Hackathons are hectic. They’re frenzied, sleep-depriving, and above all, fun. It’s easy to forget, when consumed by the mayhem of the event, just how much it takes to make a hackathon run smoothly. This series will delve into the inner workings of Hack Cambridge, a 24-hour hackathon in which students from all over the world will collaborate to innovate, break, and create.
In this edition, our sponsorship leader, Henry Thompson, revealed the intricacies of working with some of the world’s biggest tech companies.
How did you get involved with Hack Cambridge?
“This is the second year I’ve been on the Hack Cambridge committee, but it started before even that back when I was in first year of university. In 2016 I attended the very first Hack Cambridge and absolutely loved it! I was determined to be involved with the team responsible for organising it so at the Freshers’ Fair the following year I made a beeline for the Hack Cambridge stall. I was put onto sponsorship for Hack Cambridge Recurse (2017) and was blown away by the team. It was a phenomenal experience! Being on the sponsorship team was an incredible opportunity to speak to people in all sorts of companies, and to get a little glimpse into how they operate. I loved the process of pitching and selling the sponsorship packages, to seeing the event come together and the sponsors’ requests fulfilled.
Following on from this experience I was delighted to take on the sponsorship lead role for Hack Cambridge Ternary.”
What is your role on the committee?
“Broadly, I am accountable for ensuring we raise our target sum of money and that sponsors receive an excellent experience at Hack Cambridge. Day-to-day, I offer advice and answer questions from the team based on my experience on the previous Hack Cambridges; I also ensure that everything is running smoothly and make decisions wherever required. In consultation with the rest of the team I decide how we structure the sponsorship tiers, what our processes are, how we get new leads, how we pitch to sponsors and what our approach is when negotiating custom requests from sponsors. A key part is ensuring that the entire team is co-ordinated in our approach, so setting targets, encouraging a collaborative culture and devising processes so we work efficiently together are important too. Like the rest of the team, I also love to get hands-on pitching Hack Cambridge to new leads and acting as a point of contact for new sponsors.
Sponsorship is not just about bringing in money: the sponsors are our partners, and we need to ensure they get value out of the event. As the sponsors’ direct link into the rest of the committee, being part of the sponsorship team involves much more than just a sales pitch: it is a collaborative relationship between us and sponsors over months, potentially years. Having seen the complete cycle from pitching the event through to delivery as part of the Recurse committee, I often spot problems before they arise or have a better feel as to how sponsors will react to decisions we make.”
What are the most difficult aspects of your role?
“On rare occasions, dealing with sponsors can be difficult and we have had multiple instances where they agree to sponsor but then back out, or just stop answering our emails and phone calls. In these cases, resolving the situation is rarely simple and can be a real challenge for us. Say a sponsor stops responding to multiple emails and calls: should we reopen their sponsorship slot and sell it to someone else? What if we invoiced them already, or had planned a number of things with them? Should we hold it and hope they come back? Its always a tough call and quite frustrating. Sometimes we may need information urgently, but it does not come through and this holds the rest of the team back as well. In all cases, however fraught it may get within the team, we must remain professional and resolve the issue pragmatically. We are careful to avoid mucking sponsors about but also balance this with Hack Cambridge’s interests. That said, to the team’s credit, these situations stimulate lively discussion and we always manage to come up with creative and satisfactory solutions!”
What is your favourite part of the role?
“Undoubtedly seeing deals made by the team! Sponsorship is a huge amount of work, and we contact literally hundreds of companies. Most companies ignore us; we receive a lot of rejections after long discussions; and sometimes circumstances change that result in companies having to drop out at a late stage. Through these little frustrations, there’s a little buzz of excitement every time a deal is finalised and we inch closer to our fundraising target. We are delighted with our 21 fantastic sponsors this year, and I could not have asked for a more professional or hardworking team to work with! That we managed to land 4 of the “Big 5” tech giants (Microsoft, Google, Facebook and Amazon) is testament to the quality of everyone else in the team. We ended up with way more companies offering to sponsor than we were able to accommodate, so I was delighted with this year’s performance!”
What other projects or societies are you involved in?
“I play cello in a number of musical groups, including the Cambridge University String Ensemble and the MagSoc Orchestra. I’ve presented workshops as a Microsoft Student Partner, and also have quite a few tech-related side projects such as apps and web-apps. A lot of that has given way to my dissertation project now though, which involves mucking around with the memory subsystem of an operating system and modifying garbage collectors!”
What do you do when not at your keyboard?
“In the rare occasions I’m not typing away on a keyboard, I play cello — sometimes by myself but more often within an orchestra, ensemble or even for plays. I will occasionally play the piano and go for a run as well, but most of my hobbies are definitely related to technology.”
We’ll be grilling even more of the Hack Cambridge committee over the next month in the run-up to the event. Make sure to keep up to date with all other Hack Cambridge news over on our website.