from building ideafest 15, a hackathon for ideas at Ohio State University.
Well its done, my first event creation end to end is in the books. Ok maybe it’s not my first, yes I’ve spoken at Startup Weekend’s, and I’ve judged and mentored TCO’s BOSS, and IdeaPitches, and IdeaBox’s for the Ohio State Business Builders Club, and yes MC’d, organized and helped out on Wakeup Startup, and did a few panel things for Columbus Startup Week, and ok sure I do share the org love with WylieMac on Ignite Columbus but I never did get my Conspiracy Theory Friday’s off the ground- but my own thing?
Well actually I did make this thing called a Hacktastic, long time ago, but yeah- all that’s changed however, because I have completed pretty much my own design though I got a crazy amount of help from folks- IDEAFEST 15, a hackathon for ideas.
This started basically 6 months ago during a deans meeting at the College of Arts and Sciences. The college which is massive, 80 majors, loads of departments, 20 centers, 10 of which are world class, etc wanted to do more to spark entrepreneurial thinking in its college, not just for students but for staff and faculty alike and well I was like.. umm let’s do a hackathon, let’s do an event to dig the entrepreneurial spirit outa people.
Events are fairly natural for me, I like the evolving, kinetic, spontaneous nature of controlled chaos. Deep down I just love making stuff outa nothing. Events are like that, course you have to plan them, set the stage if you will and watch it unfold.
I often propose alot of what I’d classify “crazy ideas” at work. They sometimes get picked and then I get to go crazy figuring them out. Often they are daunting and doing an event at Ohio State, is always daunting really- why, theme, permission, engagement, audience, people, logistics, sponsors, design, art, getting people to come (lol), food, swag, fun, prizes, facilitation, judges, technical snafu’s, and planning multiple routes for everything that doesn’t go wrong and embracing that- that’ll do, mentality.
Doing events like Wakeup Startup and my previous 1 day hackathons (Hacktastic) really helped me prep and plan IDEAFEST 15. The formula is simple really, get people, ponder ideas, form teams, jam, mentor, pitch, win.
its not stealing, its learning…
I kinda took something from every event I’ve ever done in the past to put in the cauldron of IDEAFEST, plus, things I’ve always wanted to do what I’ve wanted to try or experienced thru other like engagements.
From Startup Weekend, I took the aspect of schedule, breakfast, lunch, dinner, a sense of timeline and pace, and prep pitch prep material, what to expect a bit. I also snagged the group picture at the end idea. Startup Weekend really makes people feel like they are part of something, I wanted that effect in IDEAFEST as well.
From Wakeup Startup, I took the importance of deck format, set as much as possible though people will always do their own thing, but a set format helps inform them, and I was adamant about the ASK- every deck had to end with an ASK, no ASK, no pitch. The ASK is so critical, it forms the audience with what you need, pitches just start the flame in your belly, the rest of the work, man you got a lot of crap to do! ASK for help, cash, connections, no ASK and you’re wasting my time.
From BBC’s IdeaPitch, I recalled my love of judging, its fun to ask good hard questions, especially to students who expect them and BBC’ers are critters that love to be crushed cause they spring back with glee. Judging and facilitation are similar to me. I wanted to inject strong facilitation across IDEAFEST.
From Hacktastic, I borrowed what I had created in that event, no need to code, take idea, get a narrative going. Really IDEAFEST is just that, make a convincing narrative as to why people should pay attention to you. All startup events are plagued by the lack of makers- designer, programmers especially, they are few compared to the biz people, the wondering gents and pondering ladies. But you don’t need to code to make.
Hacktastic was essentially a 1 day hackathon where we generated ideas in advance, crowdsourcing them from participants attending and organizing the event around a theme and constraint. The morning of the event, we printed out every idea, put it on the wall and voted with simple stickers, then we organized the ideas by most stickers, and adhoc formed teams around the top ideas. This is a very different way to get teams going than say a Startup Weekend where people pitch and then you rally for votes and then you form teams- so why not do that? Mostly time related. Its usually easier to collect ideas while event logistics are in play, people signing up etc, plus getting ideas from the stakeholers in the college’s is really important as well, one its good to know if they resonate with others or not, plus its important to get engagement across the widest spectrum possible I think.
This formula of event setup in Hacktastic, was implemented in IDEAFEST 15, I solicited attendee’s, college stakeholders, internal organizers etc, for ideas, compiling a large list and then the morning of the event, ya get coffee and browse the wall of ideas.
During my days at Lextant, much of the design research projects were like this, ideas, concepts on the wall and then we’d use sticker voting systems like this to collect layers of assessment to do our research, plus it offered additional ways to analyze what people picked etc- same with IDEAFEST, what ideas get the most votes, what ideas actually went on to teams, what ideas that got alot of votes but didn't actually form into a team, what does that tell you, and always I love the ideas primary stakeholders have that do or don’t get picked. It shows how far the leadership is or isn’t to the population in the org etc.
