A hackathon is an intense and competitive session, most typically lasting 48 hours, in which carefully-selected startups (and sometimes single developers or students) work on solutions to real-world challenges issued by the event’s corporate partners. While this week’s three-day hackathon in Linz focused on industrial solutions, we’ve run hackathons on everything from Data to Arts & Culture this year alone.
Hackathons, which effectively give partners hundreds of hours of R&D time from hand-picked innovators spurred on by an element of competition, are gaining momentum across a range of industries. First, we asked the three partners we worked with in Linz – all of whom were getting involved in a hackathon for the very first time – for their first impressions.
“It went far beyond our expectations,” said Gerald Aigner, R&D Innovation Manager at Fronius, a global industry leader in the fields of welding technology, photovoltaics and battery charging tech. “Not only were the outcomes great for us, but also the way the outcomes were reached.
“Hackathons are very time efficient. If we did this by ourselves, by contacting the startups and inviting them to make presentations, it would take half a year. Here we have everything done in two and a half days! Not just that, but we can compare the solutions directly instead of seeing one in the first month and the last one six months later.”
“We really learned a lot and we are excited to have found out what was possible in 48 hours,” added Thomas Linde, Executive Vice President of Industrial Automation at international automation solutions company KEBA, whose challenge winner Craftworks also shared overall startup honours at the hackathon. “Normally we would spend as much time as that just talking about how to set up a project!”
“To work in this strict timeline with a real challenge, towards a prototype in the end, is something we could do ourselves. But to have five teams at the same time working on it, and giving you five interesting and different solutions? That would be impossible within the company. And if you can take the best of them and put them into one solution, it’s a big win.”
“I was really surprised with the good results we saw within just a few hours here,” said Marion Heinzelmann, Head of Innovation at Wienerberger, the global supplier of sustainable, outstanding building and infrastructure solutions, which has also asked Pioneers Discover to help run its Wienerberger Innovation Day in January. “It was really close between the top three in our category, and choosing the winner was difficult.
“It was amazing how little input was needed in order for the startups and developers to understand the challenge. It’s not like you have to write an 80-page document of what the outcome should be. You give a simple couple of sentences about the problem, and they come up with a solution that fits perfectly.
“There’s so much to learn, it’s really good to look outside the usual places to find it. A hackathon gives a really good overview of what possibilities are on the market. There is so much potential, and in order to create the future we need to access all of it. That’s the reason why every company should join a hackathon.”
In the end, Wienerberger actually went for one of the single developers we had invited when they chose their favourite solution in Linz, with hackathon regular Sarah Steininger then also sharing the overall prize with Craftworks. The winner of the challenge for Fronius was digitilisation startup iTiZZiMo.
The benefits of a hackathon are clear, if not even more so, in an arena such as culture, where exposure to technology was limited until our VC CultTech Hackathon in Vienna in September. Dmitry Aksenov, the Russian businessman who is also Chairman of the Board of viennacontemporary, points to such events as an important way for cultural institutions to safeguard their future.
“In practical terms there hasn’t been much interaction between culture and technology,” he says. “Cultural institutions are all experiencing diminishing funding and disruption of existing models. They have to think about how they can fit into this.
“We had knowledge of both technology and culture, so we decided to take on this specific sector. We wanted to create challenges and test the water. So we set up the hackathon with Pioneers Discover. And the answers to the hackathon challenges not only helped promote the institutions’ products but also to gain revenue.”
Aksenov’s words are another clear endorsement of the often immediate business benefits of actively seeking startup collaborations. It’s a broadly recurring theme across all industries right now, and one that naturally cropped up at our Health.Pioneers event in Amsterdam last month.
“Events like this are an excellent platform for startups to meet ‘slow’ corporates like us,” grinned Min-Sung Sean Kim of Allianz Ventures, in a light moment during the Health Startups & Corporations – Models of Collaboration panel discussion. But he wasn’t exactly kidding.
“Big companies like us need smaller ones who can take big risks,” added fellow panellist Rocco van den Berg of Philips HealthWorks. “Startups who have no legacy and can often move faster than we can. No single company in our industry can face its challenges on their own today…we need to face them through collaborations with startups.”
Time-limited hackathons are of course the perfect stage for innovators to prove they’ve got the speed van den Berg says is attractive to large companies. Hackathons give them the chance for their creative solutions to take center stage in front of decision-makers in their specific industry, as well as great networking and one-on-one mentoring with the same. For a startup, a hackathon is also an excellent opportunity to see how their ideas or technologies work with respect to real-world use cases.
Finally, bear in mind that hackathons are just one possible form a startup-corporate collaboration event can take. Another of our partners, Booking.com, for example, has asked us to run a series of weekend mentorship programs with sustainable tourism startups we’ve scouted. While these aren’t classic ‘solve-a-problem-fast’ hackathons, they are another great way for collaborations and even investments to develop. Stay tuned for an update on our project with Booking.com next week!
Interested in Pioneers Discover running a hackathon on your behalf? Email firstname.lastname@example.org