5 Tips to Kick-Start your Hackathon

We are in the process of planning our first Mirametrix hackathon, and have learned a lot in the process.  For any of you considering organizing your first hackathon, here are some quick tips on where to start.

1. Attend a hackathon. If you have never been to a hackathon, this is an absolute must.  It will allow you to meet people that could help you with your struggles and teach you how to set up your hackathon for success. It will also give you some insight into what to expect from a hackathon and how the ambiance really is.  You will probably realise that it’s much more hectic that you imagine. During down times, you can meet and mingle; even invite some hackers to YOUR event!

2. Find the space. You need a space that has enough places for everyone. This is a hackathon so make sure that there are enough power outlets, since there will be a lot of computers and other devices plugged in. Bring replacement fuses if you need to! For people to attend, picking the right location is key. It has to be close to public transportation and easy to find. Remember, make things easy and fun, and people will come. Picking a place like the Notman house in Montreal is ideal, because the place has hosted all kind of similar events and is already known by hackers. You will be able to leverage the buzz around that place and the fact that your target participants constantly check out their calendar of event.

3. Find sponsors. Now this is the real challenge of organizing a hackathon. Don’t panic, breathe and make a hit list. You need to know what you are looking for in sponsors. There can be different categories of sponsors; big tech companies, smaller players in the industry, food and beverage sponsors, etc.  Service companies who you do regular business with are you first and best choice. They usually have a budget to sponsor events and really appreciate the exposure they can get.  We may not all be connected to the head of Apple or Microsoft and if you email them asking for sponsorships, you will probably end up in their junk mail. Start with people you know in your business network, and ask about who they’re connected to from the hit list you made. LinkedIn is a great tool for this.

4. Know who you’re targeting and how to reach them. This is the first thing to know about marketing your event. You want computer engineering students to attend; go for social media and student associations. Facebook is very powerful in this case. You want industry professionals to attend, use your network and ask sponsors and contacts you made to spread the word among their team. LinkedIn might be better suited here. There are great services like Eventbrite that help you register people and keep track of what’s happening. They also have an analysis tool that will analyse where people clicked to see your event and therefore give you feedback on your marketing approach.

5. Talk to people who have done it already. Did I say that already?  I meant it. The best thing I did to learn how to organize a hackathon was ask for advice from other people who had done it before.  Invite them to meet you for lunch, get to know them, and gather feedback on what went right and what went wrong.  Don’t be shy! And don’t forget, they are helping YOU so you need to show them how much you appreciate it (yes, pay the tab). But trust me, it will be worth it. The information they will provide you will be priceless in terms of saving you time and money you might have wasted on wrong decisions. They will also give you tips on what they could have done better if the occasion was to happen again. Take notes.

While I’m on the topic, a special thanks to Sara Ahmadian and Ben Yoskovitz for all your guidance and support!

“Smart people learn from their mistakes. But the real sharp ones learn from the mistakes of others.” ― Brandon Mull, Fablehaven

Does Montreal have what it takes to be the next Silicon Valley?

After studying economics and marketing in France, Pierre, one of our recent marketing interns, came to us ready to see what was happening “somewhere else.”  TandemLaunch was precisely that, especially compared to his last internship with the 5th largest telecom operator in the world (Orange-France Telecom).  Since startups are all about new ideas and fresh perspectives, here are his thoughts on Montreal’s startup environment as an outsider.

While some elements of an entrepreneurial ecosystem can be “easily” controlled (like tax credits, event organization, etc.), other elements are more difficult to create (such as culture and the right balance of fresh ideas, technical know-how, and experience). Will Montreal be the next Silicon Valley? Probably not quite as big, but here are some things that make Montreal a dynamic startup hub:

The people: An optimal place for startups requires a base of talented people. Ideally, these people will be from different age groups: young professionals are likely to be dynamic and “eager”, while the experience of more seasoned professionals can provide the foundation that an ecosystem needs. From this perspective, Montreal is one of the best cities in the world. With 4 major universities, Montreal is the number 1 city in North America for per capita university students. It also ranks 5th in North America for its concentration of high-tech jobs. The skilled people needed for a great tech startup ecosystem clearly exist in Montreal. The population also has the added advantages of language and cultural diversity.  And it is simply in the DNA of the city that 52% of Montreal residents are bilingual, while 18% speak 3 languages. It also has a lot of highly qualified foreigners: people who come to Canada from other countries ((more than half of TandemLaunch’s staff was born elsewhere) and who have had to learn to be flexible and adaptable (if they weren’t already). They also have insider knowledge of the countries from which they’ve come. This is great for business as people from diverse backgrounds bring different ideas and perspectives that infuse creativity into startups.

The culture: Beyond access to skilled people, there is an ‘effervescence’ in Montreal that can only profit startup developments. The city is cosmopolitan, sharing North American and European culture. This is most obvious in the languages spoken, but that is only the tip of the iceberg; Montreal is culturally in the middle of Europe and North America, which have two very different ways of thinking about business. North America is in general more action and goal oriented; while Europe, especially France, is more concept and process oriented. Montreal benefits from both ways of thinking, which clash by times, but also create great business ideas and strategy.

Start-up culture and community: Startup communities start with a synergy between their people and culture. To be viable, the community needs to be large enough and organized enough to enable partnerships and knowledge exchange. More than in any other form of business, entrepreneurship is as much about finding the right people to work with as having a great idea. I hesitate to use the word “networking,” because the term implies using people to achieve a specific goal. What I really mean is fundamental “relationship building.” My time at TandemLaunch has taught me that relationship building is about creating better collaborations with partners and investors over the long term; aligning interests rather than pushing an agenda. Relationship building takes time, but also depends on getting that first contact.  So does Montreal’s community enable that? It’s moving in that direction to be sure. The 1st International Startup Festival in July was a great success with over 1000 attendees, from over 100 cities around the world, more than 40 speakers, and future collaborations being built! Montreal also offers a Start-up camp every year that brings together entrepreneurs, people considering entrepreneurship, start-up employees, investors and others. Most importantly, there are multiple formal and informal occasions to be in touch with these people:  Startup Drinks Montreal, Girls Geek Dinner, start-up tour, tech entrepreneur breakfast, student organization founded events, and many other workshops, open-networking events, and pitch events every month. The avenues are there, and people are investing in building them.

Government will: Canada and Quebec’s R&D tax incentives are among the most generous in the world and are especially favourable for small businesses. Each year, the R&D program provides more than $4-billion in tax credits to more than 18,000 claimants, 75% of which are small businesses. This is good news for the tech entrepreneur.

 

A success story: A success story is inspiring, and makes others think, “hey, I could do that too.” It also builds confidence in the community, and gives free indirect advertisement for the benefits of entrepreneurship. It’s essential (but not sufficient) for the active and future start-up, and for the reputation of the city as a business place, to leverage talented individuals to gain credibility with investors. While Montreal has had several successful startups, like Copernic, it has yet to have a massive success hit the newspaper headlines.  But there’s nothing keeping it from happening. 

The conditions exist for tech entrepreneurs in Montreal, they just need to do what North Americans do best: keep striving for success.