Whether you are looking to stimulate innovation within your organization or simply develop new hardware and programming ideas and concepts, this might be the time to scale things back and change the creative process. 

A hardware hackathon is an interesting way to do just that.

There is a lot to consider when planning a hackathon including, the participants, the teams, the tasks, and the materials. There are a lot of bases that need covering to ensure a smooth and rewarding experience for all involved.  


What Is a Hardware Hackathon?


Hackathons bring together like-minded creative and tech-savvy groups for a fun innovation-inspired hardware workshop. Some people at a hardware hackathon might include entrepreneurs, engineers, developers, designers, and even marketers. 

Most attendees will not know each other beforehand, but they will get to know each other intimately throughout the three-day workshop as they sort participants into teams for a friendly competition. 

Groups will design and create a new prototype from scratch, using only a collection of provided materials. Each group member will take on their unique role and add a bit of their perspective, insight, and expertise. There is considerable work with hardware at a hackathon, but groups may include technical and non-technical members with ranging specialties. 

A hardware hackathon is a meeting of some of the most creative and tech-savvy minds and a breeding ground for innovation, as participants collaborate to try and create something entirely new and unique as quickly as possible. 


Benefits of Hosting a Hackathon for Hardware Innovation


A hardware hackathon is partly about opening eyes and altering perceptions. The goal is to show people what is possible, given limited time and resources relying solely on ingenuity. Hardware hackathon ideas often require a process different from real-world brainstorming, but they can yield significantly fruitful results translating to actual hardware configuration and business.  

There are numerous benefits to a hackathon regarding innovation and creativity. Hardware Hackathons can go a long way toward changing the innovative process and providing participants with an entirely fresh perspective. 


Benefit 1: Removing Limitations

Many projects never even get going, grounded by limitations and red tape. Hardware hackathons can be an incredibly liberating experience in that it allows designers to remove certain burdens and constraints that often stymy creativity in the production process.

Removing limitations like budgets, government regulations, safety concerns, and copyright laws from the equation gives groups free domain to pursue any avenue they wish. Hardware hackathon ideas can get the juices flowing and allow teams to create something truly unique. 

Creating an environment where nothing is off-limits can have a powerful effect and lead to great ideas. 


Benefit 2: Promoting Competition

Bringing a collection of brilliant, creative minds together is sure to flesh out some compelling subject matter and new ideas. One of the more unique benefits of hosting a hardware hackathon is creating the spirit of friendly competition. 

Friendly rivalries bring out even more creativity and innovation as groups try to outthink and one-up each other. It becomes a race to find the biggest and best ideas. The benefit of competition makes hardware hackathons fun and brings out the best in everyone. 


Benefit 3: Limiting Time and Materials

Another benefit is this: Participants and organizers often flesh out innovative hardware hackathon ideas because of a lack of resources on hand. Providing teams with limited materials creates barriers to what the hackers can achieve, and they must be creative to overcome these limitations. This forces the teams to think more creatively, which can even speed up the production time. 

For hackathon hardware, prototyping needs to be fast and efficient. This approach can present unique challenges to product developers and engineers who must think of creative and quick solutions. 


How to Run a Hardware Hackathon: A Complete Six-Step Guide


Every Hardware Hackathon is different, and part of the fun is implementing your own set of unique rules and guidelines. With that said, there are also several tried-and-true steps to creating the best hardware hackathon possible.


Step One: Choose the Right Participants

The participant selection process is majorly critical to the success of a hackathon. You want to invite innovative and creative thinkers, but you also want to make sure they can work well with others and come in the spirit of collaboration. 

You also want to make sure you are getting a good mix of creative types, including designers, engineers, product managers, and entrepreneurs. Not only the bits and bytes gurus among us but also non-technical people can profit from looking at a problem from a real-world perspective. Part of the collaborative effectiveness is bringing together people who have unique insights.

Carefully evaluating applications will go a long way to ensure a more successful hackathon and create more enriching groups for all participants.


Step Two: Make Sure Sponsorships Stay on Theme

It is not uncommon to have a sponsor for your hackathon. Bringing on a prominent brand name can provide an increased level of legitimacy and excitement to the proceedings. It can also be a source of inspiration during the creative process. 

However, it is crucial to ensure that any sponsorship matches the hackathon theme. For example, having Netflix sponsor a hackathon for telecommunications products makes little sense since the company doesn’t align with the hardware theme. 

Picking the right sponsor can make for a much smoother hackathon.


Step Three: Select Appropriate Materials

Resources and tools are a significant component in shaping hackathon hardware. Finding the right level between too much and not enough is a difficult balance to strike. Part of the idea of a hackathon is that limited access to materials helps stimulate creativity and innovation. However, this can only go so far if the tools are significantly lacking.

We strongly recommended providing a fully stocked electronics lab so teams can test out different wiring methods without severe limitations. But don’t go overboard with access to electronic resources, just far enough so that teams can at least get their ideas off the ground. 