HELLO, give me some take aways dan…
SWAG and Sponsors, I really wanted to do a swag bag. I love swag, why not get swag for an event, get something extra. Bonus from SWAG, you can broadcast a bigger message in terms of sponsorship engagement. I mean sure Unity3D didn’t give us money per say, but they gave us awesome swag, and more so it allowed us to say to other sponsors- we got Unity3D, they’re in, aren’t you? Sponsors always want to hear about who else is in, and almost no one wants to be first. SWAG lets you ease the sponsorship, dude get in on this, conversation.
ASK, best way to ask for help from sponsors, etc, is just ask. Dare to ask. I know that sounds crazy, but just get on the phone, shoot the email, leverage a contact etc, but get in the door and ask. Knowing if they have sponsored similar events hugely helps, larger corps have departments that do just that, also good to know if they’ve done swag before, because then you can figure there’s a few hundred boxes in some admin’s office begging to be used. But seriously, ASK, get over the “i’ll look like an idiot fears” and ask.
High Five, Thank, Respect, and Praise your core organizing team every chance you get. Dylan, Leah, Bri, Melanie, Elieen, Erin, Paul, Emily, they all went waaaay beyond their day to day to make this event happened, every chance I could I let them know thanks. Also empower them to do their thing without worry- micro managing your event sucks, you can’t do it. Let go to get control and rock where you matter most.
Students. I knew early on that the event would need a kind of staff. Startup Weekend in Columbus you see that staff of volunteers, thats a key group, they make your day happen and you never even wonder what didn’t go right. Getting core TCO staff was good yes, and of course there, but I wanted peer to peer engagement, I wanted students. Students are powerful. But how to get students easily? Sure the lure of working with Big Kitty is amazing and all but lure of beer, pizza and chilling on the xbox is just as powerful. I just knew I wanted BBC there to degree, and more on an official, level, so make them staff. I convinced the College of Arts and Sciences to donate some funds into the Business Builders Club, to make a notable gesture to leverage BBC folks at the event. BBC represents what 75+ students that love to make, pitch, live and breathe startups 24/7. They’ll infect the casual, no idea about startups students better than any semester long program put together- why, cause they are honest, they socialize, share and just do their thing- that passionate to try, experiment, take on the challenge is infectious. And it worked.
Of course I do have my own bit motivate when it comes to the BBC, they are the seed for an Ohio State, STARTX, we need to make that happen, more visibility to senior leadership across the colleges only helps that narrative.
Student Organizers. Another place I wanted students was in the core organization and design of the event. When TCO folks asked me “ok dan, you’re doing that event, what do you need??” I asked for an intern, who was dual purpose, one to help on the vault project (for another time) and to do lead logistics and event planning for the hackathon- Dylan, is that man! He rocked it, and yes, he’s a BBC’er (do you see the pattern yet?). Bri Branco, is another student hired on to intern at TCO for graphics and print support. I stressed to Dylan and Bri, make the event you want to attend, anything LAME and you state it. They made alot of decisions, from language and brand positioning to flyer, tshirt design and more. This was great experience as well of course, but students can get away with asking things easier than I can. They’re seen differently in faculty’s eyes, again, a bit uncrushable. No one wants to say no to a student, so in leveraging them you can be tactfully stealthy in addressing folks who would normally question your motivates- and yeah, that happens alot really. Simply put, an ask from me, is different than an ask from Dylan, and vice versa, often he couldn’t get momentum because he was a student and i stepped in to help. But students always help.
Provide Order When Required, anticipating when planes stall is a side effect from events, certain things always happen so you get hardened to expect it, then plan for it. Nudge, provide clarity on the format, foster, help and force if need be, team creation. There will always be a few that don’t get picked, and wear that burden and try and help those people find a place, again leverage students to help those students. Create your own agenda next to the agenda you’re giving participants.
Capture and Tell Stories, I made it a point to reward social media activity, even giving it a prize category, I need someone, everyone to tweet besides me. Noise for events matters, more noise, more ooo, more ahhh, more wonderment, and it snowballs. We also setup a space to capture video of people being interviewed on set questions, essentially a testimonial capture station- again, video stories to help us tell the story of why these events matter. Additionally, at the event of the event, after the pitches, and prizes, we had 10minutes of quick take aways, what worked, what didn’t, hearing from attendees is critical and the stories are always good. Everyone wants to know really, have a conversation.
What didn’t work?
We inadvertently confused with students on campus with calling it a hackathon. This was because the HACKIO, the main hackathon on campus is just one month away. I was initially like “really?!?!” because I feel hackathon is a universal event like word, but the more I thought about it, the more it seemed to really confuse folks. Quickly rebranding to IDEAFEST two weeks before the event is all we could do to address the issue. Now that its basically IDEAFEST, and that is sticking nicely, we’ll keep it that. However I may still want to use the sub tag “a hackathon for ideas” in the mix.
Hackathons have an added baggage as well in that they seem to make people think programmers only. Another reason to leverage IDEAFEST, but ideafest on its own, tells you very little.
More planning is always better. We did amazingly with 5 weeks. Next time we’ll give ourselves a good 2–3 months before the event. Setting the date way in advance of that and the venue etc.
More sponsors would of helped but College of Arts and Sciences really gave us loads of flexibility and freedom.