Why and How to Host a Hackathon

Short on programming talent or ideas? Consider hosting a hackathon.

learn more about Mikal E. Belicove

By Mikal E. Belicove

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Why and How to Host a HackathonWikipedia may be going dark tomorrow, but three days from now the folks who run the non-profit foundation will host a three-day "hackathon" geared toward building entirely new applications running on top of Wikipedia itself, on mobile devices or based on Wikipedia's data and content.

If you're a coder, programmer or Internet-based design engineer you can participate. Free tickets for the three-day event that takes place in San Francisco are now sold out, but you can still participate by way of the Internet. Click here for a link to the hackathon online, where some of the world's greatest computer minds may end up creating new products that the rest of us may be using in just a few months' time.

Related: What You Can Learn About Innovation from Amazon, Starbucks and USPS

Hackathons give a company's programming staff the opportunity to try out new ideas and collaborate with coders in a fun and managed environment. Say you're a new company with a small in-house development team that is in need of more programming muscle to get a product launched. Or you're an established organization like Wikipedia with an existing product that you want to see leveraged in a new way. In both cases, a hackathon can bring together innovative coders to create what you're looking for or may not even have thought of yet.

Robert Jandura-Cessna, founder of IMUZIK, a Syracuse, N.Y.-based startup that is about to launch a touchscreen digital music stand called MyMuzik stand, has hosted several hackathons in order to come up with programs for his product. He calls these events "hacking for music," and he's invited programmers and software developers to "integrate music with technology" in another hackathon scheduled early next month.

Peter Morano, a Chicago-based software developer and founder of Hackatopia.com, has been involved as a volunteer programmer at dozens of hackathons before someone asked him to organize one. Now he's got a company that plans and manages hackathons for startups and others, covering everything from the pre-event party to registering participants to obtaining prizes for winning design teams.

So how do you organize a hackathon for your company? Here are some tips from both IMUZIK's Cessna and Hackatopia.com's Morano to get you started:

  • Designate one person to manage your hackathon. Give them a budget for food and prizes and to promote the event both within the company and to local programmers and coders.
  • Decide early on if your hackathon will be simple or highly elaborate. Simple can be a bunch of volunteers sitting around coding all weekend, or it can be elaborate -- with sponsors, prizes, publicity, judges and even participants divided up into organized teams competing for prizes.
  • Have a clear message of what you want to accomplish and relay that message to your employees and outside programmers and designers right from beginning of the publicity portion of the event.
  • Plan breaks throughout. Have tons of pizza, junk food and soft drinks on hand.
  • Make sure all participants sign a contract during the registration period that covers all aspects of ownership of the intellectual property created during the event.

Related: How to Recruit a Great Programmer as a Partner

Have you ever participated in a hackathon? Tell us about your experience in the comments section.

Mikal E. Belicove

Mikal E. Belicove is a market positioning, social media, and management consultant specializing in website usability and business blogging. His latest book, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Facebook, is now available at bookstores. 

Related Topics

Editor's Pick

Everyone Wants to Get Close to Their Favorite Artist. Here's the Technology Making It a Reality — But Better.
The Highest-Paid, Highest-Profile People in Every Field Know This Communication Strategy
After Early Rejection From Publishers, This Author Self-Published Her Book and Sold More Than 500,000 Copies. Here's How She Did It.
Having Trouble Speaking Up in Meetings? Try This Strategy.
He Names Brands for Amazon, Meta and Forever 21, and Says This Is the Big Blank Space in the Naming Game
Money & Finance

What Is a Good Credit Score and How Do I Get One?

Is bad credit holding you back? This article explains what constitutes a good credit score and how to raise your score if it's low.

Business News

I Live on a Cruise Ship for Half of the Year. Look Inside My 336-Square-Foot Cabin with Wraparound Balcony.

I live on a cruise ship with my husband, who works on it, for six months out of the year. Life at "home" can be tight. Here's what it's really like living on a cruise ship.

Business News

These Are the Most and Least Affordable Places to Retire in The U.S.

The Northeast and West Coast are the least affordable, while areas in the Mountain State region tend to be ideal for retirees on a budget.

Thought Leaders

The Collapse of Credit Suisse: A Cautionary Tale of Resistance to Hybrid Work

This cautionary tale serves as a reminder for business leaders to adapt to the changing world of work and prioritize their workforce's needs and preferences.

Business Solutions

Learn to Build a ChatGPT Bot for Only $30

If you want to see what AI can do for your business, grab this course bundle today.


6 Myths About Leadership That May Be Holding You Back

By dispelling these leadership myths, we can create a more realistic and nuanced understanding of what it means to be an effective leader.