Everyone you need to make your event a success


These folks are your secret sauce! Without them a hackathon wouldn’t be possible. Once you’ve gone through the design phase and identified who your target audience is to solve your challenge statements you want to focus your marketing efforts on engaging and recruiting your hackers.

It is often beneficial to have a mix of folks attend your hackathon--different background and perspectives play off of each other for creative solutioning--but you do want to make sure you target one audience in your recruitment. If folks other than your target audience end up attending that is great, but you want to make sure the majority of attendees are folks with the direct skillset to create solutions / ideas for your challenge statements.

Another nuance of hackathons is getting your hackers into teams. Some methods for doing this include:

  • Forming teams before the hackathon

    In order to go this route you will need to have a deadline for registration 1-2 weeks before the actual hackathon. The downside to this approach is that potential hackers who find out about the hackathon at the last minute will not have a way to participate, and any hackers who sign up but do not end up attending the event the day-of let their teams down. The upside is that teams formed in advance can start planning / brainstorming solutions before they come to the hackathon itself and you save time the day-of the event. You can go this route by hosting a happy hour / meetup or having an online forum for individuals to meet and sign up their teams.
  • Forming teams at the hackathon

    The upside to this approach is that you are sure to include all participants who are at the hackathon the day-of. The downside is that it can take time for individuals to network, find each other, and come to a consensus about which challenge they want to tackle and how to get it done--leaving less time for actual work on the solution. You can go this route by designating different parts of your venue for hackers interested in different challenge statements to go to after the event kickoff.


After coming up with the goals and some basic details about your event, it’s time to consider securing partnerships. Private-sector hackathons often have corporate sponsors to help cover the cost of producing a hackathon--this isn’t something that City agencies can do due to conflict of interest regulations around gifts. If you do need corporate sponsors in order to cover the cost of producing the hackathon we recommend partnering with a nonprofit that your agency (and the City) does not currently contract with. This nonprofit partner can have corporate sponsors donate money, food and swag or raise money from Foundations and other sources to help cover the cost of the hackathon. The nonprofit may in return want to submit a challenge statement or two and be acknowledged as a partner in the event by having their logo on marketing materials.

Just ensure that any partners that are receiving gifts (in-kind donations, money, etc.) are not City agencies nor nonprofits with City contracts nor companies with City contracts.

Partnerships are a two-way relationship. Be mindful of what your partner may be looking to get out of the arrangement. This can range from having their logo displayed on event material, to having contestants use their APIs. The perks that you offer the partner can vary.


In order to ensure maximum productivity, it can be helpful to provide onsite mentors who can act as a resource. Participants can ask them questions, and the mentors can provide instant feedback and advice.

Mentors should be able to assist in skills required for the hackathon or by providing insight on the challenge or thematic subject matter. The type of mentor who will be most relevant will depend on your hackathon’s goals and themes. Be sure to brief all mentors before the event on their role the day of the event.

Challenge Owners

Challenge owners are directly related to the challenge question and have a vested interest in any solutions. Ideally solutions that come out of the hackathon can then be tested or used by the challenge owner to have a real impact.

Challenge owners also serve as experts on the theme and challenges of the hackathon and can explain the challenge in more detail.

Challenge owners should have some say in the judging rubric and can also brief judges on what to look for in a winning demo if they are not selected as judges themselves.


In order to organize a successful event, put together a team of motivated individuals who can take care of all tasks. You should have one lead organizer. Delegate specific tasks to certain organizers; have someone in charge of directing volunteers, someone to take pictures, etc. Be sure to brief all organizers and volunteers before the event.


Organizers must be able to stay on top of every detail, as well as be able to keep track of all the technical aspects of planning the event. Leverage tools such as Google docs, Trello, Basecamp, Slack, TeuxDeux and Asana to organize your team and keep them on task.


On the day of the actual event, organizers must be present and active in order to ensure everything goes smoothly. Setting up a group text with other organizers and volunteers or having a Slack channel can facilitate real-time updates the day-of.


Send out thank you’s and updates to all event participants. Also, send along a follow-up survey to assess the success of the hackathon, and to receive any comments, concerns or suggestions.


Judges are often included in hackathons to judge the winners during the demo portion of the event. It is important, however, to understand why judges are necessary or key to your event. Not every hackathon needs judges. Some reasons why judges can be a helpful part of your event:
  • Celebrity judges can draw participants to attend (i.e. - if you have Bill Gates as a judge, participants will want to come to be able to present their ideas to him)
  • Judges with expertise on the hackathon theme or challenge areas can evaluate the prowess of the final idea/product
  • Judges that are also challenge owners can pick the solution that they are most interested in moving forward with, leading to a greater chance of solution implementation and impact as a result of the hackathon

If you decide to have judges it will be important to brief them in advance and provide an outline of specific judging criteria which you may want to assign a percentage weight. You will also need to have merit-based selection criteria and announce the criteria to participants at the beginning of the event. Some common types of judging criteria include the following:

Quality of the idea
Implementation of the idea
Impact of the idea on the challenge(s)
How well the user / business need was addressed