Step Four: Create a Clear Structure

All participants must have clarity about the structure of the entire hackathon from the onset to avoid confusion and disorganization. A good hackathon runs on a clearly defined schedule with a clearly defined agenda and rules that are easy to understand and follow.

Events at a hackathon can be rigorous and time-consuming. Stay on top of participants' basic needs to ensure no disruptions to a smooth run. Logistics such as break times and eating times fall under this umbrella and are essential not to overlook.  


Step Five: Capture the Moment

Hardware hackathons are so popular because they help increase productivity and innovation within the hardware programming field. It is crucial to capture significant highlights of the hackathon so that the participants share and implement ideas later on. 

Team members are likely to be very busy as they sift through and test a plethora of different ideas. Having someone available to document each group or even record and take photos can be highly useful and allow participants to utilize their hackathon hardware findings down the road. 


Step Six: Determine the Winners

The spirit of competition is part of what makes a hardware hackathon so unique. It is only fitting to highlight the team (or teams) that outperformed the rest. Not only can this serve as a proverbial pat on the back for the winning team members, it can also be fun to include a grand prize to incentivize teams further.  

Hardware hackathons are all about innovation and creativity. Exchanging and showcasing some of the best ideas benefits every participant in attendance. Highlighting top accomplishments can also pinpoint some of the best ideas to come out of the hackathon and inspire the other teams involved. 


Common Mistakes to Avoid When Organizing Hardware Hackathons


With so many moving pieces, it is easy to overlook something. Here are some of the more common mistakes to avoid when organizing hardware hackathons.


Getting Too Involved

One of the most significant aspects of organizing hardware hackathons is leaving groups to their own devices and letting them sort through all challenges. It can be tempting for organizers to offer clues or nudge groups in a particular direction, but they should avoid this. 

Offering too much insight or help can ruin the creative process and possibly even give one team an unfair advantage over the competition. Fair competition is essential to a hardware hackathon.


How to Prevent/Fix Getting Too Involved

While it may be necessary to over technical support or troubleshoot any mechanical issues, being more hands-off is generally the right approach. Try not to disrupt or influence the ongoing energized competition as an organizer. It is best to stay mostly out of the way and let the participants do their thing. 


Relying on Brand Recognition

Another common mistake when organizing a hardware hackathon is relying too heavily on brand recognition or a high-profile sponsor to attract participants. While an appealing brand name might persuade some prospective attendees, there is a risk in relying on this to attract top talent. A lot more goes into hardware hackathons, and getting too wrapped up in the promotion can distract from the overall content. 


How to Prevent/Fix Relying on Brand Recognition

While a well-known and appropriately aligned brand name can generate excitement and be a pleasant addition, it is only a component of the organizing process. Remember that host and sponsorship brands will not get meaningful results for everyone, and you may need to make additional appeals. 

Coming up with some cool hardware hacks and creative challenges are more likely to excite prospective participants and make for a better and more well-rounded event.


Unengaging Materials 

A good hardware hackathon is all about balancing, engaging, and challenging tasks that incorporate a wide range of skills. Common mistakes include tasks that are too simple or too demanding. This approach could lead the disengaging participants. 


How to Prevent/Fix Unengaging Materials

A lot of detail and consideration needs to go into planning the hackathon hardware materials to make sure everything goes smoothly and that participants will get the most out of the event. Choose the right participants. But also ensure the participants have the right tasks and proper hardware to align with the contest. Last but not least, a hackathon ought to be a fun and engaging experience for everyone. 


Seven Inspiring Hardware Hackathon Ideas


Good new hardware hackathon ideas will generate a lot of excitement and enthusiasm with exciting new concepts and ideas. Here are some examples of great hackathon ideas with hardware.


Smart Coffee Machines

A digital barista that can automatically adjust temperature levels, tweak customizable add-ins (milk, sugar, etc.) and create a variety of new experimental coffee drinks. 


Interactive Dog Toys

Fun remote-controlled toys for dogs to chase around that are controlled and manipulated from your smartphone. 


Solo Games

Smart devices can play different games with you, such as rock-paper-scissors, 21 questions, or tick, tack, toe. Or, for more complex games, the device can capture your game moves and analyze them.


Live-Streaming Devices

Small and sleek, wearable camera devices that allow for easy recording and on-the-go live streaming.


Bike Alarms

An innovative security system to keep your bike safe and ward off theft (similar to a car alarm). Equip them with voice recognition software for easy unlocking.


A Spam-Blocker for Real Mail

Devices that can sift through your mail based on preference, identify spam mail, and auto-recycle it. You can also get a notification if you are expecting a bill or letter. 


Teenage Monitor

A baby monitor, but for teenagers, equipped with a breathalyzer and smoke detection. 



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Final Points


Planning a hardware hackathon is a fun and exciting process, but it requires a lot of time and careful consideration. The smallest details can make all the difference. Take multiple factors into account to ensure it is a rewarding and memorable experience for everyone involved. 

If you’re ready to get started with organizing your hackathon, contact us. Our team is ready to help you!