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How to master open hackathons: CASSINI case study

Have you ever wondered what it takes to run a successful open hackathon?

We analyzed the CASSINI hackathon in detail in order to provide you with insights from our client, so you can easily repeat them step-by-step and structure your next hackathon.

CASSINI makes up for a great example. They already have previous experience in organizing hackathons and were able to gather more than 500 participants! Also, the hackathon took place simultaneously in 10 different countries!

In this article we will cover:

  • CASSINI program
  • About the Hackathon
  • About the participants
  • Results obtained
  • Key Insights

First, there are two different types of hackathons: internal and open hackathons.

Today, we’ll focus on the latter, but if you want to know more about in-company hackathons we suggest you read our Taboola case study.

Before we discuss the hackathon itself, it’s important to understand what’s the CASSINI program about, and the scope of the challenge.

CASSINI: An European Union initiative 🇪🇺

CASSINI Hackathons and Mentoring are a series of six, bi-annual hackathons, organized by the European Union to address global issues through European space technologies.

These hackathon series are part of a bigger EU action plan for the years 2021 to 2027, which includes the CASSINI Seed and Growth Funding Facility, CASSINI Matchmaking with investors and large enterprises, CASSINI Business Accelerator, and others.

The hackathons took place in ten cities across Europe and provided participants with access to pre-processed Arctic data, on-demand training, and other essential tools to support them in addressing one of three challenges.

The purpose of this hackathon

The Space Entrepreneurship Initiative aimed to encourage a market-driven space industry in Europe, and CASSINI hackathons have a very important role in this program: to reach creative, young people, interested in developing innovative digital applications based on space data and potentially becoming entrepreneurs.

The Hackathon: Connecting the Arctic 🐻‍❄️

  • 575 participants
  • 84 projects delivered
  • 2 months total duration

We’ve talked about how the hackathon initiatives are part of an EU space program, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into space exploration or going to Mars.

The Connecting the Arctic hackathon focused on finding solutions for the most pressing issues facing the Arctic region through space technology tools, such as Galileo and Copernicus satellites.

Utilizing space tech to address climate issues is a great example of how you can leverage the resources you have, in order to reach a broader audience.

The challenges

This hackathon was comprised of 3 different challenges:

Challenge #1: Ensure safe transportation at sea.
Participants were urged to research navigation route optimization, extreme weather and sea ice warnings, future shipping lane expansion and connectivity, and environmental disaster and emergency management.

Challenge #2: Life on Land
Participants were compelled to look into subjects including environmental monitoring and climate change mitigation, renewable energy breakthroughs, and improved connectivity for remote research stations.

Challenge #3: Caring for our Wildlife
To bring the concept to life, participants had at their disposal European space data, signals from secure connectivity infrastructures, Copernicus, Galileo, and EGNOS satellites.

Structure & Timeline ⌚

In order to host a successful open hackathon, you must take into account the timeline and structure of the event.

Too little time between stages can become a huge problem later in project development, but too much time might seem like a never-ending challenge for participants, and eventually lead to a sense of disconnection.

The CASSINI hackathon structure was split into three phases:

**
Registration phase: 2 months**

There isn’t a perfect answer when it comes to choosing for how long you should have registrations open, as it highly depends on your capability of reaching the desired number of participants.

As a rule of thumb, it’s better to have a more extensive deadline rather than reaching the final day and ruling out potential participants.

- Big ideas campaign: 3 days

CASSINI also ran a series of online events 3 days before the closing registration deadline. This was a great experiment for many reasons:

  1. Provided information to participants about the challenge and the supporting data;
  2. Gave them a window to find teammates and network;
  3. Generated hype and buzz around the event, leading to more last-minute registrations.

Hackathon event: 2 days

The moment all the hard work comes together into play. The event duration is typically one or two days for most hackathons but can go all the way up to five days.

Demo day & awards: 1 day

The presentation and voting are usually on the last day of the hackathon event, however, CASSINI chose to do it a few days later, given that the projects had to be validated first by the local organizers.

Collaboration with local partners 🤝

CASSINI Hackathons are held in 10 different locations simultaneously, and in order to do that, they must rely on competent local entities to ensure the hackathon is done properly.

For the second hackathon edition, the chosen countries were:

  • Croatia 🇭🇷
  • Finland 🇫🇮
  • France 🇫🇷
  • Germany 🇩🇪
  • Iceland 🇮🇸
  • Italy 🇮🇹
  • Latvia 🇱🇻
  • Romania 🇷🇴
  • Slovakia 🇸🇰
  • Spain 🇪🇸

Opening applications to external organizations was very important in order to obtain such a high number of participants.

Local organizations worked as promoters and spread the word about the event. In turn, they had the chance to cooperate in a European Union space program, access networking opportunities inside the EU, and position themselves as market leaders.

Prizes and Rewards 💶

The “Connect the Arctic” hackathon had two categories of prizes. The main prize was 100 hours of mentoring, awarded to the top 3 overall winners.

However, CASSINI went a step further and also rewarded the top 3 projects by country with monetary prizes ranging from 250€ to 3000€, depending on the region and placement, plus a shot at an incubation program in some countries.

Having these incentives meant that in total, 30 teams would qualify for a monetary prize, even if they weren’t considered the best 3 overall.

Mentors and Judges 🧑‍⚖️

In this open hackathon, CASSINI had 35 mentors and a panel of 11 judges.

Let’s break it down:

The high number of mentors is directly correlated to the prizes given by CASSINI. Even though there was also a monetary incentive, the biggest reward for innovators was the 100 hours of expert mentoring. By having a varied number of mentors, they could reinforce the value of the prize.

