Hackathon: what is it and how it empowers collaborative development

The technology industry is constantly evolving, and there is always a demand for new and innovative ideas.  Hackathons are a...
21 June 2023

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Hackathon: what is it and how it empowers collaborative development

The technology industry is constantly evolving, and there is always a demand for new and innovative ideas. 

Hackathons are a great way to generate ideas and promote collaboration among developers, designers, and other tech enthusiasts. 

In this article, we will dive deep into what hackathons are, how they work, and the benefits and drawbacks of participating in one.

What is a hackathon?

A hackathon is an event where individuals come together to collaborate and create innovative projects in a short period of time, usually within 24-48 hours. 

Participants work on various projects, from mobile apps to web applications to hardware and software prototypes. The ultimate goal is to produce a working prototype demonstrating creativity and technical expertise.

Different organizations, including universities, corporations, or non-profit organizations, can organize hackathons. 

Participants often form teams and compete against one another for prizes, which can include cash prizes, job opportunities, and other incentives.

Hackathon types

Hackathons come in different forms, with the most common being:

Open Hackathons

Open hackathons are open to the public, and anyone can participate. They are often used to generate new ideas and promote collaboration among individuals from different backgrounds.

Closed Hackathons

Closed hackathons are invite-only events, often organized by companies or organizations. Participants are usually selected based on their skills, experience, and background.

Virtual or Online Hackathons

Virtual hackathons are organized online, and participants work remotely. They are a great way to reach a broader audience and allow individuals who cannot travel to participate.

Hackathon: what is it, and how it empowers collaborative development?

No-tech hackathon

These types of hackathons focus on developing solutions to problems or challenges without the use of technology or software. 

Instead, participants rely on their creativity, problem-solving skills, and teamwork to develop innovative ideas and solutions. 

Some examples of challenges that could be tackled in a no-tech hackathon include developing sustainable packaging solutions, creating more efficient processes for waste management, or designing low-cost solutions for improving access to clean water in developing countries. 

No-tech hackathons can be a fun and engaging way to promote collaboration and creativity while also addressing important social and environmental issues.

A hackathon is an event where individuals come together to collaborate and create innovative projects.

How can a hackathon empower collaborative development?

A hackathon can empower collaborative development in several ways. 

First and foremost, it brings together individuals with diverse backgrounds and skill sets who might not normally work together. This can foster cross-functional collaboration and help participants learn new skills and ways of thinking.

Additionally, hackathons often have a tight timeframe and a specific problem or challenge to solve, which encourages participants to work quickly and collaboratively to develop solutions. This can promote creativity and innovation, and also helps build a sense of camaraderie among participants.

Finally, hackathons often result in tangible outcomes, such as prototypes or proof-of-concepts, which can be further developed and implemented after the event. This can lead to real-world social impact and provide a sense of accomplishment and motivation for participants.

How is the structure of a hackathon?

The structure of a hackathon varies depending on the event. However, most hackathons follow a similar structure:

  1. Idea Pitches: Participants pitch their ideas to the group. This is an opportunity to share ideas, build teams, and receive feedback.
  2. Team Formation: Participants form teams based on their interests, interpersonal skills, and the ideas pitched during the event.
  3. Development: Teams work together to develop their projects. This is where the real magic happens, and participants work around the clock to create a working prototype.
  4. Presentations: Teams present their projects to the judges and the audience. This is an opportunity to showcase their work, receive feedback, and compete for prizes.

How to organize a hackathon

Organizing a hackathon is not an easy task. However, with the right planning and preparation, it can be a rewarding experience. Here are some steps to follow:

Define the Objective

The first step in organizing a hackathon is to define the objective. What is the purpose of the event? Is it to generate new ideas, promote collaboration, or showcase technical expertise?

Determine the Format

Decide on the format of the event. Will it be an open or closed hackathon? Will it be virtual or in-person?

Choose a Venue

Choose a venue that can accommodate the number of participants and provide the necessary infrastructure, such as power, Wi-Fi, and seating.

Set the Schedule

Set the event schedule, including the idea pitch session, team formation, development, and presentations.

Promote the Event

Promote the event to attract participants. Use social media, email, and other channels to reach a broader audience.

Pros and cons of hackathons

Participating in a hackathon has both advantages and disadvantages. Here are some pros and cons:


  • Opportunity to learn new skills
  • Exposure to new ideas and technologies
  • Chance to work with like-minded individuals
  • Possibility of winning prizes and recognition
  • Networking opportunities


  • Lack of sleep (that can be solved with resting times)
  • Time constraints and pressure to deliver
  • Possibility of burnout or exhaustion
  • Limited focus on long-term projects
  • Potential for a competitive and stressful environment

Hackathon for companies

Hackathons are not just for individuals and students; companies can also benefit from organizing or participating in hackathons. Here are some reasons why:

Foster Innovation

Hackathons provide a platform for employees to share their ideas and collaborate. This can lead to new and innovative ideas that can benefit the company.

Promote Team Building

Hackathons provide an opportunity for employees to work together in a non-traditional setting. This can promote teamwork, collaboration, and communication skills.

Recruiting and Hiring

Hackathons can be used as a tool for recruiting and hiring new talent. They allow companies to see potential candidates in action and assess their skills and abilities.

A hackathon can empower collaborative development in several ways.

Hackathon ideas and examples

Here are some ideas and examples of hackathons:

HealthTech Hackathons

HealthTech hackathons focus on using technology to solve problems related to healthcare. Participants can work on projects related to telemedicine, medical devices, and other health-related topics.

Environmental Hackathons

Environmental hackathons focus on using technology to solve environmental challenges. Participants can work on climate change, renewable energy, and sustainable development projects.

Social Good Hackathons

Social good hackathons focus on using technology for social good. Participants can work on education, poverty alleviation, and community development projects.

Hackathon Examples

  • The Global Game Jam: a worldwide event where participants come together to create games in 48 hours.
  • AngelHack: a hackathon that focuses on solving real-world problems and promoting entrepreneurship.
  • NASA Space Apps Challenge is a hackathon that uses space data to solve global challenges.

Although the companies mentioned are enormously large, small companies can also organize collaborative development events.

Even at Smowltech, we have our own annual hackathon – which we call Smowlkathon – where different departments within our company work on small projects and then present them to each other.

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