Before answering this we should understand what a hackathon is,
A hackathon is essentially a programming event in which a large number of people participate to build new products over a course of several days, mostly a weekend.
But what I have personally seen in different hackathon competitions is entirely different. Startup founders with fully functional products participate and compete against people who want to live the spirit of a hackathon, which is, developing something new from scratch.
Just a couple of weeks ago, I went to attend one such competition. Sitting in the front row, I turned over and looked back. All I could see were familiar faces from the startup fraternity of Pakistan. I wondered to myself, ‘Why are these people here? Why do they need to develop new ideas and products when they already have their own startups?’ My confusion vanished when it was announced that ‘Startups can participate with their existing products. All they need to develop is a new feature.‘ Hassam Mehmood also pointed out the same issue in his write up. This pretty much kills the purpose of a hackathon.
And can you guess who were the winners? Startups with their pre-existing products.
Had these already established startups not participated, I sincerely hope and think we would have come across some new innovative product prototypes. And there was a fair chance of materialization too, because the winning amount would have been spent on polishing the products and getting them to market. But sadly, it didn’t happen!
Another noticeable thing is the misdirected focus on presentations. Now I think presentation of your product is very important but at these events there is so much stress on ‘perfect English’ and the ‘aesthetic appeal’ of presentations that the participants lose the sight of what the competition is about — developing a new product!
As soon as the competition starts, one of the team-mates is assigned the task of designing a world-class powerpoint presentation. It is not a surprising fact that majority of the participants have very eye-catching presentation paired with great communications skills (read: English). But the most important thing – a product prototype – is often missing. What is more amazing to me is the fact that the event then becomes the best presentation competition. And guess what, majority of the times, people with the best presentation and mesmerizing tones win.
And then what happens? The winners go to another event, impress the judges with their world class presentation, charming personalities, and the skills to captivate the audience, and win another event. The cycle continues till they are bored of it.
What can be done to resolve these problems? Don’t let the existing startups participate. Urge new people to come forth and make it mandatory for the participants to showcase their prototypes. Promote a culture of actual innovation.