6 Types of Hackathons You Should Know

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Table of Contents

There are various types of hackathons such as internal hackathons, external hackathons, sponsored hackathons, virtual hackathons, in-person hackathons, and coding hackathons. The list really does go on, and we’ve included a longer overview at the end of this guide.

In this guide, we’re exploring these six types of hackathon, along with the benefits, key examples and why they can help you unlock rapid innovation, solid collaboration and powerful problem solving. If you’d like to learn more before jumping into this topic, head over to our comprehensive guide to hackathons!

what is a hackathon type

What is a Hackathon?

A hackathon is an event that brings a number of people together to pursue new ideas and opportunities. These events pose a challenge to participants and welcome creative problem solving and new ways of thinking. Hackathons often involve heightened collaboration, intense focus, and some may even reward individuals or teams for their contributions.

Types of Hackathon Table

Take a look at the table below for a concise overview of the different types of hackathons you may encounter and should consider! This includes the type, the hackathon definition and what each types can help you achieve. Then, when you’re ready, read on to discover each of these six types of hackathons in much more detail below!

Types of HackathonsHackathon DescriptionGreat for achieving
Internal HackathonsAn internal hackathon is an event hosted by an organization for its employees to develop products and services, collaborate on new ideas, and address internal challenges.• Fostering creativity
• Rapid product ideation
• Cross-department collaboration
• Building intrapreneurship
External HackathonsExternal hackathons involve multiple organizations, members of the public, or other relevant individuals like subject matter experts.• Networking
• Diverse collaboration
• Expansive skill contribution
Sponsored HackathonsSponsored hackathons are supported, or even fully funded by external organizations or institutions, such as a governmental body.• Building industry partnerships
• Promoting collaboration with target audiences.
• Fostering impactful, meaningful innovation.
Virtual HackathonsVirtual hackathons are held online and allow participants to join in and collaborate from anywhere in the world using tools like Zoom, Mural, Whiteboard, and more.• Break geographical barriers
• Accommodate varying schedules.
• Utilize digital tools and platforms.
In-person HackathonsIn-person hackathons take advantage of bringing everyone into one environment for the duration of the hackathon.• Relationship building
• Clear communication
• Real-time interactions
Coding HackathonsCoding hackathons are the most common type of hackathons and focus on tech challenges or projects.• Leverage computer programming skills
• Build new digital ideas collaboratively.
• Solve complex problems.
employee internal hackathon

Internal Hackathons

Internal hackathons (or corporate hackathons) are run by an organization for its in-house teams. This type of hackathon typically focuses on developing a new product or service, fostering collaboration, and solving high-level problems.

Participants, otherwise known as employees in this case will work to refine processes, uncover new ideas, and develop existing features or functions. But how do you ensure the hackathon is a success?

Well, much like other types of hackathons, an internally hosted event will sometimes offer prizes to teams who think outside the box and find the best ideas. This may range from a shorter working day to a paid lunch or another incentive.

What makes this a no-brainer for companies wanting to take innovation up a notch, though? To put it simply an internal hackathon achieves two things:

  1. Helps employees explore creativity, work collaboratively, and have a voice.
  2. Actively pursues improvements, and a better business, product, or service.

This type of hackathon is a sort of win-win for everybody involved and can be a great way to step up innovation within the workplace. It can be a single source of growth and success for a business.

External Hackathons

External hackathons utilize participants from all different backgrounds. It’s this diverse and dynamic quality that makes them a powerful type of hackathon. These events are invaluable for knowledge sharing, innovation, and networking, and help present a totally new point of view that may be overlooked in an internal hackathon.

It’s this mix of expertise and perspectives that paves the way for groundbreaking innovation that can be both meaningful and long-lasting. Unlike internal hackathons, external hackathons are open to different people with different skill sets.

Think about it. Instead of limiting your event to a number of departments within an organization, this type of hackathon could include programmers, business analysts, community members, students, subject matter experts, and more.

