Corporate Hackathons... It does sound sexy but does it work? There’s more to corporate hackathons than just a weekend without sleep for producing some nice ideas. But what? We asked both the facilitator and the participant of a corporate hackathon to share their perspective in this blog.

You have facilitated hackathons for several organizations. What successes are you most proud of?

Leo Exter

Leo Exter: A team of 18 engineers and sales guys generating 236 new product ideas in 28 hours.

9 brand-new startups come out of a single hackathon in healthcare – of which one immediately raised funding and six in total are functioning to this day, almost a year after the event.

But perhaps most importantly, participants coming up to the organizers after the event and sincerely thanking them for opening their eyes...

In general, how does a “corporate hackathon” work? What’s the method behind the madness?

Leo Exter: The method depends entirely on the corporate customer and their needs. If you’re aiming to create a global ecosystem of relevant startups, a public event is a good start. Changing corporate culture would typically need an internal hackathon, potentially preceded by an idea generation workshop – and we usually involve outside experts too.

Sometimes we’ve got to rethink the entire concept from the ground up – for example, for an automotive parts manufacturer we did a hackathon without a single software developer or designer. And it worked spectacularly well, too.

That said, there are three things that we bring back into every event:

  • Concrete objective – typically design an app or make a hardware prototype
  • Time pressure and the “better done than perfect” mentality
  • Immediate, in-depth input from customers or end users: “get out of the building”

What I am most proud of? A team of 18 engineers and sales guys generating 236 new product ideas in 28 hours.

You’ve been involved in such a hackathon. How was your experience? What came out of it?

Kim Ngân Trân

Kim Ngân Trân: The amazing thing with a hackathon is the huge amount of energy and motivation that it creates within the organization.

Thanks to this event that we organized twice since last year, we gathered all the staff members who were ready to actually do things to materialize their vision of the bank of tomorrow. The results achieved in only 2-3 days were way beyond what we could accomplish in the bank in much more time. Plus, the hackathons created a very strong sense of purpose for all our participants and have proven to be good tools to stimulate intrapreneurship in our corporate culture.

Here's a video that gives a glimpse into what we've done (and why we're proud of that):

The hackathons created a very strong sense of purpose for all our participants

Is a hackathon right for every organization?

Leo: Absolutely not. An important thing to keep in mind is that a hackathon is not a thing in itself. Rather, it’s a great start for a whole series of activities in innovation or new product development, sometimes followed by rather fundamental changes to how an organization works.

So, we certainly do not recommend doing a hackathon just for the sake of a nice experience or generating a few ideas that would then go back into the “business as usual” process.

What are you going to share during your workshop at the event in Brussels?

Leo: Well, rather than talking for 45 minutes we’d prefer to get the particpiants of the workshop to think together and to co-create. So, we’d love for the participants to share the challenges they have, and to design together the kind of hackathons that could solve those challenges.

Don't do a hackathon just for the sake of a nice experience and then go back to the “business as usual” process.

You will also share your story on stage – we’re looking forward to it. Why would you recommend other intrapreneurs and innovators to join the event in Brussels?

Kim: I would recommend them the Intrapreneurship Conference because this event will bring many insights to anyone who wants to learn about the amazing opportunities created by the simple change of the way of doing things in a company, by the empowerment of the staff and by the methodologies corporates can learn from the start-up world.

The line-up looks very exciting and I will be very happy to share the experience of our team that we have set up last year at BNP Paribas Fortis: Home for Innovation. I look forward to meeting you there!

Want to discover how hackathons work and connect with Leo, Kim and 50+ other corporate innovators? Join us in Brussels on February 25th for the Intrapreneurship, Getting Up To Speed event. Early Bird Tickets available until January 31st.