What is a hackathon and how could your business benefit from one
What is a hackathon?
Let's quickly recap: What is a hackathon? Historically, it’s a time-restricted event where multiple teams of developers & designers engage in competitive programming to achieve a specific goal. The goal might be to solve a problem, create a prototype for a new product, or research a new service. This formula has gradually evolved, however, and is widely considered an innovative remedy for businesses in need of fresh ideas, looking to free themselves of their corporate shackles. Hackathons will now often involve a single team of employees from different areas of the business, making it a truly collaborative, team-building exercise.
Part of the appeal of a hackathon is how much can be achieved in such a short amount of time. For example, Gravitywell designed and built apps for pilates instructors to create personalised video lessons for their students, from scratch, in just 5 days. But there are many other ways a business will benefit from running a hackathon.
First and foremost, a hackathon will provide your business with a fantastic opportunity to innovate. And fast. The very nature of the hackathon process stimulates creative juices to flow, with every team member involved given full license to create and express themselves. Risk-taking possibly isn’t encouraged on a day-to-day basis within most corporate structures, but the casual environment of a hackathon provides a temporary departure from the norm.
It’s not just the casual environment that lends itself to innovation during a hackathon — time sensitivity forces visionary ideas to be distilled and developed into something tangible. Whether the hackathon is run over 24 hours or 2 weeks, having a set amount of time to complete the project produces results. But this is a different kind of pressure to what employees are typically under, and a hackathon helps loosen the shackles of corporate bureaucracy.
There’s no better example of tangible innovation resulting from hackathons than at Facebook. Historically part of the tech giant’s culture, their regular hackathons produce amazing results, including the now-commonplace ‘Like’ button.
A ‘disruptive’ workflow can actually lead to an improved work ethic among employees. There’s certainly something to be said for inspiring people towards a specific goal or presenting a challenge to bring out the best in them.
Undertaking a hackathon helps your business stay relevant and aware of the latest tech innovations, which is obviously beneficial to employees but also a great look for a company. Even if your business isn’t overtly technical, having a decent tech understanding is important, especially with advances like 5G just around the corner.
Building a bridge with the developer community is another added bonus of running a hackathon. This rapport building is potentially priceless for later projects that require development work, but it also exposes your less technical employees to practices they might have never experienced before.
Possibly one of the most underrated benefits of a company hackathon is the positive PR opportunity. There’s no doubt that running a hackathon will enhance your public perception — it says progressive, innovative, digitally-savvy. As opposed to rigid and out-of-touch. The hackathon will provide ready-made marketing material, perfect for your blog and social media channels.
It doesn’t just end with your specific industry, though. There’s a great opportunity to drive awareness and increase exposure in the tech world. A forward-thinking business holding a hackathon? It’s likely to turn heads.
Bristol-based OVO, the UK’s leading independent energy supplier, are hackathon advocates. They launched their inaugural hack back in 2014, to give their ‘creative and talented employees the freedom to express themselves: to improvise and innovate and be given the chance to create something interesting outside of the parameters of the usual nine to five.’
A hackathon unlocks and empowers a unique way of thinking about internal projects going forward. Your team is also likely to stumble upon something you never knew you needed, or has even considered. It’s this potential for discovery that makes hackathons such an exciting process.
Team bonding exercises are commonplace in most companies, so why not provide that via a hackathon? The process will bring members of staff together who might not be familiar with each other, and the very nature of a hackathon forges collaboration and teamwork.
Not only that, but the diversity of participants guarantees different perspectives — often the key ingredient in a successful hack.
Employee retention and recruitment
Another huge benefit. Running your hackathon could help retain talent, and also attract it. Your current team members will feel empowered with self-development, making them more likely to stay and seek further improvement in their role and beyond. The hackathon will also help attract new talent — top designers and developers want to work for companies who let them express their creativity and make cool stuff.
More and more businesses are discovering the benefits that investing in a hackathon can bring. In this age where technical innovation is paramount in order for companies to remain successful, it’s the perfect way to stay ahead of the curve. Empowering your workforce and bringing them together to achieve a goal has its obvious benefits, but potentially unlocking an innovative product in the process makes the internal hackathon a tantalising proposition.
If you've got a problem to solve or an idea that you'd like us to produce a prototype for, or if you’d like to learn more about how Gravitywell can help your business innovate with an internal hackathon, then please get in touch.