The question is, what do external hackathons try and achieve with such innovative firepower? Well, the opportunities are pretty much endless! Whether it’s addressing societal problems or developing new ideas from the ground up, providing external hackathons includes the right individuals, anything is possible.

external hackathon group photo

Sponsored hackathons often rely on financial support, expertise, and resources to make things happen. This type of hackathon is typically funded by a governmental body or institution to develop new ideas and tackle industry problems.

Because sponsored hackathons are backed financially, it is easier to bring in key innovators, powerful subject matter experts, and other talented individuals. This, of course, gives the hackathon objectives a much higher chance of success!

Like most types of hackathons, there’s also a win-win situation for participants, as it opens the doors to new opportunities. Individuals gain access to some of the most prominent industry mentors and cutting-edge technology and tools.

Sponsored hackathons can be somewhat of a playground for people to do their best work with state-of-the-art setups. Not to mention that many sponsored hackathons include some form of prize or partnership with the sponsoring bodies.

All-in-all, sponsored hackathons can be a powerful avenue for organizations and institutions to explore to innovate fast and disrupt their industry or field. Below are some examples of sponsored hackathons:

Google Developer Hackathons

Google is no stranger to a sponsored hackathon, focusing its efforts on key products and technologies like Google Assistant and Google Cloud Platform. These hackathons are often reserved for programmers and developers to build innovative applications and ideas using Google’s APIs, tools, and existing technologies.

Microsoft Azure

Microsoft regularly sponsors hackathons that utilize its Azure cloud computing services. These hackathons, much like Google’s encourage participants to create scalable solutions using the Microsoft infrastructure and developer tools.

If you haven’t already, you may be noticing a theme that some of the largest, most successful tech organizations are at the forefront of sponsored hackathons. They know the price, or prize, of rapid innovation, and they know it may take a little more than a single department within their organization to discover new opportunities.

Facebook Developer Circles

Facebook also used to dabble in this type of hackathon via its Developer Circles program. This program supported societal challenges, innovative breakthroughs, and community building, and gave participants access to Facebook’s developer tools, APIs, and more.

Startup Accelerator Programs

Although this isn’t a specific example of a sponsored hackathon, it is worth mentioning that many startup accelerator programs host hackathons to inspire and ignite the world’s entrepreneurs. Many people have great ideas, and it is environments like this where they can flourish and collaborate on game-changing innovation.

employees in a virtual hackathon

Virtual Hackathon

Virtual hackathons have only grown in popularity in the past several years, especially in the aftermath of the pandemic. This type of hackathon focuses on bringing some of the best minds from around the world into one digital environment.

It demolishes geographical barriers and enables individuals from diverse backgrounds to collaborate on projects and ideas from anywhere in the world. The exciting thing about virtual hackathons is their flexibility.

These events don’t have some of the constraints of in-person hackathons and present a new opportunity for the best in business to work together in real time. It also allows people to be innovative and solve problems from the comfort of their own home, or in an environment and space that works best for them.

But who is involved in a virtual hackathon? Well, the world is your oyster with this one. Quite literally! Virtual hackathons aren’t reserved for any one group of individuals. It may consist of a remote working team or an online community of programmers and developers. There is no right or wrong answer to this one.

One example of this type of hackathon is the Global Game Jam. A hackathon that brings together people from across the gaming industry to create games around a central theme that is revealed at the start of the jam. Interesting, right?

Benefits of Virtual Hackathons

There are varying benefits to this type of hackathon, and although we’ve covered some of them above, below offers more insight into why you should consider a virtual hackathon!

Collaboration Tools

Virtual hackathons make use of digital collaboration and communication tools. Whether it’s communicating on Zoom, Microsoft Teams, or Google Meets or brainstorming on Mural or Microsoft Whiteboard.

It’s safe to say there are hundreds, if not thousands of tools, platforms, and features out there to make virtual hackathons a success! What’s more, many digital tools are free!

But there are also more sophisticated tools such as edison365. Our platform gives organizations an end-to-end environment for project, portfolio, and innovation management with a bunch of very powerful tools!

Cost-effective Solution

Virtual hackathons are also cost-effective, as they don’t require participants to travel anywhere or require a physical space to host the event. With some hackathons involving hundreds of people, it will be no surprise that organizers will be glad to remove the need for an events hall from their budget.

