Having hosted more than 100 hackathons in numerous locations all over the world, we definitely feel like we know what makes one successful. We also can tell when the event is going to be a total waste of time, even before it starts.

There is no doubt that the popularity of hackathons everywhere is growing immensely. The fast-paced, high-energy events create an opportunity for individuals to step out of their comfort zones. They can take on various challenges, gain unprecedented networks, and earn from themselves and others. Eventually, they get a rush of adrenaline and grow their confidence.

However, the key to achieving all the above great results is getting it right from the start. This, among other things, means having a foolproof plan. Since the event can be expensive and time-consuming, you should be prepared with critical success factors that you can bank on.

So we summarized the essential hackathon sponsorship tips for organizers. This includes all you need to get the event going. But first, what is a hackathon event, and why does it matter? 

What is a hackathon?

Traditionally, a hackathon was a live event that comprised computer programmers competing to solve a number of challenges. It could run for one or more days and be primarily aimed at crowdsourcing solutions and driving sustained innovation. Such solutions address real-life business challenges and social problems. 

Nowadays, hackathons have evolved to more online formats, especially with the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic. They can even include participants from the operations, HR, or marketing, among other departments. However, they still retain their initial structure of being competitive, time-bound, and having specific pre-defined problems that have to be solved by participants, mostly in teams. Companies that sponsor hackathons most likely pick up the ideas produced during the event. They, later on, incorporate such ideas to better their products or services. 

Why should you conduct a hackathon? 

While the traditional innovation management process works just fine, hackathons are more advantageous. This is because they are more agile, inclusive, and enhance multidisciplinary collaboration. Hackathons are also better suited to handling fast-changing consumer demands since they have shorter innovation cycles. 

Other than helping to generate new ideas and future-proofing a company, a hackathon sponsorship could also help a business to have a less risky product development. Other benefits include being a platform to spot and pick out excellent talent and increasing employee engagement and retention. They also lead to a faster speed of problem-solving and innovation. 

Additionally, hackathons help to improve customer engagement and customer-focused innovation. Companies that sponsor hackathons enhance cost savings via R&D, increase inter-team collaboration, and improve the brand, community, and leadership. 

How a hackathon sponsorship leads to more innovation 

Steven Johnson, an American author, believes that innovation comes from creating environments where people's ideas can thrive. He is opposed to giving individuals certain incentives. This is why hackathon sponsorship tends to, in some way, complement ancient innovation modes. 

Companies can take their technology to the next level by investing in hackathons and harvesting knowledge and ideas. The crowd-driven ideation in such events especially helps to help companies move quickly. Eventually, the organizations have a lesser time-to-market and take a lead in the race. 

Traditionally, only a few individuals in a company were tasked with developing innovative products, services, and business models. This explains the dedicated R&Ds and specific business units for innovation that are featured in some organizations. However, most modern organizations, both big and small, rely on hackathons to spur innovation. The connected workforce today has especially made collaboration innovation simpler. Companies that sponsor hackathons have used the solid ideas they got to help offer top-notch products, improve customer experiences, and revenue. 

Internal vs. external hackathons 

A hackathon could either be internal or external. Internal hackathons are simply those conducted for the employees of the organization in question. They mainly allow employees to forget about the stresses associated with their everyday responsibilities and focus on developing something innovative. They can form teams and create a proposal, develop a prototype, and pitch their ideas to senior management for recognition or significant funding. The internal hackathons assist in enhancing a maker culture that is essential in the modern business environment, especially within tech organizations. 

Companies, like Facebook, Google, and Whirlpool frequently hold internal hackathons to encourage their employees to innovate and develop new products. To put this into context, Facebook's timeline, chat button, and like button were all developed during the tech company's internal hackathons. Employees get to flex their creative muscles at low risk during these events as their executives keep a close watch on their data. 

The typical objectives of an internal hackathon are: 

  • Reiterate company values
  • Crowdsource ideas from the current workforce 
  • Promote engagement through dynamic and self-directed learning
  • Assist to assess the organization's current workforce by evaluating the employees' collaboration potential and presentation skills, among other skills
  • Grow a flexible and diverse work environment by encouraging staff empowerment
  • Identify leadership talents, such as employees with great attitudes and skills 
  • Facilitate a culture of recognition and ensure talent mobility to promote transparency in the management 

An external hackathon, on the other hand, an organization engages individuals from within and outside the company. They are often the target of most hackathon sponsorship since they often attract a wider pool of talent and ideas. As an organizer, you can also use an external hackathon to engage with an external audience. This could be a data scientist community, a developer community, or even the general public. 

