Corporate Hackathons – Disrupting the Future over a Weekend
Here at Dogpatch our team works with all members of the tech ecosystem – from startups and solopreneurs to universities and multinationals – supporting them to innovate through events such as team-building innovation workshops, knowledge sharing meetups, and highly curated intro-accelerating networking events.
One of the event formats we use to help organisations to innovate is through Hackathons and Startup Weekends, which help immerse the organisation in the world of innovation over a few days.
If you’re asking yourself “What is a hackathon?”, we’ll explain it briefly. The term comes from a combination of two seemingly unrelated words: Hack – a quick job that produces what is needed – and Marathon – a long lasting or difficult task/operation of a specified kind. This gives our definition of hackathon: an intensive event in which a large number of people meet to engage in creating unexplored solutions.
A case in point – #HackMakeTheBank with Ulster Bank
At the end of January we hosted Ulster Bank’s hackathon #HackMakeTheBank in The Vaults – a dedicated events place for Dublin’s tech scene. The corporate hackathon took place over 3 days and produced innovative ideas of services for their customers. Over 130 people participated all weekend, from members of Ulster Bank’s IT team, to developers and entrepreneurs to local university students.
“Our hackathons bring together a really interesting mix of people who are thinking about the app economy and the future of banking.”
#HackMakeTheBank started with an introduction by Robin Marshall, CIO of Ulster Bank, after which participants presented their ideas in under 30 seconds each, with the aim of finding like-minded teammates. The hackers then organised themselves into teams and started working on the disruptive ideas, creating a prototype to then present on Sunday evening. During the whole weekend teams also received mentoring by experts from Ulster Bank, Zendesk, Accenture and others, as well as workshops on APIs from Open Bank, Twilio, Blue Bank and more.
Generally speaking, corporate hackathons are organised for well established companies as an innovation tool, usually with a mix of both internal and external participants to maximise the benefits. Hackathons for corporates have both short-term and long-term benefits that make them a long-term investment with immediate returns.
Some of the short term benefits we’ve seen from this event is the huge amount of energy and motivation created within the organisation and the participants, along with the chance to see problems differently and receiving immediate feedback from customers on original ideas investigated during the hackathon. The final result of #HackMakeTheBank was a presentation of over ten ideas built from scratch with testable prototypes, something impossible to obtain with a traditional approach.
Among the winning ideas we have GoDutch, an app that simplifies bill splitting; Gift, Graft & Grow, which helps parents teach kids on savings through rewards; and PopCard, a digital charge card solution. The teams all learned a lot over the weekend, and the winners went away with some valuable prizes including Beats wireless headphones, quadcopters and BitCoin credits.
“The energy in Dogpatch over the last three days has been incredible, with the perfect balance of collaboration and competitive edge. Engaging with the FinTech community in a collaborative way is essential for Ulster Bank as we strive to become the number one bank for customer service, trust and advocacy.“
CIO Ulster Bank
The benefits don’t stop there, as the hackathon brings along with it a series of additional, long-term benefits. The simple fact of organising a hackathon makes an important point: the company is open to disruptive innovation and is integrating with the startup and wider entrepreneurial ecosystem. This display of openness to innovation is also a bridge to the developer community, a way to attract and retain tech talent. Facilitating active involvement of external developers during a hackathon is also a great way to get excitement around your new technology, be it an API or a device, and is a valuable tool in engaging with the wider community.
Hackathons aren’t standalone activities
One thing we’ve learned is that a corporate hackathon is most beneficial when run as part of a series of activities in innovation that will affect organizational inertia, and should be nurtured through time. Ulster Bank is following this principle as #HackMaketheBank fits within a broader program of innovation activities spearheaded by the bank – including a series of innovation days, offsites and events co-organised with partner Dogpatch Labs throughout the year.
Be warned, organizational and cultural change may follow within your company! But that’s why you’re interested in hosting a corporate hackathon in the first place, isn’t it?