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5 Tips to Kick-Start your Hackathon

We are in the process of planning our first Mirametrix hackathon, and have learned a lot in the process.  For any of you considering organizing your first hackathon, here are some quick tips on where to start.

1. Attend a hackathon. If you have never been to a hackathon, this is an absolute must.  It will allow you to meet people that could help you with your struggles and teach you how to set up your hackathon for success. It will also give you some insight into what to expect from a hackathon and how the ambiance really is.  You will probably realise that it’s much more hectic that you imagine. During down times, you can meet and mingle; even invite some hackers to YOUR event!

2. Find the space. You need a space that has enough places for everyone. This is a hackathon so make sure that there are enough power outlets, since there will be a lot of computers and other devices plugged in. Bring replacement fuses if you need to! For people to attend, picking the right location is key. It has to be close to public transportation and easy to find. Remember, make things easy and fun, and people will come. Picking a place like the Notman house in Montreal is ideal, because the place has hosted all kind of similar events and is already known by hackers. You will be able to leverage the buzz around that place and the fact that your target participants constantly check out their calendar of event.

3. Find sponsors. Now this is the real challenge of organizing a hackathon. Don’t panic, breathe and make a hit list. You need to know what you are looking for in sponsors. There can be different categories of sponsors; big tech companies, smaller players in the industry, food and beverage sponsors, etc.  Service companies who you do regular business with are you first and best choice. They usually have a budget to sponsor events and really appreciate the exposure they can get.  We may not all be connected to the head of Apple or Microsoft and if you email them asking for sponsorships, you will probably end up in their junk mail. Start with people you know in your business network, and ask about who they’re connected to from the hit list you made. LinkedIn is a great tool for this.

4. Know who you’re targeting and how to reach them. This is the first thing to know about marketing your event. You want computer engineering students to attend; go for social media and student associations. Facebook is very powerful in this case. You want industry professionals to attend, use your network and ask sponsors and contacts you made to spread the word among their team. LinkedIn might be better suited here. There are great services like Eventbrite that help you register people and keep track of what’s happening. They also have an analysis tool that will analyse where people clicked to see your event and therefore give you feedback on your marketing approach.

5. Talk to people who have done it already. Did I say that already?  I meant it. The best thing I did to learn how to organize a hackathon was ask for advice from other people who had done it before.  Invite them to meet you for lunch, get to know them, and gather feedback on what went right and what went wrong.  Don’t be shy! And don’t forget, they are helping YOU so you need to show them how much you appreciate it (yes, pay the tab). But trust me, it will be worth it. The information they will provide you will be priceless in terms of saving you time and money you might have wasted on wrong decisions. They will also give you tips on what they could have done better if the occasion was to happen again. Take notes.

While I’m on the topic, a special thanks to Sara Ahmadian and Ben Yoskovitz for all your guidance and support!

“Smart people learn from their mistakes. But the real sharp ones learn from the mistakes of others.” ― Brandon Mull, Fablehaven

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