online hackathon

How to Make your Hackathons a Success: Physical vs Online Hackathons

online hackathon

How to Make your Hackathons a Success: Physical vs Online Hackathons

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Hosting a 48-hour to 72-hour hackathon means tackling logistical, geographical, and time constraints. Not the most encouraging environment for innovation, in short. Imagine the colossal efforts that need to be made when organizing the perfect 48-hour event – you need to find a venue where as many participants as possible can get together and work at breakneck speed for more than two days straight. For organizers and participants alike, having to give 100% over several days without stopping can affect the quality of both the event itself and the solutions put forward. After all, there aren’t many people who can identify an actual need, then create a well-developed functional project or prototype to address that issue, all within 48 hours.

And then there’s the lack of diversity – you always find the same type of people at these events. Having such uniformity among teams is a real obstacle to innovation – and this is only too clear in the quality of the solutions they develop. The answer isn’t to be found in a 100% physical model or a 100% online model, but rather in the O2O, or online to offline, model. The competition starts online, lasts for several months, and then concludes with a big in-person event.

The benefits of online hackathons over traditional hackathons

Given the imperfections of traditional 48-hour hackathons, several new approaches and technologies have emerged. The development of dedicated web platforms for hosting hackathons, for example, was wholeheartedly welcomed both by major groups and by participants.

These idea management tools were designed to overcome the problems with the traditional model – far from finished deliverables, limited geographic scope, and participants with almost identical profiles. But thanks to an online platform, hackathons are no longer subject to geographical or logistical constraints.  And as participants submit and develop their projects online, hackathons are also freed from time constraints. Innovation challenges can then extend over several months, giving projects time to mature. That’s how ‘out-of-the-box’ solutions – valued so highly by big companies – are developed.

Organizing a hackathon over several months allows a complete solution to be developed, which can then be used by the company in the long term.

But that’s not all! An online challenge also encourages participants to form multidisciplinary teams. By moving your hackathon to an online platform, you can create a welcoming environment that encourages a greater diversity of profiles, instantly getting together thousands of individuals studying different courses, working in different fields and from different country. Every participant brings their skills and expertise to the team – and that’s how you get complex and well-developed solutions.

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Hackathons in time of the pandemic

For the past year, and today still, the world is going through a trying time. The Covid-19 makes it difficult for us to meet in person thus when organizing a hackathon, it became imperative to make it 100% online. While prepping for your hackathon, whether you decide to do it internally or externally, you have to think about a way to make your event engaging.

Your final event can take place virtually and still be memorable just like AWS Hackdays Online 2020! The company successfully engaged with over 2,3000 participants from 10 different countries during the pandemic through its online hackathon. 

What makes a good hackathon platform?

Choosing the right platform to host your hackathon is a crucial step when launching your event. That’s why we recommend that you include several features that play an essential role in making your challenge a success, such as:

For participants:

  • Register online
  • Form teams online
  • Submit projects and deliverables via the hackathon platform

For organizers:

  • Access all participants’ profiles
  • Access all submitted projects directly online without downloading them

If you only have these features, yes, you’ll indeed have a functional platform, but it won’t have a very friendly atmosphere. That’s why, to make your hackathon more effective and more glamorous, we recommend that you include some of the following features:

Nice-to-have features that are useful to participants:

  • Find other team-mates (matchmaking algorithm)
  • Collaborate and share information online
  • Receive coaching directly via the platform
  • Have access to a public discussion wall
  • Share the challenge and your project on social media
  • Interact via a chat module and/or a video-conference module
  • Customize your participant space using documents, videos, photos, etc.

Nice-to-have features that are useful to organizers:

  • Create an online voting system
  • Include external voters
  • Mentor participants online
  • Monitor hackathon statistics in real-time
  • Access participants’ public discussion wall to interact with them
  • Export profiles and projects
  • Customize the platform design

How to choose your platform

You have two options: create your own platform, or use an existing oneCreating your own platform has some major advantages:

  • Develop a custom platform that suits your needs
  • Use your company’s existing resources to the max (IT network, intranet, internal social networks, etc.)
  • Build your own participant database that you will be the sole owner of

However, it’s a very expensive and time-consuming process. It’s completely out of the question for you to jump into the hackathon adventure in just a few weeks if you’re starting from scratch.

That’s where option number 2 comes in:  using an existing hackathon platform. This gives you a pre-packaged turnkey solution. If you choose this option, you can expect many additional features, including:

  • A matchmaking algorithm that allows participants to form multidisciplinary teams and find the best team-mates
  • A public space for holding discussions and sharing information between the platform’s users (participants and organizers)
  • Online mentoring sessions
  • An online voting interface for the organizers
  • A dashboard where challenge statistics can be viewed in real-time

Launching your hackathon on a platform is so much more than an easy way to keep up with the times. Above all, it’s an opportunity for the best ideas to find the ideal springboard to make it big in the fast-paced dash for innovation – and you receive high-quality deliverables. The competitive environment that surrounds hackathons, whether online or offline, gives teams a real boost. That’s why, to make the experience even further, some specialist companies, such as Agorize, help businesses to host their own O2O hackathons (online to offline or hybrid hackathons), which combine the best of physical and online hackathons.

O2O hackathons – the best of both worlds

The O2O format combines all the advantages offered by an online hackathon format with the buzz that comes with a physical hackathon.

During the physical stage of the hackathon, the teams chosen for the final meet their mentors, who coach them and help them to improve their project. This stage is just as crucial as the project development stage, as it provides an opportunity to make the final last-minute improvements needed to claim first place on the winners’ podium. After the mentoring stage comes the grand final. At this event, the finalists present their projects to a jury put together by the organizing company. This face-to-face meeting is a chance to decide between the teams, choosing the winners there and then.

O2O hackathons are the only way of achieving more complete solutions or prototypes that can be implemented quickly thanks to the online platform. But they’re also an opportunity to organize an inspiring event to put the best projects – and your organization – in the limelight.

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