Hackathons are becoming more and more popular, even though they have been occurring for roughly two decades. People are beginning to see the value in hosting hackathons, so more people are jumping on board. 

There are multiple different styles of hackathons, including external, internal, data science, and startup hackathons. Recently, organizing a virtual hackathon has become trendy, and for a good reason.

What is a virtual hackathon?

A hackathon entails getting a group of people together to solve a problem, generate new ideas, or observe potential new employees. A virtual hackathon is similar, just instead of physically gathering a group together, everyone participates remotely via a video conference system like Zoom.

Benefits of hosting a virtual hackathon

There are many benefits to hosting a hackathon in general, and hosting a virtual hackathon comes with its own advantages. Here are four benefits of virtual hackathons.

Benefit 1: Cost savings

A traditional hackathon can end up costing you a ton of money. With in-person hackathon events, people physically come to a venue. This means your costs start with paying for the venue for the duration of the hackathon. You will also shell out a lot of money for food to feed all the hackathon participants. If you are hiring extra staff to monitor the hackathon, that is also going to cost you.

On the other hand, a virtual hackathon does not require a venue as everyone is participating from their own homes. This means they are also in charge of feeding themselves, rather than you needing to spend money on food for them. You may need a little extra staff to monitor the online event, but you won't need nearly as much as you would for a physical hackathon.

Benefit 2: Environment is adaptable

People like to work in certain environments, for example under a lot of air conditioning or with the heat turned up, but if everyone is in one place, you won't be able to meet all their working conditions. When everyone works from home, they can set up their working conditions however they want without bothering anyone else.

Benefit 3: Increased Participation

At a physical hackathon, attendance can be impacted by people's ability to get to the venue. Unfortunately, this means you tend to only get local people and may miss out on someone who would be a great fit for your hackathon.

When you host a virtual hackathon, people can attend from virtually anywhere. As long as they have a stable internet connection and a device to work from, you could have people from around the world participate in your hackathon event. This allows people to look at the problem from many different perspectives, which increases the likelihood of developing a good solution.

Benefit 4: Develops important skills

When someone participates in a remote hackathon, it will help them develop important workplace skills. For instance, it will make people more comfortable working remotely and teach them how to communicate, delegate, compromise, and demonstrate ideas all from behind a screen.

How to run a virtual hackathon: A full 7-step guide

If you are wondering how to do a virtual hackathon, you have come to the right place. Check out this 6-step guide, and you will be ready to go.

Step 1: Announcing your hackathon

Once you have set the date of your hackathon, making sure to avoid dates around the holidays, announce it six to eight weeks in advance of the event happening. You want to give people plenty of notice about it happening so they can block off times in their calendar. However, you don't want to announce it too far ahead of time, or people may forget or lose interest.

Before announcing your hackathon, you also want to know exactly what the purpose of the event is. What problem are you solving, or what types of ideas are you hoping to develop? It is important all attendees know exactly what they will be working toward from the beginning.

Step 2: Use a hackathon management platform

While it may be tempting to just host your hackathon via a video conferencing platform like Zoom, bringing in a professional hackathon management platform is best. A professional company will have experience with any technical issues that arise and can handle them without you needing to take time away from your work with the hackathon.

Your hackathon management platform can also likely send out invitations on your behalf and help you get a lot of the organization done. This takes the pressure off of you and allows you to continue working on normal job duties.

Step 3: Organizing teams

Ahead of the hackathon, send out clear and easy-to-fill-out sign-up forms to help you sort people into hackathon teams. The form should ask questions about people's interests and experiences so that you can match up people from diverse backgrounds.

Step 4: Explaining the purpose

Some people that may be a great fit for your hackathon may not know what a hackathon is or believe it is only for people like coders, programmers, and other technology-focused careers. So, create a FAQ sheet that goes over everything related to your hackathon and have it be a part of the announcement you send out. You may also consider having a link to your FAQ on your sign-up form.

Step 5: Coaches or mentors

While you want to encourage innovation in your participants, you also want them to stay within the scope of the project. This is where having coaches or mentors comes in. Designate certain people to check in with everyone to make sure they are staying on track while also offering suggestions and helping people move along.

Step 6: Promoting your hackathon

If you don't promote your hackathon, it will show in your attendance numbers. Consider where your potential attendees spend their time online and advertise there. Great places to start are Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram because you can reach a huge swath of people very quickly. All of these social media channels also allow people to share your ad, which means it can reach even more people.

