Can small businesses run a successful hackathon?

Posted in Business and entrepreneurship.

Hackathons have been common amongst tech companies in recent years, creating new opportunities for growth and development. But is there a place for this sort of event in a small business environment?

What is a Hackathon?

If the term ‘hackathon’ is creating a bit too much confusion around the office, a better way to introduce the idea is by using a more straightforward name, such as ‘innovation day’. This provides a little more explanation about what it’s all about: Innovation! A hackathon is an opportunity for employees to take a little time away from their day-to-day work to generate new growth and development ideas. Hackathons have become much more popular as businesses place more importance on company culture.

Hackathon Tips for Small Businesses

Hackathons aren’t especially popular with small businesses for many reasons. Most notably, larger businesses will typically have greater resources that enable them to more easily host such an event: a bigger budget, more staff, advanced technology systems, and even more spacious venues to allow for collaboration between teams.

However, small businesses CAN run a successful hackathon. Here’s how:

Set a Shared Goal

There are two types of hackathon events. The first is the most common and gives complete flexibility for participants to work on whatever it is they want. This could be coming up with new product ideas, learning a new coding language, or finding ways to tweak internal processes. The second type isn’t quite as common, but it can work well for small businesses. This way involves communicating an ultimate aim and giving participants the flexibility to work on ideas that arrive at this shared destination. For example, businesses may wish to focus on product development, or attracting new B2B clients.

Time it Carefully

Small businesses must consider many aspects to ensure they are holding their event at a time of year when a hackathon is likely to be the most successful. It is necessary to take into account annual leave, for example, to make sure the business has an adequate level of support while participants are relieved of their standard duties. It may also be beneficial to hold a hackathon prior to creating a new annual strategy, so that ideas can be incorporated into the new plan. Also consider the needs of the business clients. Is there a time of year that is typically quieter, allowing participants more time to get creative?

Be Open

Tech businesses usually associate the term ‘hackathon’ with software development and technology. However, there really is no hard and fast rule over who can — and who can’t — get involved. In small businesses especially, there is often a much less formal company structure, with more fluidity in terms of who does what. For this reason, it pays to be open, and to invite participants from all aspects of the business, who could bring new perspectives and new ideas to the table. While technology will ultimately still play a big role in any hackathon event, there is more to tech than just your IT team.

While there may still be some downsides to small business hackathons — loss of productivity, for example — there are many advantages, too. Not only is a hackathon a fantastic opportunity to promote and encourage innovation and creativity in the workplace, it’s also a way to improve company culture, allowing employees to take a step back, communicate and collaborate, and show off their talents.