You may have heard the phrase internal hackathon thrown about, but you may have no idea what it means. Or you may think hackathons are only for tech companies. Read on to answer what is a hackathon, why and how to do one, and examples of successful hackathons.

What are internal hackathons and how do they work?

You may be asking yourself, what is an internal hackathon? A business hackathon entails getting a group of people together to work on solving a specific problem. Usually, hackathons solve a problem using a technical skill like programming/coding or to develop new technologies. However, it can be whatever you need it to be. 

An internal hackathon specifically pulls people from within your organization to solve a problem within your business. It could also be an opportunity for you to come up with new products or develop ideas for how to improve the company. An internal hackathon could tackle any issue you have.

A hackathon works by inviting whoever you want to participate and giving them specific time to tackle the problem. It may work best if you have the group meet once to start coming up with ideas and then meet again after they have had time to solidify where they want to start. It is important the group is given time and space where they won't be interrupted to create the best results.

Why should companies organize internal hackathons?

The following benefits answer the question of why do an internal hackathon.

Benefit 1: Innovation

As a business develops, it can be easy for people to get stuck in familiar routines and do things the way they have always been done. While this may work to keep the business going, it will not help your business move forward.

A company hackathon brings a group of people together to come up with new ideas. Giving people a space where they are encouraged to develop new ways to move the business into the future is sure to breed plenty of innovation. 

It also encourages employees to continue being innovative ever after the hackathon is over. It eliminates the stigma that change is bad, so employees will be less hesitant to suggest change moving forward.

Benefit 2: Diversity

Solving a problem often requires seeing it from many different perspectives. So, while one person may be totally at a loss on what the solution could be, someone else may have an idea that gets the conversation started.

Having your group include people from different departments and with different skill sets can help you quickly get to a solution. Everyone brings their different experiences and knowledge to the mix, which can help spark ideas. Then, everyone can build on the others' ideas to form a final solution.

At the end of the hackathon, you will have people who may have never worked together before feeling more connected. This is great for a positive company culture because everyone will feel like they are an essential part of the business.

Benefit 3: Learn new things

Since you are bringing together a group of people with different experiences, they will be exposed to different backgrounds and ways of thinking. In addition, your employees can take the knowledge they gain during the hackathon and apply it to the business as a whole.

Say, for instance, you have programmers and a financial representative in your group. The programmers can learn a bit more about the financial side of the business and may find ways they could create a program to make financial processes easier. In turn, the financial representative could learn a few easy programming tips to make their life easier.

What you should know before hosting your first internal hackathon

You need to do several things before your first internal hackathon, and you should have them planned out before making your internal hackathon announcement. This will act as your hackathon roadmap.

Generally, hackathons last one to two days, depending on how big of a problem you need to solve. The first thing you have to determine is what your hackathon topic is/what problem you are trying to solve. 

It should solve a specific problem within your company or focus on developing ways to improve the business. It is also helpful to incorporate company values into the problem. It should be broad enough that anyone in the company, regardless of position, can participate.

Your next step is to create a checklist of what will happen throughout the hackathon and what you need to do and acquire. Here are some examples of what your hackathon checklist may include.

  • Determine teams.
  • Establish a budget.
  • Determine the itinerary for the event.
  • Figure out awards. (How many and for what?)
  • Figure out internal marketing. (When will you announce it? How often will you send reminders? What do people get out of it?)
  • Determine organization throughout the hackathon. (How will you support teams? What food/drinks will be there? What supplies do you need?)

How to organize an internal hackathon step by step

Your next question is probably how to run an internal hackathon. Follow this step-by-step guide, and you will have no problem organizing your company hackathon.

Step 1: Set your focus and objectives

The first step in organizing your hackathon is determining what you want to get out of it. Not having a goal runs the risk of ending up with poor results because teams didn't know what to work toward. Here are some examples of internal hackathon goals.

  • Create better engagement with your website.
  • Improve the aesthetic of your website.
  • Improve communication with customers.

Step 2: Firm up the Details

With your objective set, you can focus on firming up the rest of the details. Your next goal is to find a date and time that works well for your business. Avoid holidays because you are more likely to have people off work.

Once you have your date and time, make sure you have a location. This could be in your building or somewhere else, depending on how much space you need. Make sure to plan this out a couple of months ahead of time to ensure the space is open. To save space, you could consider doing a virtual hackathon or a hybrid option with only some attendees there in person.

Next, you will want to set up rules for the hackathon. Consider the following:

  • How many people per team?
  • How will you break down the time into segments? For example, you could do sprints or longer segments.
  • How will you choose the winning team?

