#Hatch2017: Hackathon-ing our way to the Next Big Innovation

#Hatch2017: Hackathon-ing our way to the Next Big Innovation

Alexis van Schalkwyk
January 9, 2023
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#Hatch2017: Hackathon-ing our way to the Next Big Innovation

Ever wondered what a hackathon is? Heard the word but never truly understood what it meant? Well, you’re about to find out.

To start, you should know that Hackathons are popularly run by many tech companies and in the case of social media giant Facebook for instance, hackathons form part of their oldest traditions and the driving force behind many of the platform’s revolutionary features; think ‘like’ button, the tag function and the profile picture frame option. In essence, a Hackathon is a major driving force of innovation in the tech space, which is why the SovTech team couldn’t help but host their own. Here’s how our first edition went down:

#Hatch2017, now officially SovTech’s inaugural hackathon, saw five start-ups being created in just 24 hours. Yes that’s right, we created five start-up businesses including a minimum viable product (MVP) for each in one (non-stop) day. And we didn’t hold back with our tech either, the teams pushed the boundaries with the use of cleverly programmed bots and complex augmented reality (AR).

Let’s start with the basics: what’s a hackathon?

A hackathon is a ‘hacking marathon’. For a set period of time, usually 24 hours, individuals form groups that collaborate to bring new ideas to life or to solve an existing or set problem. Put simply, a hackathon is a design sprint purposed for groups to generate ideas or solutions relevant to the event’s theme.

Every hackathon event differs depending on what the required outcome is, but generally, the event structure is as follows:

  1. Arrive at the event and meet the other participants. You’ll either make your own groups, or you’ll get put into groups.
  2. Start brainstorming you idea or solution around the set problem statement given.
  3. The hacking begins! Once you’ve decided on the idea/solution, the fun begins. The clock starts and the teams work tirelessly towards creating the best possible solution in a very tight time-frame. Caffeine, red bull and tequila (only for the very brave) are the order of the day…there’s no time for sleep at a hackathon.

At the end, you’ll need to present a functional product, or at the very least a basic working framework. Building a fully functional version of your project is highly unlikely (and that’s okay!) so make peace with yourself beforehand that at the end you’ll have an MVP, which is still an excellent achievement given the limited time-frame.

SovTech’s spin on a hackathon

In true SovTech style, #Hatch2017 was planned out to be as much (if not more) fun as it was hard work. Excitement and anticipation for the hackathon had been building up for at least a month beforehand. Everyone got involved and each person was required to submit at least one idea to contribute to the idea banks handed out for selection on the day of the event. The initial idea process was possibly the toughest part, a simple search on Google would more than likely reveal that your outstandingly original idea was, well, not so original.

The night before the start of the event members were allocated to their groups, one-by-one, with the last few names  added in the early hours of the morning. On the day of the hackathon, before our 07:30 start, our CEO Gerald Neves set out the rules and briefed us all on the process, including the relevant progress check point times, the scoring system and various add on elements that could win your team bonus points. Our first check point was at 13:00, at which point each team needed to have a draft business plan drawn up, thereafter each succeeding check point required a well thought out marketing, tech and project plan, respectively.  

As night time approached, with heavy eyes and grumbling bellies work was called to a halt and we all clambered down the stairs for a well-deserved pizza party, courtesy of our client PizzApp (check them out, you won’t be disappointed). After each of us dug into more slices than necessary we all head back upstairs and once again put our noses to the grindstone.

Time check: 20:00. Only 11 hours left to go! At this point there was no turning back on an idea, you had to make whatever you had work.

No doubt it was an intense affair and so to help keep the creative juices flowing and maintain our sanity through this hectic marathon we broke off at intervals to enjoy a relaxing head and shoulder massage, treats and sweets and at midnight proceeded to break out the tequila for a full on dance and dress up party (things got hysterical). Laptops were closed, drinks came out and as per the daily SovTech culture a rather intense foos game commenced, evolving into a full on 4-a-side rotating foos tournament.

After a particularly energising hour-long dance party, getting back to work for that last stretch was especially difficult. Weighed down with exhaustion, the teams trudged along towards the fast approaching morning deadline. So much to do and so little time, or energy. By now, every project’s desired add-on features became an unnecessary nice-to-have quickly thrown out the window to ensure a solid business plan and functional MVP was developed in time to make a strong finish.

As morning came and the very last of our project elements were handed in, buzzing with adrenaline (and red bulls) from the last 24 hours, we all made our way to our homes certain each of us had hacked our way to the next big innovation.

So, why did we do a hackathon?

It’s simple, we’re constantly looking to push the boundaries with technology and bring about new innovations. As a software company it’s absolutely vital we stay ahead of the tech game and know how to use the latest technologies in creating progressive solutions for our customers. Now that the hackathon is over, we’re confident we’ve got the skills and acumen to seamlessly include bot and augmented reality (AR) into our solutions strategies. There are real business opportunities out there, ones we can make a reality. All we need is 24 hours!

In addition, it was also a great way to break down the barriers between different divisions within the company and bring together numerous skills to maximise creativity, collaboration and fun. In essence, a hackathon is the tech field’s version of an innovative, idea-generating team building exercise.

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