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Hackathon — Organizing & finding Innovation

Hackathon — Organizing & finding Innovation

— Anant Rungta

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction

  2. Objectives

2.1 Closed Innovation to Open Innovation

2.2 Approach of the company/Organization

  1. Recipe of Successful Hackathon

3.1 Motivation and Aligned Targets.

3.2 Preparation Phase.

3.3 The Challenge.

3.4 Participation of Company.

3.5 Presence of Active and multidisciplinary people.

  1. Conclusion

  2. References

1. Introduction

The word hackathon is a composed of two words, “hack” and “marathon”, of which “hack” refers to programming and “marathon” to the limited timeframe of the event. Hackathon as a term was formed at the end of the 1990s when it was used to describe an event combining idea generation and programming to create new solutions for existing challenges in a limited timeframe. It is so strongly originated in the IT community, where multidisciplinary teams have collaborated intensively to create something new.

Hackathon strives to provide an answer to challenges organizations encounter in a modern world: rapid technology development, globalization, and mobility of skilled workforce just to mention a few. The core idea of these hackathons is to break the organization’s boundaries in innovation processes.

These are a special type of events based on co-creation and open innovation − the modern paradigm of innovation − that has become popular worldwide in the first decade of the new millennium.

2. Objectives

Hackathons as events have become popular, but are these arranged purely to practice open innovation? Organizations are eager to join the hackathon movement and are gaining tangible results from co-creation and open innovation.

2.1 Closed Innovation to open innovation

The closed innovation model is based on the presumption that all the key inventions and technologies should be developed strictly within the boundaries of organizations. Innovations and new technologies are to be used only for the organization’s own purposes and it would be a risk to let the innovations get out of the organization − even if these were not used for business means at all.

However, in the modern world globalization is part of everyday life, the development of technology is more rapid than ever, and highly skilled people are moving from one organization to another.

It can be argued that the baselines of closed innovation are no longer valid and the traditional model for innovation and value creation is outdated.

2.2 Approach of the company/Organization

Companies can approach hackathons from various angles. If the companies lack internal innovation, they might want to join the hackathon to get ideas that could be refined to innovations. If the companies do not have difficulties with innovation, they can approach the event from marketing or recruiting point of view.

Ideas are trivial in innovation since there are a lot more to do to get the ideas to innovations and innovations into the business.

Figure 1: Basic overview of how a hackathon works

3. Recipe for a successful hackathon

The further aim of this chapter is to provide development ideas, or a recipe for a successful hackathon, for the organizations that are either considering arranging a private hackathon or joining a public one. These ideas can also be utilized in organizations that consider their position and approach towards innovation or reflect their actions in hackathons that they have experienced.

3.1 Motivation and Aligned Targets.

According to research, one of the main success factors is to have a clear motivation and aligned targets. This step needs to be done before the decision to join any specific hackathon, and only after these are set and agreed, it is should be decided which kind of hackathon event would support the motivation and targets in the best possible way − this is as important a step as defining the targets. As it came up in the interviews, just joining the hackathon takes a lot of resources and is thus a significant investment from the organization. To get the most out of the investment, It is suggested that the organizations pay special attention to motivation and targets they have and choose the right kind of hackathon to support these. If the decision to join is made without a clear vision of the motivation and targets, the hackathon investment and experience can easily be a failure.

3.2 Preparation Phase

With the necessary time given, there are various important factors to be considered in the preparation phase that correlates with the success of the event itself. First, the challenge for the participants needs to be considered well to align with the targets set. If the motivation and targets are on open innovation, this should be of the highest importance of all the preparations: without a proper challenge for the participants, it is impossible to imagine that the challenge would lead to any plausible ideas to refine further. Without an interesting challenge, the image the company creates of itself during the event will not be good in marketing or recruiting purposes either.

3.3 The Challenge

The motivation and targets should guide the definition of the challenge. If the focus is solely on marketing and recruiting, it is important that the challenge would be both highly interesting and easy to approach. The objective of the challenge is thus to create a desirable image of the organization and to attract as many people to take part in the challenge as possible. However, if the motivation is purely on inbound open innovation the companies should link the challenge to their innovation process so that it would support the internal innovation accordingly.

3.4 Participation of Company

Many of the companies had marketing accessories that they gave away for the participants: t-shirts, hoodies etcetera. According to the interviews, this had a major role in creating a positive image of the organizations. Practical preparations include also tasks to support the actual challenge.

There is a lot of practicalities that need to be taken care of when preparing for the hackathon. The preparations do take more time than would be expected. Based on these interviews, three various areas of preparations came up that correlate with the success of the hackathon: preparing the challenge to support the targets set for the event, preparing the stand at the venue to back up the previous and preparing the various types of practicalities that need to be taken care of. These preparations are to be done with proper time and severity to support the targets set for the event.

3.5 Presence of Active and multidisciplinary people

The need for the right people in the event was guided by the potential of the hackathon, and the potential, in this case, seemed to be exactly the same as the sources for motivation: recruiting, marketing and open innovation. Personnel who could answer the questions from both the business and technology aspects and help the participants to tackle the possible obstacles they faced with the challenge.

This means the organizations had to be both easy to approach and active in approaching the participants to support them actively.

4. Conclusion

The development mission of this thesis was to introduce the ingredients of a successful hackathon from the view of open innovation and provide a holistic, practical recipe for organizations’ use. The provided recipe is to serve as a practical tool for organizational development for those organizations that are planning to arrange an internal hackathon or take part in a public hackathon in the future.

There were three separate motivations that organizations had on joining the hackathon, i.e marketing, recruiting and open innovation.

Marketing was the most popular motivation with half of the interviewed organizations having it as their main interest in joining and the other half as a secondary reason. That means that every organization had marketing somehow on the mind. Open innovation as motivation was divided into inbound and outbound open innovation.

The theories on the topic are mostly based on studies of large organizations and the theories have been generalized to apply all organizations whether it is large or small, modern or traditional. These findings were supported by analyzing the targets that organizations had set for the event since the targets correlated straight with the motivation.

It is possible for the organizations to continue the innovation process around the ideas that are born in public hackathons. According to this thesis, it requires a clear plan on how to take the next steps. This plan must be done before the actual hackathon event so it can be communicated to the participants and the process continues seamlessly. If the organizations start the planning only after the hackathon event it is too late since the gap between the idea and the refinement actions easily grows too big.

Basically, this thesis brings together a lot of information regarding both innovation and hackathons providing interesting insights. The thesis provides clear development ideas for organizations to use in practice. However, a lot of interesting and important questions of the combination of hackathons remains untouched − there is still plenty of room in the sandbox.


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