Then, establish a name for your hackathon that will help with employee buy-in. Finally, find or create a reward for your winner(s). Make the prize worthwhile to the competitors to encourage more to join.

Step 3: Send out invites

After establishing your goals and details, it is time to send out invitations to the hackathon. You can either invite specific people or send out an open call to the company. Send out the invite several weeks beforehand to give everyone a chance to sign up.

Since you are only inviting people within your organization, you can send out a mass invite via whatever calendar you use. This way, the event is automatically saved to their calendar if they accept the invitation.

The invitation should include a link to a page that describes everything about the hackathon, including the goal, rules, and prize. Then, a few days before the event, send a reminder email to everyone to encourage them to start thinking about their solutions.


Step 4: Comfort

People work best when they are comfortable, so you want to do everything in your power to create a good user experience. Consider the following:

  • Have plenty of food: Provide breakfast and lunch, along with snacks throughout the day. Make sure you are aware of any dietary restrictions of your attendees.
  • Make sure your location can handle the electrical and internet needs you have. You will want to have plenty of outlets for people to plug devices into.
  • Consider having entertainment of some sort at the end of the day to help the attendees relax and recharge.

Step 5: The day of the hackathon

You will be busy on the day of the hackathon, so make sure all setup is done the day before. Make sure the following is done before the hackathon begins.

  • Print out voting cards (if needed).
  • Buy any decorations you want.
  • Order food.
  • If you are presenting something via projector, make sure it is ready to go.
  • If you are providing swag, have it ready at the event.

On the day of the hackathon, someone will need to:

  • Gather the different teams.
  • Review rules.
  • Review the topic.
  • Walk around and offer support as needed once it begins.

Near the end of the event, follow this checklist:

  • Warn people when there is an hour left.
  • When time elapses, bring everyone together to present.
  • Give out voting cards if that is how you are voting.
  • Allow everyone to present.
  • Announce the winner.

If you end up with ideas that don't win but you like, you can use them later. If they need a little work, you could make it the focus of your next hackathon. If they are ready to go, you can implement them at a later date.  You can also take these ideas and use them as part of Hackathon.com's incubation service.

Looking for internal company hackathon ideas? Check out three examples and get inspired

If you are looking for helpful internal hackathon examples, you will find some here. If you want more ideas, google internal hackathon, and you will find plenty more instances of successful hackathon projects.

Example 1: Facebook

Facebook has been holding internal hackathons for years, and they form a huge part of company culture. They use hackathons as a way of brainstorming innovative ideas. Some of their ideas that came out of hackathons include features like "Donations," "Safety Check," and the "Like" button.

Example 2: Capital One

Capital One created a developer platform, DevExchange, to promote co-development and developer engagement principles. Since they created this, they have had eight hackathons where people worked together to improve customer experience.

Example 3: Hasbro

Hasbro is one of the US's oldest toy companies, but they aren't afraid of change. They brought together 150 developers to create 45 products in just a few days. This saved them a ton of money and time.

Three extra tips & tricks for a successful internal hackathon

Here are a few additional tips to help your internal hackathon be successful.

Tip 1: Including higher-ups

Include the higher-ups of your business in the hackathon by asking them to be judges. This shows your competitors that the company is taking their work seriously. It also gives your employees the chance to interact with people they might not typically get to talk to.

Tip 2: Making requirements for presentations

Another helpful tip is to require each hackathon team to include certain things in their presentation. This ensures that everyone includes everything necessary and the true genius of their ideas can be shown. Presentations should follow these guidelines:

  • Thank every team member
  • Include the impact of the work, such as who benefits and why
  • A demonstration of the work
  • Fit a time limit

Tip 3: Break down problems

Break your hackathon down into several problems and break the teams up by problem. For example, your main focus can be a problem that needs to be addressed right now, while the other goals can be ideas that will come into play later on. This way, you are addressing several problems all at once.

Final points on running internal business hackathons

An internal hackathon is a great way to help employ problem-solving within your company. Getting a group of diverse people together will help increase team building and in-network connections along with encouraging a positive business ecosystem. You will encourage teamwork which will help solve a problem. Team members will come away with an increased sense of self-accomplishment along with creating innovation for your business.

There are many benefits of hackathons, but it is important to make sure you thoroughly plan it and have a schedule ready for the day of the hackathon. Check out successful hackathons like those done by Facebook, Capital One, and Hasbro for company hackathon ideas.

Consider using Hackathon.com for your next hackathon.