Corporate Digital Hackathons-Tips You Don’t Want to Miss Before You Start Your Hackathon Journey in China


A growing number of fortune 500 companies in China conduct hackathons to drive their innovation.

Though a large number of digital hackathons are organized every year, hackathon is still an underutilized instrument when it comes to corporate innovation.

What Are the Goals of Corporate Innovation?

Corporate innovation, in general, means identifying opportunities and emerging know-how, reliable partners, and adequate technologies to create and boost business values.

At the core of corporate innovation lies the goal of addressing unmet needs and in-demand occasions, creating new flows of income, augmenting business pipelines, and taking efficiency to the next level.

But how can a company identify these opportunities and drive innovation? Or in other words, where can a company find the needs that it can cater to? Digital Hackathon is surely one of the answers.

What Is a Corporate Digital Hackathon?

A Corporate Digital Hackathon gathers a group of internal cross-department employees with the aim of dragging them out of their routine. Taking the program as an opportunity to team up with colleagues from different functional departments, they can sketch innovations based on a wider picture, take a step back to contemplate, and iterate ideas with realistic challenges and synergistic solutions.

The hackathon sprint is a time-bound tool to accelerate digital innovations while uplifting digital competence of User-Centric/Agile Way of Working; it is a challenge-driven event where participants collaborate to Prototype/Build MVPs for specific pre-defined problems.

By providing the opportunity for participants including businesses, tech companies and organizations, as well as end users and customers, to engage in collaborative design, a corporate digital hackathon can break down silos and enable disruptive innovation for large corporate groups at startup speed. Hackathons are an important tool for accelerating organizational change and fostering a customer-centric, agile, and market-focused culture within large companies.

6 Major Phases of a Corporate Digital Hackathon:

  1. Identify Market Insights

This is the act of choosing your area of focus for innovation, which can be anything from emerging trends, market insights that will disrupt the market, or even game-changing technological breakthroughs.

  1. Translate insights into problem statements and topics to hack

Following the identification of market insights, your next step is to determine how you will exploit your opportunities. In other words, you need to figure out what can be done in this space that would offer the opportunity growth. You can take the market insights you have identified and translate them into themes and problem statements that will be your topic to hack.

  1. Ideation phase to come up with project concepts

In this stage, you need to consider all possible ideas. Instead of depending on a few ideas created by a few people, you turn the ideating process over to a larger group, internally or externally, to crowdsource ideas.

  1. Matchmaking: share skills and team build-up

Hackathon teams need to have different kinds of talents. A strong team usually includes people with complementary skill sets — engineers, designers, domain experts who come from the Business Units, and even external startups. Thanks to the innovation environment in China, startups are willing to co-create with large companies more than ever.

  1. Hackathon sprint to build MVPs

A hackathon sprint is usually a two-day-long workshop where your hackathon team comes together to brainstorm and transform the ideas into MVPs. The workshop can be arranged by hackathon facilitators who have rich experience inspiring creations and ideas.

  1. Fund and develop the winning projects

After the sprint workshop, it’s important to arrange a pitch session where your corporate executive team will vote for and witness the birth of the winner projects. To get concrete results from a hackathon program, you need to have on-time follow-ups on those winning projects. Fund and develop those projects to drive your business growth!

What Are the Benefits of Corporate Digital Hackathons?

 A corporate digital hackathon program can be an excellent way to gather internal ideas and drive innovation within the company. The following points are the benefits of a hackathon program you don’t want to miss in your corporate group:

– Rapid prototyping to save on unnecessary costs

The hackathon program provides you with an opportunity to test a larger number of hypotheses and run less-than-perfect tests, allowing you to lower the cost of failure while still gaining a wealth of insights. Corporate hackathons are ideal for quickly prototyping and testing validity and feasibility before committing to complete implementation and scale-up.

Fast work to accelerate

Due to the restricted time allotted to the team during the hackathon sprint, in combination with the competitive spirit and adrenaline rush, product development can be accelerated.

