smashing result.

Energize your body & brain

As already mentioned, you only have a limited amount of time to work towards your result. A hackathon can often be a very intense environment. It is important to keep you and your team energized throughout the whole hackathon journey. Prepare yourself by getting enough sleep before the hackathon but also don’t forget to get enough rest during this rollercoaster journey. It could help if you create a sleep / break schedule you stick to. Besides rest it is important to have enough fuel for your brain. Make sure you have enough healthy snacks and meals to boost your productivity. Also, drink enough water or tea to stay hydrated.

End with a killer pitch

After hours of elaborating your idea, validating your business model and developing your solution it all comes down to one moment. The pitching moment. You and your team only get one chance to showcase the outcome of all the hard work you did. But what makes a killer pitch?

A killer pitch includes the following aspects:

  • Start with why! Always start your pitch with describing which problem you are solving with your solution.
  • A short description of your solution in 2-5 sentences.
  • Mock-up or prototype to visualize your solution.
  • Explain how your solution will solve your problem. Focus on how your solution will create value for your customer.
  • Evidence. Convince the jury that you are sure that this solution solves the problem of the customer, demonstrate the process how you arrived at this outcome.
  • Tell a story to entertain your audience and keep their attention. By telling a story the audience can easily identify themselves with your idea.
  • End with a call to action. Are you looking for sponsors? Are you looking for specific experts? Are you just looking for votes? Just tell the jury / attendees what they should do.

Last but not least…just have fun

In the end a hackathon is all about exploring new technologies, learning and meeting new people. Don’t forget to enjoy the whole experience. Don’t focus on the winning but just have fun!

Thanks again for reading this far. I hope you can use some of our tips during your hackathon journey. Please like or share if you wish to inspire others! And feel free to give us a shout if you have any questions or remarks. Ruben will also be coaching the teams, along with more Innovation experts, during this year’s AE See/d the future Hackathon on May 16th & 17th.