How to organise a hackathon, kind of.

TL;DR

  • TeensInAI is an incredible initiative.
  • My tips to run a good hackathon are: Get a team, sell tickets early, don’t stop advertising, communicate even the smallest things to your team and leverage your connections to find a sponsor.

In November I was challenged by Elena Sinel at Acorn Aspirations to organise a hackathon for TeensInAI. This at first seemed to me less of a challenge and more of an opportunity, an opportunity to have fun and maybe make a bit of money in the process, little else.

Over the course of the next few months, I’d learn just how complicated event planning is, no matter what the event — you need a venue, helpers, speakers, food, this list goes on and on.

Elena advised me to put together a team, a small one, consisting of no more than 5 people who I could count on to delegate tasks to. I did exactly that, and obviously, naturally, I chose my friends, all extremely reliable people. Once I’d done that I thought I was happy, but one question loomed in my head more than any other:

WHAT IN THE WORLD DO I DO NEXT?!

As a team, we had a variety of discussions about this question, more than I wish to admit. But, we did eventually come to the consensus that we couldn’t get anything done without funding and marketing. So those were put at the top of our agenda.

To fund our hackathon, we chose to use Indiegogo, after a lot of research we decided it was just the best way to go about things (False Advertising, sorry Eventbrite — we love you too). I started on the campaign launch page and also the campaign video which I just edited in iMovie. All together that single process of setting up the fundraiser took 2 weeks!

The quick video we made to advertise GenZHack

In the run up to launch, we were of course also advertising our hackathon. I asked a couple members of my team to get to work on some advertising material for the hack, including tweets, flyers, facebook posts, that sort of thing (all made with Canva). By the time the campaign was one week away from launching, we had around 20 pieces of advertising material and had set up a bot to tweet every so often, for this we used SmarterQueue.

An example of the kind of advertising materials we made with Canva.

The initial hype to the launch of the hackathon was exhilarating. We had reached the end of the first week of funding and had already raised £1000 of our £5000 flexible goal. We continued with our rigorous campaign up until Christmas and it was working fantastically. By Christmas, after launching on the 10th we had raised £1500. There was no stopping us!

Naturally over the holidays your work starts to slip as you start celebrating and relaxing. This is exactly what happened. And, regrettably, this was the most significant mistake and misjudgement that I had made. I thought the ‘hype train’ wasn’t going to stop just because I stopped. But it did. And it stopped fast. We hadn’t had a ticket order from December 23rd to January 5th. This slump was the result of a lot of things that we stopped doing over the holidays. Most importantly, our twitter bot stopped, and none of us noticed until it was too late. In addition to this, our WhatsApp group which previously was flooded with messages on the daily had gone silent. The lack of communication within the team meant we couldn’t function as a unit.

Lifting ourselves out this ‘slump’ was the hardest thing we had to do during the planning period. I figured we could never pull this off now. Despite this, we chugged along, this time having meetings weekly or even biweekly at the offices of TeensInAI after school. We connected with a variety of people over Linkedin, people we thought could help us make the hack a success. Elena managed to get us a sponsor, our first one. IPSoft, an artificial intelligence giant who were willing to let us run the hackathon at their London offices. AMAZING NEWS!

From there, everything started looking up again, we got loads of people on board, people from a variety of relevant fields and finding judges for the hackathon became loads easier now we’d had our spirits lifted. We had picked ourselves up from the slump and we got back to work. We sent out newsletters, got mentors on board, found speakers, made challenges, wrote agendas, most importantly, we got more teens signing up. It was incredible.

WE’D A PLANNED A HACKATHON!

The moral of this story is that with the right help you can actually do anything. I’m a programmer, and although I’ve been to some hackathons, I never in the world thought that I could have an integral part to play in the construction of one. But I can, and I did. This was not just an opportunity, or just a challenge it was both. I thought I couldn’t do something, and then WE did it. That’s what Acorn and TeensInAI are all about.

TeensInAI teaches young people about what’s possible not only with tech, business and design but also with their minds, their commitment and their teamwork. We’re excited that TeensInAI GenZ Hack (the one I’ve written about) will run on the 26th and 27th January. I couldn’t be more excited. I would like extend an enormous thanks to everyone helped make this a reality. Lera, Sara, Euan, Arion and Jess I cant thank you enough. Most of all though, Elena, thank you so much, not just what you do for me but everything you do for the people around you. You are an inspiration to all of us.

Just a part of the team that helped us make this hackathon a reality

Written by Sammy Hass, TeensInAI Ambassador

Powering the Next Generation of Thought Leaders, Innovators and Technologists in #AI @teensinai #TeensInAI #GirlsinAI #MCStartup2016 Founder @elenasinel

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