The following are the major objectives of external hackathons: 

  • Driving business innovation
  • Exploring new technologies
  • Reaching incubation programs 
  • Developing potential startups
  • Branding of an organization or products 
  • Developing solutions for social causes 
  • Assessing data to create solutions 
  • Rewarding innovative thinking

Essential hackathon sponsorship tips for organizers

Too many organizers tend to put most of their focus on the hackathon day. However, what this does is deny them an opportunity to create an event that is highly creative and can inspire innovation. A winning strategy will help to ensure that your hackathon sponsorship is not a waste of either time or money. Therefore, the earlier you can come up with one, the better.

Below are the eight top tips you can use to put on a winning event:

1. Create quick and simple forms

One of the ways to discourage people from applying to take part in your hackathon is through the use of long, complicated registration forms.

Giving your hackathon the best shot right from the start means developing registration forms that everyone can fill out quickly and effortlessly. Double-check your questions and ensure that they are the kind that you really need the answers for. Additionally, ensure that the forms are optimized for mobile so that individuals can access them swiftly using any device they have.

Take your time to design the forms to appear more modern, on-brand, and responsive. Otherwise, the people you are trying to attract to the event might consider your company outdated due to plain ugly, or complicated forms.

2. Announce the hackathon one month earlier, at least

One of the reasons why it is important to give participants a lot of time is because they may have to form teams before the event. Some may opt to confirm their participation and look for teammates amongst the other registered participants. However, even when they do not need to get into a team in advance, having adequate time is essential. This is because it allows the participants to research, generate ideas, and network with peers.

It is not uncommon to see some hackathons being announced less than one month before the event. Such last-minute organizing confuses everyone, including the participants. It limits the time that organizers have for community engagement and communication.

3. Prioritize community engagement

If there is a huge mistake that you can make when organizing a hackathon, it's assuming that getting people to sign up will be the most difficult part. The bulk of the work comes in ensuring that there is plenty of community engagement leading up to the event and beyond. You have to be communicative in a manner that inspires action.

Automation can help you stay on top of your community engagement efforts. This includes ensuring seamless activity from the moment that an individual signs up to be a participant. They should have seamless access to an environment where they can easily interact with other participants and organizers.

Ensure that your participants also have timely communication throughout the process. This includes giving them all the instructions they need and helpful resources and tips about the event.

4. Develop specific themes

While you are free to create an open-ended event that gives everyone the freedom to interpret the event in the way they see fit, this should not be your prerogative. Unless you want to create a hackathon that results in total randomness. Such an event won't really achieve that much on the technical side, even if it may have a wow factor.

Having a specific theme leads to more focused thinking and faster results. This is because it reduces procrastination and eliminates half-baked ideas. Therefore, layout specific goals and themes for your event. Be sure that you are very clear about such objectives in your announcements, submission calls, or anywhere else you do promotions.

5. Offer coaching and mentoring

Even though not every participant will need some coaching or mentoring, you may have some individuals who may really need it. Therefore, it is important to have several skilled people in the industry that are happy to interact with the participants and offer their expertise when it is necessary.

The general rule is to have six mentors for every 100 participants. Therefore, find several skilled people in the industry and have them introduce themselves just before the event and be closely available all through the event.

6. Be clear about the desires roles during the event

It is common for hackathon organizers to assume that every participant knows what to expect during the hackathon. However, the reality is that there will be several first-timers. Leaving out essential information could leave such participants at a disadvantage.

One of the things that you may have to be clear about, for instance, is the misconception that hackathons are only for developers or coders.

While writing your event description, ensure that you include the roles needed during the hackathon and the individuals that can apply. There's no way they will know without you telling them.

7. Create an ideal environment that encourages teams to thrive

It is not uncommon for ideas born out of hackathons to pop off and go on to grow into million-dollar companies. Spotify Weekly, for instance, is a service that was born in a hackathon.

While it is impossible to control the outcome of any hackathon, you can decide on the kind of environment you need. The best type is the kind that offers teams the opportunity and space they need to thrive.

The following questions can help you better your planning:

  • Do you want to select the winners?
  • Do you have a set plan for how you will select the winners?
  • Who will judge your winners? If you have some.
  • What considerations will you make to get the winners?
  • What prizes will the winners get?
  • What do you consider an ideal outcome?
  • What will be the situation after the hackathon?

8. Promote your hackathon in the appropriate places

Having several foolproof strategies is one of the ways you can ensure that you get great outreach.

This can include, among others, the social media platforms where your potential, mentors, attendees, and sponsors spend the most of their time. The best starts are especially those platforms that can allow you to reach plenty of people through the use of hashtags. Think of Facebook, Linkedin, and Twitter.

A hackathon sponsorship should ensure an event that leaves all participants wanting more, energized, and feeling inspired. The above tips can help you to keep people buzzing and more willing to attend any of your future events. However, you do not need to trouble yourself with organizing a hackathon when you can have the best help in the industry.

A hackathon can help you achieve your event objectives regardless of whether you want to evangelize, train, innovate, or hire. Our online hackathons, specifically, can enable you to reach a wider audience with fewer resources. We also offer an intuitive management platform and other essential judging tools.