My top 10 elements for a successful hackathon


As a regular hackathon participant, I’m often asked about what I appreciate in a well-run event, and what makes a hackathon successful. I’ve written before about the power of hackathons to be a melting pot of creativity, education and teamwork, whether in general, or in specific sectors like banking. They are also lots of fun and interactive too!

But what makes a hackathon or datathon great? And does it depend on your focus? Here’s my take on the top 10 elements for a great hackathon.

Succesful hackathon


You have to start by offering a really good prize. After all, how else are you going to motivate people to bother attending, or get your work colleagues to come and contribute? It needs to be worth their while.


A hackathon stands or falls by the quality of its participants, whether you are a participant or a sponsor. Participants want the networking opportunities – including access to potential job opportunities. Sponsors want access to the “brightest and best.” The prize is a good start, but it follows that you may have to do some personal recruitment as well. Without human capital investment, you won’t see any creative returns.


I’ve said before that hackathons are a great opportunity to get your hands on new kit. You will need to bring as much as you can: laptops, mobiles, IoT devices, drones, you name it. Bring it, show it off and maybe it will be used to win. Even if you don’t use it, the chances are that someone will be interested, and you will be able to strike up a conversation.


Sponsors or technology partners can make all the difference between a so-so experience and a totally brilliant one. With the right partners on board, you can enable so many avenues of technology innovation. More prestigious partners may also make your hackathon more attractive to high-quality talent.


We all need a little help from time to time. Hackathons are at their absolute best when you can learn from experts in the field of focus, as well as in technology. They will be able to share insights with participants and probably even learn a few new things themselves. Arranging for some experts to be present and involved will raise your hackathon above the ordinary.


I think hackathons are generally good fun, but if people aren’t enjoying it, then you can’t expect them to hang around until the end. Organisers can increase the fun level by breaking up the event into manageable chunks, making sure there is time for relaxation, and including activities to make things interesting.

Food and drink

Everyone needs to fuel their brains for a sustained period of time, so it is a good idea to make sure there are plenty of snacks and drinks available. Bonus points if you can keep it healthy and appease the pizza-eating, Red Bull-drinking developers.

Time and location

Most mainstream events take place over 48 hours with little or no downtime for sleep. To some people, that is all part of the experience, but that doesn't mean you have to keep to that formula. You could try a single-day event, multiple days or even a month. Changing the format might even attract different types of attendees, giving you a new take on your subject. Don’t forget that the attendees will need a warm environment with good connectivity and lots of sockets for devices.


I already mentioned the importance of the prize in motivating participants. You also need challenges to focus their efforts, allowing you to grade solutions against a specific area of interest. Your challenge must be broad enough to allow innovation, but narrow enough to channel it into your area of interest.


The more data you can provide, the better. Bring lots and lots of it, and from a wide variety of sources. Participants with analytical backgrounds will gobble this up and turn it into insights.

The only thing I didn’t mention are rules, and that’s because you can make them up yourself, or have no rules. You are free to customise that bit as long as you make it interesting and fair. Just make sure you cover the three important categories of tech, business and design. The rest is gravy.

SAS Nordic Users' Group hackathon - who is going to be the winning team?

The SAS Nordics team is holding a monthlong  SAS® Viya® hackathon in partnership with Intel and the SAS Nordic Users' Group in February. SAS Viya will be accessed as software as service through SaaSNow. This will enable our partner users community to engage on SAS Viya projects for a month and discover new possibilities.

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About Author

Christian Giraud

Christian Giraud – Strategic Analytics Adviser – Financial Services & FinTech Accelerating the growth of data and the usage of analytics in the Financial Services & FinTech markets. Showcasing innovative solutions combined with forward-thinking partnerships. Evangelising the power of Hackathons to deliver long-term value for businesses.

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