Hacking the Hackathon: 3 Steps to Success from Samsung Next

Samsung Next’s Royi Benyouseff, shares his insights into the steps hosts must take to run a successful hackathon. Investing in pre-hackathon planning is key, according to the VC’s EcoSystems Relations Manager. The process has helped Samsung Next generate quality projects that fulfill the high standards of tech giant Samsung.

More and more, companies looking to invigorate product lines without enduring long R&D and approval processes look outward for innovative solutions. Samsung, for instance, has bought eight projects from VC Samsung Next, which itself has developed a whopping 30 projects or more over the last five years. How did Samsung Next spawn all these projects? The answer: Hackathons.

We interviewed Royi Benyouseff, EcoSystems Relations Manager from Samsung Next to discover their secret. The key, Royi emphasizes, is pre-hackathon preparation. Companies that orchestrate successful hackathons that deliver results, do so through a thorough, thoughtful planning process. This means a long lead time. Whether building hackathon projects or building teams, the best hackathons Samsung Next has organized, according to Royi, were due in large part, to having begun preparations well in advance.

Step 1: Set the Agenda

Before jumping in, you’ve got to answer some questions, starting with why: Why host the hackathon? Invite all key stakeholders to a “kick-off” meeting, Royi advises.

The purpose of that meeting is to hatch an event with a clear mission and expectations. What you are aiming to achieve? What will be the theme and challenges? What are the necessary skill sets event participants must possess? What is our message to them and how will we get it out there? A clear agenda that everyone buys into, sets the trajectory and the momentum of the planning efforts to follow.

Don’t spread out. Decide specifically what is the focus of the hackathon. It’s not rude to set an agenda. It’s actually very helpful.
Learn how to optimize your hackathon outcome.

Step 2: Create Connection and Communication Channels

According to Royi, Samsung Next has found that the foundation for effectively forming teams and building projects ahead of the hackathon lies in the channels provided to connect participants and mentors. These “channels” of connection can include the means to discuss the hackathon topic or receive feedback on ideas, for instance. They can include training delivered through an SDK, APIs or partner technologies. Platforms built with all the training features you need — say, a Q&A board, 1:1 chat sessions with mentors, webinars hosting and insight pages — are an excellent way to manage your pre-hackathon preparation.

For a wider audience reach, your company can look to online connections, running three to four webinars starting six to eight weeks before the hackathon. Doing so can help maintain momentum, giving participants content to refer back to. Your company might do this as a supplementary support to physical workshops if budget and resources allow.

When planning and creating these communication and training channels, keep in mind that hackathon participants will probably be unfamiliar with your industry sector and the challenges you face. To dramatically enhance the ideas they bring to the table, you’ll need to provide an introduction to your industry, and describe the pain points you’d like addressed. Blog posts and articles are a great way to share industry insights and challenges.

Finally, don’t only keep participants in mind during this step. Good mentors from your company, your partners or from external sources will deliver valuable insights and heighten participant engagement. The channels you create must make that easy.

“Start building the teams of the hackathons online, months in advance and help them grow and brainstorm way before they actually meet at the hackathon.”

Step 3: Foster and Inspire Teams for Engagement

The investment of time, resources and finances into all your different channels allows for communication and engagement that binds everyone in the effort leading up to the hackathon. Now’s the time to put it to good use. The pre-hackathon phase is the chance to train, inspire, set expectations and raise awareness on your event objectives. When done right, participants are more likely to become engaged in your mission and invest their time and effort in preparing for it. The community you build will create buzz on your behalf. Meanwhile, their devotion to the mission and empathy for your industry’s challenges can make the actual time spent at the hackathon far more productive than it would be without the collective force you’ve created.

One powerful way to strengthen that collective force through training is in the form of physical workshops. Don’t think of them as networking and training opportunities alone. Workshops offer mentors a chance to directly provide feedback on participants’ project ideas. It’s a chance to shape, direct, and refine ideas before the hackathon. What’s more, they can provide tips on how to pitch those ideas, which can make a huge impact. Well-pitched ideas are compelling, and compelling ideas attract quality team members. Workshops can boost the outcome of projects beyond expectations.

“If you weed out all of the bad ideas and the dead ends and you show up for the hackathon to finish a great product, the level of excitement and the level of the products you will get are superior to anything else.”

In Summary: Three-Step Preparation Is the Road to Success

You get out what you put in — that’s the takeaway Royi leaves us with. Making the most of the time you have before a hackathon is key to its success. Indeed, the time before the hackathon is a phase in itself, with three steps you must follow if you want a fruitful event that results in great projects that fulfill your company’s goals.

  • Step 1. Create a specific focus for your hackathon: Define your objectives and desired outcomes.
  • Step 2. Create communication channels that will best deliver information and connects mentors and participants. The best channels will support, train and inspire participants so that they understand your goals, your challenges and your industry.
  • Step 3. Foster community and build devotion by engaging your participants. Use your channels to deliver the training and information in ways that build relationships and win participants’ commitment to your cause. By fully engaging with your audience (through workshops and online support), you spur participants to brainstorm ideas and begin working on their projects long before the hackathon begins.

By following these steps, your company’s hackathon can produce innovative solutions that further your company’s strategy and success.

“A great outcome would be a finalised project to help a specific need that was defined in advance, or a developer relations buzz.” It’s a great outcome “(i)If more projects are created afterwards, if there’s great acceptance of the product afterwards, or if there’s more inbound communication afterwards.”

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