Hackathons have been becoming an important type of event to foster innovation and entrepreneurship

That’s why we want to share with you our experience and some insights that come from organizing several events in this field in recent years. To do so, we invite two experienced programmers who helped us explaining what it is, how we can make it attractive and value perceived by different stakeholders.

70% of Tetuan Valley’s alumnis have a technical profile. Either they are engineers or programmers. Since the sixth edition of the Startup School we started to incorporate the Hackathon into our programs. Also, in the last two years we co-organized fourteen Hackathons within the program Startup Europe project WELCOME.

We’ve invited Jose Antonio, alumni, Hackathon mentor and Community Developer Manager at Tetuan Valley, and Jorge Arévalo, alumni, founder of Hackathon Lovers and software developer, to tell us a bit of their experience with Hackathons.

The origin of Hackathons

But, what really is a Hackathon and what does it encompass? Jose Antonio thinks a Hackathon is the best expression for innovation and product development in a short period of time. On the other side, Jorge Arévalo prefers to present some practical examples to show how important a Hackathon can be.

In his opinion, Hackathons are excellent for startups to prove their API’s; to recruit talent, to propose real challenges to the community; to make a brand/product/service known (e.g. startup that provides its infrastructure to deploy apps in a Hackathon); to complement a Startup School/training program or to promote a technological event.

Besides that, we wanted to tackle where a Hackathon fits better. In the opinion of Jose Antonio, whether inside a company or opened to the community, a Hackathon has potential to provide good outcomes to the participants. In a company it provides a decompressive environment and a learning moment. In an open Hackathon the environment is competitive, but fun, and usually very innovative.

Let’s bring people to Hackathons

Despite being recognized as important and a great complement of an entrepreneurial event, there are ways to make it more attractive and insightful to the participants. Addressing real challenges based on unsolved problems, allowing the use of infrastructures/libraries/gadgets, giving tempting awards to the community or hosting the Hackathon in a cool place.

These are some of the ways Jorge Arévalo believes a Hackathon could be really interesting and challenging to the technical community. But the programmer goes further, saying that the sponsors should limit their participations to what is important and necessary. For example, they should introduce their API’s/products/services only if it’s under the subject of the Hackathon, if it’s not, they shouldn’t do it.

In the end, for Jose Antonio, what is imperative in a Hackathon is the openness. The more open is the choice of technology, more attractive a Hackathon will be. The technical community always seeks to explore new development goals, get to know new technologies and to have fun with a different working environment and methodology. It provides new experiences, not forgetting the competitive dimension when there are rewards involved.

The best moment to do it for sponsors or corporates

And what about the sponsors or corporates? What do they usually ask to finance the event? For Jorge Arévalo the basic thing is to be seen. Big logos on the Hackathon page, promotion in the event and letting them have a word, always with the right balance. But then, there are differences based on the company’s size.

The small ones, like startups who want to promote their service, are usually very practical, in the opinion of Arévalo. Give talks about how to use their API’s and ask people to solve real problems with them. What they like is to see the developers treated very well: good catering, be aware of the event, make sure that everyone has what they need. Arévalo thinks they want to emphasize they are cool and engaging, not a big meat-eating company.

Regarding the big companies, they are also putting a lot of focus on the developer community. The big ones know that selling software in a box does not make sense today. In fact, they are not mere spectators with cash. They understand that much of their business model revolves around programmers.

Jose Antonio agrees with that, for him the idea behind a Hackathon is to have people prepared and with fresh ideas to a business, provoking the attraction of talent. In addition, it can contribute many other things like validation of ideas, new business ideas or even expand the knowledge of one concrete technology. This is the case of Hackathons of more technological companies, like IBM, OVH, etc..

Arévalo sums up his statement explaining that the big companies also do Hackathons to test their APIs and take care of the community. What happens is that startups know that this is their only way to survive. The larger ones can afford more varied strategies.

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