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How Hackathons Help Startups Get New Customers

By Joanne Jacobs

2016-08-06 11.47.38 When we think of innovation and technology, we often think of Google. Or Facebook. Locally, in Australia, we may think of some of the more successful startups – Atlassian, Canva or Campaign Monitor, but rarely do we think of more traditional industries such as health care or even financial services. For all intents and purposes, these industries appear – to the casual observer – to be determinedly stuck in the last century, suffering under the weight of regulation, compliance and 20th Century business models.

But under the covers, many of these large enterprises are working to transform themselves, and increasingly they’re taking a leaf out of the book of startup culture, building innovation labs, new business units and models and hosting hackathons. Over the last couple of years, we have been working with large enterprises to introduce these startup “ways of working” into their businesses. It can take time and effort, but with patience, there can also be great opportunity – for the enterprises but also for the startups and entrepreneurs they meet.

Using hackathons to introduce startups to enterprises

While many business leaders dream of the agility and ease with which startups are able to innovate, few have been able to drive this kind of transformative cultural changes within their business. After all, a startup is built from the ground up and comes with no legacy. There’s little or no culture, few people and limited technology to get in the way of “getting things done”. Enterprises, on the other hand, are bound by constraints (regulations, processes, technology, business models etc), challenged by market expectations and have workforces who need to be managed, cajoled and inspired.

But how can you bring startups and enterprises closer together? We’ve found that hackathons may just prove to be the secret sauce we all need:

  • Startups need clients – and enterprises need products and services
  • Startups need industry expertise – and enterprises thrive on industry leadership and competitive advantage
  • Enterprises need to accelerate product development – and startups thrive on shipping
  • Enterprises need new business models – and startups work to rapidly test, learn and iterate on their business models at speed.

In fact, for enterprises, there are obvious as well as secret benefits to hackathons. But one of the most powerful features of a hackathon is that it dramatically reduces risk and creates trust.

Reducing risk and creating trust

2016-08-06 12.11.55 Because each of the teams involved in a hackathon are working in a time based format, they are challenged to “step up”. They are forced to quickly learn as much as they can about a challenge or industry and turn that into product gold. This means, that they use data, customer and industry insights – anything they can lay their hands on – to gain an edge. For the enterprise, this means they can see how well the teams – and individuals – collaborate, lead, produce, manage and iterate. Leadership skills are laid bare. Problem solving capabilities are put on trial. And tech and design capability are on open display. Vitally, the enterprise executives are able to see how well the participants respond to mentoring and feedback. They gain a real sense of how well these nascent startups would work as suppliers.

And over the course of 24 hours or so, the hackathon process – when run well – turns random ideas into potential new products. New products that could be commercialised.

Sometimes, entirely new businesses are born – and it all happens because the hackathon helps all parties reduce risk and create trust.

A case study in action – the Health and Technology Challenge Hackathon

How does this all work in practice?

Over the last couple of years, we have worked with Qantas to run their Codeshare Hackathons – and we are now working with the Johnson & Johnson Family of Companies to produce the Health and Technology Challenge – the HaTCHathon event. With a focus on some of the toughest challenges facing Australian healthcare, we aiming to bring entrepreneurs, HealthTech experts, students and startups together for a weekend of coding, education and pitching. There are cash prizes on offer – $4000 for the winning team, and $1000 for the runner up team. But perhaps more important is the chance to showcase your skills, expertise and ideas to one of the world’s largest healthcare companies.

All the “buyers” will be in the room, and you’ll have their undivided attention. All you need to do, is prove your awesomeness.

Tickets to the HaTCHathon are available here. There’s a limit of 50 tickets – so gather your team and book today.

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