Does the word hackathon mean anything to you? This new method for working in groups has quickly become THE agile, dynamic solution for key account and start-up projects in every sector.
Hackathons: The Basics
The idea of a hackathon is simple: hold a contest where you get talented people together (mainly students and developers) and have them work in teams on a specific problem. In-house hackathons are pretty common. Canal TP, specializing in responsive locomotion, holds one each month to gather their employees’ top ideas!
Participants get two things out of this: the chance to work in a professional context in close proximity to companies and the opportunity to win great prizes. Companies get a winning combination of visibility, great job candidates and innovative ideas! Still want more? Let’s dive in and explore this corner of the world of innovation.
Two Main Models
After surveying existing events, you can quickly divide them into two categories: in-person hackathons and online hackathons. Let’s take a look at their distinctive characteristics.
This is the original form for hackathons. You might picture a room filled with computer geeks having a great time spending a weekend on a coding project. Besides being an opportunity to overindulge in pizza and beer, these events are fun and rewarding for participants and companies!
They are memorable experiences where excitement and group synergy lead to out-of-the-box ideas. They also provide great opportunities for promoting event partners. People get to see the cool side of the company holding the event, which makes it more appealing to young talent and boosts its employer brand.
Although the 48-hour version has its strong points, it’s not really enough time for participants to fully develop their concepts! So the projects are not very refined at the end of the challenge. Plus, the audience and the people involved are limited to a given geographic area.
Online hackathons came about because people were aware of the inability of in-person hackathons to produce well-developed deliverables. Coding schools like 42 and Epitech have already begun using this version. The development of open innovation platforms meant that participants could work remotely (through online platforms, chat, filesharing and videoconferencing).
The length of the challenge is flexible; it can be as long or as short as you like, so that participants can develop functional applications. Plus, there is no geographic limitation and you can easily get multidisciplinary, international teams involved! Companies and sponsors can keep an eye on the top teams and put promising candidates to the test in real-world group work scenarios.
Keep in mind, though, that although this solution is a better fit for stakeholder expectations, online hackathons don’t have the same fun, happening vibe as in-person ones. They also take more resources and planning.
A hybrid hackathon model
So what does the future look like for these rapidly evolving models? The trend seems to be toward hybridization. We’re seeing online hackathons incorporating some in-person events, challenges that call for teams with a mix of employees and students, and many other new things as well!
A prime example of this trend is the challenge that we just launched for ALD Automotive, a subsidiary of Société Générale. This hackathon has in-house participants (ALD employees) and external ones (students and developers). Another example is the Make it real hackathon that we organized as a sideline event for COP21. It began with a 72-hour in-person hackathon and continued as an online hackathon for 3 more months.
More and more companies are already incorporating these events into their innovation strategies: Total, Uber, SNCF, Engie, TF1, and the list goes on.