Online Hackathons 101
How to quickly plan & Launch your online hackathon in just 10 steps?
Since Covid-19 outbreak, many sectors have been struggling to maintain their operations and to keep the office work going efficiently. However, the “new normal” has made it impossible to avoid some changes, like remote working or moving the business operations entirely online. These changes seemed to be temporary at the beginning of the pandemic, however, after more than one year, businesses are starting to accept this change and to innovate more solutions to cope instead of fighting it.
At Untap Compete, we have witnessed those changes closely, as we organized some online hackathons for our customers calling for solutions to ease the implications of the pandemic on the most affected sectors, and to help the world adapt to the “new normal.” And like most hackathons that were organized in 2020, they had to be planned & launched quickly yet be flawless as they attracted a vast number of participants.
In this article, we will cover the first and most crucial phase of your journey, the preparation phase. We put together ten items to check before the launch of the hackathon. Let’s go straight to the first one:
1. The Hackathon Concept
What’s the story of the hackathon? The story behind the hackathon has to be realistic and understandable with real and even relatable problems. It helps when the audience can see where you are coming from and where you’re heading with your hackathon. Also, define the problem you are meaning to solve, then imagine & write down the kind of solutions you expect from the hackathon, and reflect this in the way you communicate the story.
2. The Problem Statement
Elaborate the problem, how is it currently being solved? Which aspects of the problem are you tackling in this hackathon? This helps potential participants understand their playground and figure out the value they can add to this area.
Now break down the problem into different tracks. Tracks could be related to sectors suffering from the problem or sub-problems that need to be addressed separately. The more precise and clear the tracks are, the more relevant solutions you can expect to receive from participants.
3. Hackathon Branding
Now that you have the hackathon’s scope defined, you can come up with a name that reflects the idea. The name should be original, catchy, and sticky [easy to remember]. It would be a plus if you can make sure there is an available domain name for the hackathon [This can actually be a good exercise to brainstorm some variations for the name].
It is not necessary to design a logo for the hackathon; however it helps with the stickiness factor especially if you are planning to run more than one edition. Finally, create a master visual that reflects the hackathon concept, also document the brand guidelines to be used later while developing the hackathon landing page or website.
4. Partners & Sponsors [If needed]
More often than not, organizations -even big ones- need partners or sponsors to provide support or even own some parts of the hackathon. For example, Technology partners, Marketing partners, and sometimes Government partners. Partners can help in many ways such as: marketing and outreach, sourcing mentors and judges, or providing certain prize for relevant tracks.
Start communicating with potential sponsors as soon as you have the hackathon concept in place, as it usually takes some time to close a deal with a sponsor. To help make the deal close faster, clarify all benefits for the sponsor, and highlight the win-win situation, also an SLA or even expected deliverables will help make things easier throughout the hackathon.
5. Source Mentors & Judges
Start with a list of the expertise & skills needed to mentor participants, and to judge applications. Usually it is a mix of technical and subject-matter expertise that is needed for both tasks. When reaching out to mentors, have them submit their time commitment as well as their working hours during the hackathon. The same goes for the judges.
In addition to the one-on-one mentorship for teams, plan some slots for webinars and online courses with the mentors.
Last but not least, figure out the online mentorship logistics. Select and set up the platform that will be used to conduct the sessions and to manage the hackathon community. Remember, it is always better to use a platform that includes the mentorship module, team formation, and online courses all-in-one. A general rule of thumb is to limit the number of platforms you use for the hackathon, so that the process is less overwhelming for your team and the participants.
6. Hackathon Landing Page Content
Choose a platform that allows you to easily build and customize your hackathon landing page, with a simple Content Management System for editing/adding pages. The hackathon landing page should include:
- Concept: previously prepared
- Problem: Previously prepared
- Target Audience: Developers (define specific technical skills if needed), subject-matter experts, and designers (if required)
- Eligibility criteria: If the hackathon is only targeting teams, students, certain countries…etc
- Hackathon Timeline: All phases of the hackathons with dates.
- Prizes: Cash prizes, training, hiring, …etc
- Judging criteria
7. Application and Evaluation Forms
Prepare the list of questions you will need to ask in each phase of the hackathon. Also, draft the evaluation forms that judges will use in each phase (Ideation & prototype phases).
8. Communication Messages
This seems to be a minor task that usually gets overlooked in the preparation phase; however, you will thank yourself later for doing this part early before the launch. Scheduling all messages for participants, judges, mentors, and partners will save you a huge amount of time needed for other critical tasks that would require your full attention during the hackathon. Here is a quick list of messages you need to draft:
- Toolkits: for participants, mentors, judges, and admins to explain exactly what, how, and when everything needs to be done.
- Emails: Participants emails, from “thank you for registering”, to “congratulations you have been qualified for the next stage”, or “we regret to inform you that…” All email templates you expect to use.
- Guidelines for community moderators with answers for the FAQs you expect participants to ask during the hackathon.
9. Marketing & Outreach Plan
Create your Marketing plan and choose the channels based on the target audience, whether they are students, professionals or both, and whether this is a developers-only hackathon or subject-matter experts are needed as well.
Social Media presence goes without saying, but also consider looking for relevant groups and online communities (outbound) to publish your announcement. For example, you may need to contact certain universities to reach students easily and quickly. Sometimes you need LinkedIn to access professionals. There are many ways to spread the word, just think of the right channels then test which ones bring you the right traffic.
10. Launch Date
After deciding on the launch date, prepare the announcements, schedule them on your social media, and send copies to your partners. Before going live, test everything from the landing page, the community platform, to the application form to make sure that everything is working properly and ready for the first participant to apply. Everything should be smooth and user-friendly.
All in all, the time and effort managing your call for applications should ideally be minimal compared to other tasks. We encourage you to book a demo with Untap Compete to see how you can cut administrative tasks time and focus on tasks that matter.
Now you have covered everything you need to launch your online hackathon, in the next part of this article we will cover the rest of the hackathon’s checklist, from team formation to announcing the winners.