Accessible to all

As we’ve already touched on, this type of hackathon provides the flexibility and accessibility that a lot of other types do not. Participants can join in on all the action from anywhere in the world, regardless of their time zone, disabilities, or mobility constraints. It not only enables, but empowers people from all walks of life to get involved and innovate, collaborate, and thrive as one!

an in-person hackathon

In-person Hackathons

In-person hackathons offer a rich environment that empowers people to innovate, collaborate, and problem-solve face-to-face. For that reason, it is one of the more rapid and intense types of hackathon, as people communicate much more effectively and efficiently in-person.

In-person hackathons can be held over days or an entire weekend, and help individuals engage with like-minded people in pursuit of innovative ideas and new ways of thinking.

Unlike other types of hackathons mentioned in this guide, there are no boundaries with in-person hackathons. It can support sponsored events, internal or external events, or coding hackathons.

It is more about the format in which these take place! But they differ in the intensity and speed at which things come together. Now, let’s look at some of the benefits of in-person hackathons…

Benefits of In-person Hackathons

All of these types of hackathon have their own unique benefits, and that goes for in-person events too! Take a look at three of the key benefits this type of hackathon offers:

Everything happens in real-time

As you may have guessed, everything happens in real time in this type of hackathon. If someone poses a question or invites a new way of thinking, people can act immediately and seek out new ideas straight away. That’s the beauty of in-person hackathons.

Incredible learning curves

People learn faster in an environment where communication is clear and concise. No slow WIFI calls or misunderstood text-based chats. Body language goes a long way in knowing whether our message has been understood, and people are more likely to ask for help when are confused in person.

This type of hackathon also brings people face-to-face with one another. This gives participants the chance to quiz their talented acquaintances and learn from the best! What’s not to love about in-person hackathons?

Chance to network with others

Lastly, in-person events, like any, offer a chance to build relationships, get to know people on a personal level, and most importantly, network! When participants are put into an environment focused on collaboration and problem-solving, they may find they want to work again with certain individuals in the future.

coding hackathon taking place

Coding Hackathons

Coding hackathons are events that bring together technology enthusiasts, programming geniuses, and other industry specialists. This type of hackathon is often about empowering individuals to utilize their skill sets in the tech industry by challenging them to build innovative digital solutions and products.

As technology has proven over the past couple of decades, a lot can be achieved using technology. Technological advancement can and does offer a real-world case. And that mentality is exactly what this type of hackathon encourages people to adopt.

These hackathons, much like those discussed beforehand last anywhere from twenty-four hours to a couple of days. The idea is to propose a challenge and see what creative solutions people imagine using digital tools.

Benefits of Coding Hackathons

Below are just some of the benefits of a hackathon for coders, developers, and programmers. From creative problem-solving to rapid prototyping, find out more!

Creative problem-solving

Digital tools empower us to do our best work. They are often built with our goals and ambitions in mind, and through the use of automation and AI, we can achieve a lot, with very little more than our devices.

That principle applies here! Using technology, coding hackathons see some of the most creative problem-solving out of all of these types of hackathons.

Enhanced collaboration

Coding hackathons don’t rely on in-person communication and collaboration. Instead, they make use of communication tools and developer tools that can be worked on in real-time. The possibilities are pretty much endless.

Swift prototyping

Because the barrier to entry is a lot smaller when dealing with digital products and solutions, coding hackathons can be the host of many prototypes from hundreds of participants.

With the right skills and knowledge, participants can singlehandedly build something spectacular (and do so in just a couple of hours). It’s safe to say that this type of hackathon is where innovation and creativity meet rapid results and achievements.

Other Types of Hackathons

Believe it or not, this list doesn’t include every type of hackathon, and you should definitely consider other ways to leverage these high-intensity creative events. Here are some other types of hackathon to look into after you’ve read this article:

  • Design Hackathons
  • Industry-specific Hackathons
  • Data Hackathons
  • Education Hackathons
  • Social Impact Hackathons

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