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How to plan an Industry Hackathon Event

We have been involved in planning Industry Hackathon Events since 2012. As a result we have a refined process with expert resources.

“Hackathon” or “Hack Event”?

These days, the term “Hackathon” brings to mind herds of spotty nerds consuming pizza and staying awake for 3 days. It hails from the days when the event was more competition than a collaborative exercise.

“Hack Event” has become the more comfortable label for this routine of intense multidiscipline collaboration, with colleagues, to explore a shared challenge. Many successful corporations and product teams hold regular Hack Events as part of their working process.

Above all, Hackathons are a means to creating a culture of innovation.

The 4 stages of Planning & Delivery

This approach has worked well over the years for Industry Hackathons, where multiple competing organisations participate.

We base our approach on 30 areas broken into 4 sections: Business Case, Event Design, Event Rollout, and Event Delivery.

  1. BUSINESS CASE: Make the case for your Hackathon Event.
    1. Rationale.
    2. Benefits.
    3. Expectation Management.
    4. Hack Event Canvas.
    5. Three Horizons.
    6. FROST Innovation Framework.
  2. EVENT DESIGN: Design the key elements to deliver your Hackathon.
    1. Roadmap.
    2. Brand.
    3. Theme.
    4. Challenges.
    5. Target Participants.
    6. Location.
    7. Schedule.
    8. Support.
  3. EVENT ROLLOUT: Prepare your event and sign up your participants!
    1. Roadmap.
    2. Venue.
    3. Participants Hitlist.
    4. Suppliers.
    5. Managing invitations.
    6. Marketing Tools and Resources.
    7. Hack Team Formation.
  4. EVENT DELIVERY: Show time – Make your “event day” run smoothly!
    1. Get in.
    2. Registration.
    3. Kickoff.
    4. Support.
    5. Group Updates.
    6. Demo.
    7. Wrap up.
    8. Retrospective.
    9. Next Steps.

Extra tools for tracking your Hackathon delivery

Manage the detail while you deliver your event:-

  1. Master Checklist and Dashboard.
  2. Event Budget Spreadsheet.

Common Industry Hackathon Questions

Will a Hackathon event help us produce the next Unicorn?

It is not likely. However, if you hold Hackathons regularly, you will a) create exciting & feasible concepts more frequently, and b) shut down unviable concepts more rapidly. This will increase your efficiency exploiting new, profitable product opportunities.

How do we measure success for a Hackathon?

If run well, Hackathons are a great way to increase talent attraction and retention, and to increase competitive advantage. Ask the participants if they would recommend the experience to a colleague. If “yes”, you have a talent success. Monitor the concepts in your Three Horizons pipeline – if it is growing after the Hackathon, then you have a success.

Why run a Hackathon at all?

Hackathons encourage intense multidiscipline collaboration, and this serves to:-
1) reduce feedback loops for idea hand-off between disciplines from days to seconds.
2) Bad ideas get tested and closed down quickly.
3) Good ideas get iterated and optimised quickly.
This process is exciting, exhausting, and is the best way to get the best from your talented staff’s experience and expertise.
Hackathons offer a unique process of intense collaboration, where multidiscipline teams attack a problem with rapid iteration and multidiscipline thinking.

If we hold an Industry Hackathon, won’t our competitors steal our great new ideas?

In terms of the risk of competitors stealing your intellectual property, Hackathon events are no more risky that conferences; we regularly send our staff to conferences to “mix with the enemy”. The benefits of Hackathons in terms of a) advancing your staffs’ experience, b) job satisfaction, and c) talent attraction {if you do your PR properly} far outweigh the small risk that someone else will try and succeed in mobilising a new idea first!


The above 30 planning and delivery areas will help you deliver a great Industry Hackathon.

There will always be critics, but Hackathon events are a potent force in driving innovation in for your organisation.

The benefits are such that 80% of Fortune 100 companies use hack events, and 50% of those do it regularly (Source – HackerEarth).

