Why your business should host a hackathon

Lakshmi Singh
@singh_lakshmi

Developing products, refining ideas and collaborating over pizza and drinks sounds like a typical day at a start-up. But, the flexibility, rapid development and free reign it affords employees makes it a great game plan to be used by any business, big or small – at any stage of the growth cycle.

Time-boxed periods where teams across a company are encouraged to adopt a “fix-it-as-you-go” approach without any red-tape or processes holding them back are a great way to get out of a rut and bring your business’ best innovative minds to the fore. Here’s why:

It gets the creative juices going

Brad Furber from UNSW’s Michael Crouch Innovation Centre (MCIC), which hosts hackathons for industries as diverse as fishing and fashion says they can help “stimulate a process where new ideas and creativity will flow.”

One company leading the charge when it comes to the hackathon is finder.com.au. Here, staff are encouraged to introduce their ideas to the public before the ‘perfection’ stage, without any barriers of going through “authorities”, as Fred Schebesta, co-founder and director of finder.com.au puts it.

“Instead, when an idea is half-developed, it’s pushed live and if areas for success are identified, it’s improved upon from there,” he says.

Using this method, a two-week turnaround time for changes to tables on the finder.com.au website turns into a five minute drag and drop exercise that anyone can do, says Schebesta.

"A company that organises hackathons never runs short of great ideas to implement in the end products." – Ross Fastuca.

It’s a unique training and development program

Ross Fastuca, CIO at Locomote, a corporate travel platform, says hackathons give engineers opportunities to learn new technology and pursue ideas that aren’t necessarily related to the company or its products.

“They help bring the team together by giving people the opportunity to work in groups different to their usual teams,” he says.

Team building –a great alternative to Friday-night drinks or team lunches

At Locomote, everyone in the company – from developers to sales to executives and the finance team are encouraged to share their ideas a couple of days before the hackathon.

On the day, the entire company goes off-site, starts pitching ideas, forms teams to bring them to life, while enjoying plenty of food and beverages, says Fastuca.

Marketing and brand awareness –more engaging than your traditional advertising

Partnering with industry leaders and hosting a hackathon could prove to be a positive move if you’re wanting to indulge your brand a bit, says Furber.

“It could be a good way to try and get the word out about your brand, that you’re creative and that you’re trying to innovate,” he says.

Talent acquisition – bypass traditional recruitment processes

“You may also use it as a way to recruit – you’re looking to engage a particular sector of the community like developers who could build apps on a third-party platform for example,” says Furber.

At MCIC, university students studying specific courses are invited to hackathons, allowing them to network and showcase their skills. At the same time, sponsors have a chance to meet with their potential employees at the event, he says.

Lakshmi Singh

Lakshmi Singh is a freelance writer across a range of sectors including technology, business, lifestyle and health. Her work has been published in the Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and the Sunday Telegraph.

Image: Massimo Barbieri, Flickr Creative Commons License

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