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Why We Believe in Hackathons, and Why You Should Too

by Rahul Kapoor, Partner Innovation and Enablement
Whether it’s streamlining an onboarding process or building a cybersecurity solution, hackathons bring out the best in developer communities. Most Fortune 100 companies have picked up on this, with over 80 percent using hackathons as a means to fuel innovation, and over half of hackathons being valued recurring events.

Large-scale events such as expos, conferences, and summits have become an integral aspect of the tech industry. Some events, however, feature an activity that can accelerate innovation through hands-on collaboration more than any discussion or demonstration: the hackathon.

Two Nigerian students, Ernest Akubueze and Samuel Onwuka, formed an AI startup called Med Mind with the goal of increasing the availability of accurate and relevant medical information in Nigeria and Africa. In 2023, the student-run startup entered their first ever hackathon, where they were tasked with building a bioprocess engineering solution using machine learning technology.

After thorough brainstorming, the pair created a user-friendly chatbot that responded to users’ questions with medical advice in plain language, ultimately winning the hackathon while gaining feedback, experience, and renewed confidence in their mission.

Hackathons have long been a staple of the tech industry, bringing developers, thought leaders, and enthusiasts together from around the world to exchange ideas and drive innovation in an engaging and personal way. Some massively influential products like Twitter and several Meta applications were born from hackathons, as well as countless efforts like that of Med Mind to solve pervasive global issues.

Hackathons provide developers with the opportunity to collaborate and compete amongst their peers to devise solutions to a shared challenge. Whether it’s streamlining an onboarding process or building a cybersecurity solution, hackathons bring out the best in developer communities. Most Fortune 100 companies have picked up on this, with over 80 percent using hackathons as a means to fuel innovation, and over half of hackathons being valued recurring events.

At ABBYY, we believe that companies should consider integrating hackathons into their sponsored events to reap the multifaceted benefits they could bring to their organization. Here are a few reasons why.


Reason #1: Hackathons test product potential and stability


ABBYY Hackathon-photo


The most tangible benefit of hackathons for enterprises is the opportunity to learn about their own technology in a controlled environment. Tasking a room full of curious technology enthusiasts with finding novel applications—or weaknesses—of a solution is sure to generate useful insight into its intricacies. When coupled with the easily accessible interfaces of low-code/no-code platforms like ABBYY Vantage and Timeline, developers can delve into the technology with few barriers and become familiar enough to design innovative solutions within the allotted time.

As such, hackathons could uncover new use cases for technologies that enterprises could further consider or pursue. On the other hand, it could expose previously unseen vulnerabilities and allow for their correction before reaching the hands of consumers. No matter which goal is prioritized, a hackathon serves as an incubator for rapidly accelerating products’ maturity.

Some event attendees may offer more contextual business knowledge than development expertise; encouraging these individuals to also participate in a hackathon alongside their technology-oriented colleagues can advance the depth of their contributions and increase the potential for uncovering real-world use cases.

Reason #2: Connecting colleagues for potential collaboration

Hackathons can attract top-tier tech talent from a wide range of sectors, causing a convergence of perspectives, passions, and experiences. Not only do organizations hosting hackathons get to see what these professionals are capable of, but they can also form lasting relationships and partnerships. One of ABBYY’s main differentiators from competitors is our robust partner ecosystem that has generated ample assets like document skills and connectors to third-party platforms, massively expanding the scope of our technology by incorporating the niche expertise of our colleagues. An investment in these symbiotic relationships between developers and vendors is an investment in your own organization.

Moreover, hackathons provide opportunities for participants to have meaningful interpersonal interaction that introduces a human element to development. A team of six university students in Seattle won the first hackathon they ever entered, which they attributed to their ability to enjoy each other’s company and the experience of the event—proving that excellent development doesn’t just come from working long hours and consuming copious amounts of caffeine.


Reason #3: Staying in touch with partners and customers

Hackathons don’t only bring new players to the table, they’re also beneficial in maintaining existing relationships with customers and partners.

Customers and partners may participate in the hackathon themselves to apply their experience and contextual knowledge of the technology and further deepen their understanding, or they may choose to simply observe how others interact with it and shape its direction. Either way, it would behoove hackathon-hosting enterprises to show existing collaborators their efforts to continuously invest in their solutions and improve their business value.

Organizations should consider incorporating their customers’ most current challenges into the ask of the hackathon itself, ensuring that participants’ solutions directly contribute to a real-world business problem while illustrating that their challenges are being actively addressed.

Our recent hackathon at ABBYY DevCon in Bengaluru, India, hosted teams from Deloitte, PWC, and Unilever, and featured relevant scenarios that deepened ABBYY’s relationship with these partners and drove mutual value between our organizations.


Reason #4: Celebrating the spirit of innovation

Although very important, technology has never been solely about business value. It’s a manifestation of human creativity, curiosity, and the indominable drive to improve the world in which we live.

Hosting a hackathon provides an outlet to developers and technologists to step away from their day-to-day professional obligations and apply their skill to something refreshing and new. The competitive component that is typically a foundational aspect of hackathons ensures that participants put forth their best effort, enabling them to walk away from the event with professional growth and inspiration while the hosting organization benefits from their contributions.

“Participating in hackathons rapidly accelerated my experience as a developer, but it also instilled in me a genuine passion for problem-solving and innovation,” said an ABBYY developer. “Much of the confidence I carry with me today, as well as some of my valued colleagues, were introduced to me through hackathons. I’m proud that this type of event continues to be such an integral aspect of working in technology, and I hope it continues to inspire developers and technologists of all backgrounds well into the future.”

Hosting a hackathon is more than just a means of attracting event attendees or accelerating development; it’s a gesture of goodwill toward developer and technologist communities that reflects positively upon your organization while providing an inspiring and beneficial experience to all parties involved.

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