Step 7: The hackathon and beyond

On the day of the hackathon, take some time to observe the people working. You can also set aside some time to create a form for people to fill out after the hackathon. The form should gather information like what people enjoyed, what they thought could be done better, and suggestions for next time.

Prepare a hashtag for your social media that people can use during and after the hackathon event. It gives people a chance to share their experiences and may help you draw even more people to your next hackathon.

Common mistakes to avoid when hosting remote hackathons

Organizing and hosting a hackathon is a big job, and with it comes the possibility of making mistakes. Here are three mistakes you want to avoid making while planning your hackathon and how to prevent or fix them.

Mistake 1: Poor communication

It is imperative that anything you put out about your hackathon from the very beginning is extremely clear. If your directions or ad is confusing, it will turn people off, and they may not sign up for your hackathon.

How to prevent/fix mistake 1

This starts by having a clear end goal that is communicated from the beginning. You should also have a FAQ page that addresses any questions you anticipate coming up. It would be a wise idea to talk to some people within your organization who aren't a part of the hackathon and see what questions they have. This can help you build your FAQ page.

Mistake 2: Not using a hackathon platform/choosing the wrong one

There is a lot that goes into a hackathon, and leaving it to the experts is in your best interest. However, you also want to choose a hackathon platform that will work well for your business. It is imperative that participants are fully involved and engaged in the hackathon.

How to prevent/fix mistake 2

Here are some things a good platform should have:

  • There should be an easy way for participants to form teams and turn in their final submissions.
  • For organizers, a good platform should offer features like streamlining making teams, access to attendees' information, and the ability to view the online projects and assign scores.
  • Your hackathon organizer should have a plan to keep participants involved and engaged while completely virtual. Some examples of this could be setting up activities like intermittent quizzes or polls to keep people interested.

Mistake 3: Forgetting incentives

Everyone enjoys being rewarded for their good work, and hackathons are no different. Depending on what your business is/what the goal of the hackathon is, your reward may vary, but it is important to have something.

How to prevent/fix mistake 3

As you are beginning to plan your hackathon, consider what sort of prize you want to give out. For example, if you are a software company, you may offer a free version of your software to the winner. You can also talk to the platform you are using for your hackathon, as they may have ideas for gifts as well.

4 cool virtual hackathon ideas for a successful virtual event

Since hackathons are becoming more popular, you want to make sure your hackathon is holding its own. Here are four virtual hackathon topics to help you have a successful virtual event.

Idea 1: Do a dress rehearsal

You often hear of dress rehearsals happening for theater performances, but they can also be helpful for hackathons. Your attendees will be using technology they are potentially not familiar with, so giving them a chance to practice with it before the event is helpful. This will also give you a chance to work out any bugs, so they don't interrupt the main event.

Idea 2: Provide food stipends

If you can afford it, provide some food stipends to your attendees. This could come in the form of DoorDash or Uber Eats credits so that the participants can continue working rather than having to go pick up food. 

Idea 3: Send Virtual Swag bags

A great way to hype up your event is the promise of swag bags. Just because you are doing a remote hackathon doesn't mean you can't provide swag; it just may look a little different. Here are some examples of items you could include in your virtual swag bag.

  • Temporary subscription to a service like Pandora or Audible
  • Access to digital media like industry journals or newspapers
  • Cloud storage
  • Steam or iTunes credits

Idea 4: Decide on team names

A great way to get your hackathon started on a good note is to start with a team-building exercise. In this case, have each virtual team work on brainstorming a name for their team. This will allow all the team members to get to know each other and break the ice before actually attacking the problem.

Looking for a reliable virtual hackathon platform? Try Hackathon.com

If you're looking for a reliable virtual hackathon platform, look no further than Hackathon.com. We have plenty of industry experience and can help you organize an online hackathon. We have contacts worldwide, so we can make your hackathon everything you want it to be.

Final points on organizing virtual hackathons

Organizing a hackathon is a great way to solve a problem, develop new ideas, or find new talented employees. In addition, hosting a virtual hackathon comes with the benefits of cost savings, adaptable environments, and the chance to have more diverse participants.

Reaching out to a platform to host your hackathon is the way to go, and they can help you avoid common mistakes that can occur when hosting a virtual hackathon. You should also consider ways to make your hackathon stand out, like holding a dress rehearsal, providing food stipends, and giving out swag bags. If you plan everything out carefully, you are well on your way to a successful hackathon.

Reach out to Hackathon.com today if you are interested in organizing a virtual hackathon event for 2022.