A guide to win a Hackathon in 24 hours

Adrian Barwicki
6 min readJan 28, 2018

Read the full story here: https://honest.cash/adrianbarwicki/guide-to-winning-hackathons-337

I have attended three Hackathons so far. HackZurich 2017, InsurHack 2017 and the TechCrunch Berlin Disrupt 2017.

In all of them, I had great experiences, met really inspiring people and learned many new things. It is a success in its own, even if you do not win any prize.

HackZurich 2017

Winning Team “Safe Drive” of the T-Systems & Zurich Insurance contest “Can Smart Devices be even smarter?”.

We won the Zurich Insurance & T-Systems Innovation Award. The proposed solution was Safe Drive - an AI-enriched smartphone application that helps prevent car accidents constantly monitoring driver alertness.

TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin 2017

Quick Insurance — Winner of TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin 2017 prize and a SAP Hybris Contest

Out of 42 different teams and over 300 hackers, we won the main prize and the SAP Hybris Company award — 10 000$ in total. Our project was Quick Insurance — Micro-insurance for everyday things.

Since the rapid prototyping approach that is used by “hackers” is also interesting to companies, together with Marcel Engelmann, Ingmar Wolff and Lukas Samuel Maxeiner from the HackZurich team we extracted the key ideas and necessary steps that made us win.

A guide to win a Hackathon

Build a team

It is is crucial to have the right people in the team.

What do I mean by right people? I mean having a group of people that would trust one another and respect each other’s competencies. These two are already hard enough to be found among people who have been working together for a long time. It is even harder when the team members are totally stranger to each other.

You’ll need the 3 H’s in your team:

The Hustler

The hustler eats, sleeps and breathes the business model.

Hustler is the leader of the team, the one who builds the team, ignites their passion for the hackathon idea, manages the project, prepares and presents the final pitch. The hustler has a keen eye for the progress made, tracks it and brings focus to the team. He is also responsible for getting the organizators of the and the sponsors of the Hackathon know about the project.

The Hacker

The hacker eats, sleeps and breathes code.

The hacker is the developer who can create the technology to support the final pitch for the Hackathon. The best hackers also have knowledge and use of design and customer development best practices. As an added bonus, if he or she can hustle —get outside of the building and talk with customers — that is a very big advantage.

The Hipster

The hipster eats, sleeps and breathes design.

The designer is responsible for user experience and overall feeling of the final pitch. If you want to win, the few slides that you present need to feel smooth and have an incredible user experience. They need to be beautiful and feel like end-to-end product.

Idea creation — Compete in less crowded challenge

Collecting feedback from the Zurich Insurance team — HackZurich 2017

There are plenty of companies sponsoring the Hackathons. These companies hold different challenges in addition to the general competition with the aim to find innovative use-cases for the company solutions.

The whole competition may be crowded as it was also in the case of the TechCrunch Disrupt this year in Berlin. It’s often strategically wise to firstly aim for the company award, secondly for the total prize.

In our case we chose the SAP Hybris challenge as our main focus. In this way our competition dropped from 42 to 10 teams, thus we increased our chances of winning.

Start from the End

Did you know that around 20% of teams in Hackathons do not even submit their projects for the evaluation?

The majority of the participants start with „hacking“ and prepare the pitch at the very last minute. It leads to a situation that they feel that the project is incomplete when the deadline approaches and they decide not to submit the pitch.

Prepare the pitch first

Pitch prepared, time to rehearse it! — HackZurich 2017

By preparing the pitch as the very first thing, you are ahead of the competition. You could go on the stage and present even if the deadline was cut in half.

The Hackathon is won based on your 60 or 120 seconds presentation of the project, not on the technology behind. The pitch makes the team winner or loser. Even you have have hacked something amazing, it will not matter if the presentation is not good enough.

We started from the end. We first designed our 60 seconds and we wrote down the words. Just after 2 hours into the Hackathon, the two of us could go and pitch our project.

The rest of the remaining time, “the Hustler” was rehearsing the pitch and talking to the sponsors while “the Hacker and Hipster” was building the solution.

Hack it

We are hacking at 3am. — HackZurich 2017

This is the time to bring our prototype to life. Because there is only a minute to present to the jury and we have just few hours of building it, the solution should not be a completed product.

We build an MVP built for sole purpose of supporting the pitch. In order to build this MVP, we distributed the tasks among the team according to our skills and everyone had a concrete responsibility to fulfill.

Talk to people, companies and sponsors

Let other people know about the project you are working on. — HackZurich 2017

While we were building our MVP, we were at the same time in touch with the people from the company challenge — SAP. They were the people who would decide on the winner. Therefore, we tried to talk to them as much as possible collecting feedback and improving the MVP and the pitch according to the feedback we received.

Win the Hackathon

10 seconds before the final pitch — TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin 2017

Everything we did for 24 hours was to win the company challenge, the win of the main prize took as by surprise.

Everyone for us had this motivation and the strive to win, and I believe it had been an important factor.

There is much competition, little time and a lot of pressure and if you need to accomplish something, you need to focus and have a process in place. Bring the right people together, choose the right idea, start at the end preparing the pitch and do aim for winning.

Read the full story here: https://honest.cash/adrianbarwicki/guide-to-winning-hackathons-337



Adrian Barwicki

Hi, I’m Adrian. This is my private blog and you’ll find here from time to time updates about my travels, works and investments.