– Coming up with a potential product list

Even though some ideas generated at a hackathon won’t get implemented, they can make up a good reference list for future discussions. What’s more, the digital culture and the initiative created through hackathon will have a deep and long-lasting effect on keeping the whole company agile and lean.

– Fostering intrapreneurship and bringing together cross-functional teams

A hackathon program allows employees to free themselves from daily work so that they have time to focus on innovation and thus foster intrapreneurship to grow internal digital capabilities of your company. By gathering talents from different functional teams to co-create, the program gives engineering teams a better perspective on the target customer and makes the non-engineering teams more involved in the product.

Tips to Know Before You Start Your Corporate Digital Hackathon

  1. Invest time and effort in pre-sessions

Preparation activities before the hackathon days are sometimes even more important than the Hackathon itself since they allow you to make contacts and spread your influence. By engaging the participants early on, you can assess the business value of their original ideas, and work with the facilitators to advise participants and get their blueprints more ready. You might figure out key bullet points that will prove useful during the user test, and establish what skill set your participants will require.

  1. Provide Design/Engineering resources and guidelines to the teams

Considering that most of the participants might have not received product development training, and the prototyping would surely require more or less of these skills, designer and engineering resources are essential to a Digital Hackathon. Education on basic design, tools, hardware, software, and engineering provided in advance or during the hackathon is crucial for fostering the participants’ skills and achieving good prototyping performance.

  1. Find the potential hackathon team leaders

Due to the fact that the hackathon team members come from different business units and departments, the role of the team leader during the hackathon is crucial. This person is usually at the core of a hackathon team, bringing together the members of his or her hackathon team and playing as the hub of collaboration. It is important for you to have a direct engagement with the team leaders since it will be easier for you to communicate, coordinate, and motivate participants who will also be assigned intermediate roles to practice agile working.

  1. Include users test sessions into your hackathon program

Very often, corporate employees build ideas based only on their business perspective, which might ultimately lead to user-unfriendly solutions — without even realizing it. Thus, it’s important to include user test sessions in your hackathon program to have on-time user feedback that will help you validate proposed solutions into customer-centric ones.

  1. Engage decision-makers and sponsors to participate

Pitching your ideas in front of the executive groups and potential sponsors based on the hackathon results is one of the best ways to land new projects and take your existing ones to the next level, especially when current resources cannot cover further support and expenses. It’s also a perfect way for the participants to engage with and impress the leadership team. Digital solutions can be integrated into the scoring and selection process for fast results and on-site awarding, enabling seamless hackathon to POC progress.

  1. Don’t restrict ideas because of challenges.

Digital Hackathon is all about embracing new ideas, and sometimes even reverse thinking. Things might not go 100% as you planned in the first place as you are trying to introduce new knowledge and ways of work. Participants might bring bold concepts at the hackathon, and they should be encouraged to solve subsequent challenges in cooperative ways.


To land innovation projects, your participants need more than just a good-looking hackathon program. Make sure to follow up on those ideas you got out of the hackathon program in whichever way you decided to use beforehand, whether it’s incubating them now, developing them further internally, or having participants work on them further while staying in touch with you. A hackathon without a follow-up can be viewed as a failed one for it doesn’t succeed to transfer the whole idea and MVPs into products with real business value.

Further support a hackathon team normally requires for the next step:

  1. The synergy between the members of the team and their peers should be maintained and further stimulated to motivate them to realize their ideas.
  2. Resources, at least minimal, are required to start the further development.
  3. Potential partners who can support the team should be identified. Let the team members vote for the candidates.
  4. A strategic plan on how to start with the existing resources, and how to work, contract, and negotiate with smaller-scale companies should be created.
  5. Mentors and programs should be included to empower the piloting projects and pinpoint commonly seen risks and delays.
  6. The hackathon team and their ideas should have exposure to their key stakeholders, leadership team, and other important groups.
  7. Effective upskilling sessions and programs which import technology and market insights are highly recommended.