Some of our Industry Hackathon Event Resources

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45 Best Hack Event SWAG and Branded Merch ideas

Hackathon Events must have SWAG (aka Merch)

Are you looking for branded “Merch” for your Hack event? Here’s our 45 Best Hack Event SWAG ideas.


Branded versions of these items:

  1. Backpack
  2. Baseball cap
  3. Beach Ball
  4. Beach Towel
  5. Beanie hat
  6. Beer Stein
  7. Bottle opener
  8. Business Card Holder
  9. Camper Mug (metal, vintage)
  10. Card wallet
  11. Classic Mug
  12. Cord Tacos (hold your leads together)
  13. Corkscrew
  14. Drawstring bag
  15. Eye masks
  16. Flip flops
  17. Hand sanitiser spray
  18. Headphones
  19. Keyring
  20. Messenger Bag
  21. Notepad – high quality!! (cheap ones are passé)
  22. Pen (see also Swiss Army -style pens)
  23. Power bank
  24. Self Help Kit: Adult colouring books, colour pencils, candles
  25. Shot glass
  26. Slap wristband USB
  27. Stickers – (try StickerMule)
  28. Swiss army -style multi-gadget pen (pen with ruler, spirit level, screwdriver)
  29. T-Shirt
  30. Tall glass
  31. Tea Cosy
  32. Thermos
  33. Token on a keyring (fake £1 coin on a keyring for e.g. supermarket trolleys)
  34. Tote bag
  35. Towel
  36. Travel Coffee Mug
  37. Tumbler
  38. Umbrella
  39. Universal USB travel adapter / Charging Cable (USB A, C, Thunderbolt, etc)
  40. USB Fob
  41. Wallet
  42. Water Bottle
  43. Webcam cover (privacy & security)
  44. Wine cooler sleeve
  45. Zip Bag

Resources to help with Hack Events

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10 Top Hackathon Event Tips to make your event a success

BBC News Hack innovation event - FROST principles

Having defined, iterated and refined a hack event formula for BBC News Labs with BBC R&D between 2012 and 2016 (here’s a post I wrote about the #newsHACK formula), here are 10 tips I recently gave to a colleague who was setting up a not-for-profit hack event. Continue reading 10 Top Hackathon Event Tips to make your event a success

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The FROST Innovation Framework for in-house Innovation Programmes

FROST Innovation Framework for in-house Innovation Programmes

A little heads-up – we’re starting on a new range of templates as part of the FROST Innovation Framework from GAS LABS.

This is a useful new framework that supports medium-to-large organisations in creating productive and strategic in-house innovation capabilities.

The FROST Innovation Framework is structured around five key characteristics:

  1. Focused – You articulate the challenge using the “How might we … ?” question template.
  2. Regular – You ensure that the innovation sessions are regular, recurring, and are protected against “emergencies”.
  3. Open – You ensure that the challenge is open, unrestricted, and importantly has no implementation details stipulated.
  4. Safe – Your staff and all participants, really do honestly feel safe to take risks, and to try anything they want to.
  5. Tangible – The outputs must be working prototypes of some form (NOT just pictures or people waving their arms).
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Keep your Disaster Recovery Plan simple – use the “Five S” approach

DRP Robustness Dashboard Template, with dials

Disaster Recovery Plans can sprawl into huge documents, and the help available on the internet can be daunting & lengthy. What can you do to keep it simple?

We’ve created a focussed, structured approach to building your disaster recovery plan: “Five S”.

The “Five S” Disaster Recovery Plan.

This structured approach helps you create your business disaster mitigation planning around these five areas:-

  1. Systems
  2. Services
  3. Staff
  4. Suppliers
  5. Sites

For each of these five areas we focus on the Business Impacts, the mitigation plans, and the summarisation of important information for your reporting to your CEO and your Exec Board.

“Five S” Disaster Recovery Plan Tools to help you focus:

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