As for the juries, the main takeaway is that they should have considerable knowledge and experience in the field, as well as be an authority in the community.

You can select judges from your company to evaluate projects, but you can also reach out to other names in your industry.

Now that we've addressed the hackathon, let's move on to the next section and learn more about the community. After all, they are the focus of your hackathon.

How to get more registrations for your hackathon 👨‍💻👩‍💻

It’s not easy to obtain over five hundred participants in a single event!

It’s also one of the reasons we decided to choose the CASSINI hackathon for this case study.

We’ve conducted further research and found key patterns to get more participants that can be replicated in any hackathon.

Community management tools ⚙️

At TAIKAI we provide all the tools you need to host a hackathon, however, we cannot overlook the importance of managing the community throughout the event.

**
CASSINI had two major touchpoints with innovators that can boost your community:**

Creating a landing page is a great way to keep users updated 📃

Even though CASSINI is part of a bigger project (and organization, for that matter), that didn’t stop them from creating their unique website dedicated to this program.

With eye-catching graphics & animations, a clear message, and detailed information about the event, this website had everything a potential participant could be looking for.

Use Discord as a hack to engage with your community 💬

Discord, Slack, or other chat-based apps are one of the best ways to engage with your audience.

Most of the tools are freemium, but you can also take a look at the resources you already have at your disposal. Just note that the tool must be easy to access and use.

Overcomplicating can have a negative impact on the number of innovators that join your channel.

Find your ideal participant ✔️

Having a clear understanding of who your participants are is crucial to the success of the hackathon, as even the slightest mistake in your target audience can have a meaningful impact later on.

For example, if your hackathon’s goal was to manage big data and create a better annual report for your company, you’re probably looking for data analysts. Targeting professionals from every computer science field would most likely bring poorer results, than just focusing on data scientists.

*Here are some questions you should ask yourself in order to understand the community better: *

  • Are we targeting a specific participant role or multiple ones?
  • What role is that? (Web developers? Data analysts? Product managers?)
  • Does my challenge have a strong UI/UX/Design requirement?
  • Are my goals broad or very specific?
  • Where can I find my target audience?
  • What social channels and communities do they participate in the most?

As for CASSINI, they chose to widen the participant group by inviting anyone with a passion for entrepreneurship, nature, and EU space technologies to participate.

The emphasis was on skills such as creativity, entrepreneurship, and design, rather than specific roles, like software engineers.

Be flexible ⚖️

The subject of satellite navigation and space technology is so massive, that it could have thrown people away, especially if they didn’t have prior knowledge of the hackathon.

CASSINI knew this could pose a threat and decided to educate the community. They clearly stated that anyone could apply without previous knowledge or experience in EU space technologies, as they would provide the necessary training and data access to help succeed in the event.

Be inclusive 🌎

Furthermore, if a participant was not from one of the 10 local host countries, they could still apply to join the hackathon! Those innovators were simply fitted into the nearest country challenge and would compete there.

Start gathering participants long before the hackathon begins

CASSINI focused on getting users to register in their newsletter.

Email marketing is still a great and effective way to engage with users. On one hand, they chose to subscribe to it, which is a proactive indicator of interest.

Secondly, you can use this channel to keep them up to date with news, schedules and convey any other information you deem important.

Hackathon results 💯

Results recap:
575 participants
84 projects delivered
30 local winning projects
3 EU winning projects

A hackathon is never just a hackathon. Your primary goal is to find a solution to an existing problem, but there are other benefits you can reap.

Here are the main results the CASSINI open hackathon - Connecting the Arctic - obtained:

1. Three great projects selected

The winning projects can be further developed and implemented, creating solutions that help society, wildlife, and transportation in the Arctic region.

*2. Increased brand awareness
*

Not just for the CASSINI hackathon, but for the overall European Union program and space technologies.

3. Engage with a young, hungry, and tech-savvy community

The effects of this event will go way beyond the hackathons. Through CASSINI, the EU is planting the seed in young European innovators, and it has the potential to collect the fruits in years to come.

Key Insights to take from this open hackathon case study 💡

Hackathon recap:
    2 months hackathon duration
    10 co-host countries
    35 mentors
    11 judges
  • Have a clear, measurable, and obtainable goal of what you want to achieve with the hackathon.
  • Have realistic expectations about the outcome of the challenge.
  • Provide complete information about the challenge(s) at hand.
  • Provide any necessary support data for participants to work on.
  • Find ways to create hype about your hackathon: Cassini hosted their big ideas campaign 3 days prior to the main event, and that was a great tool to sustain engagement, generate buzz and increase the number of participants.
  • Evaluate the need and importance of having co-hosts in your hackathon, as they can help you to promote your event and reach to a broader audience.
  • Conduct research to find the ideal audience for your hackathon.
  • Engage with your community during the hackathon. Participants will have doubts and questions during the challenge. It’s up to you - the host - to always assist them and make them feel comfortable in the project they’re developing. The quality of their projects relies on having a solid understanding of the challenge.

Final Thoughts 💭

Open hackathons are a powerful tool and can be structured in many different ways. In this case study, we shed a light on CASSINI: a great example of a hackathon done right.

It’s incredible to see that public entities - such as the European Union - are at the forefront of innovation. Hosting not one, but six different hackathons shows the belief of the EU in this type of event, and how it can help to drive innovation.

This hackathon was hosted at TAIKAI: our all-in-one virtual hackathon platform.

We know that learning how to organize a hackathon can be a challenge without the correct tools, so we’ve simplified the process to create a better experience for your organization.

Microsoft, Pfizer, European Union and NISSAN, are just a few brands that have already made part of our amazing challenges and hackathons. Now it’s your turn.
Launch your challenge or request a demo today.

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