How to build a successful hackathon team

Do you want to build a successful hackathon team? Meet five Ultrahack teams and learn how it’s done!

Hackathons are often considered as a playground for developers, but even the most brilliant execution is not enough: the concept and how you validate your solution are equally important. And without a proper pitch, the judges and investors might not to see the value of your idea.

It takes talent to get all the pieces together, but what kind of team is an ideal one? In our experience, there isn’t just one recipe for success. Great teams come from different backgrounds.

We decided to dig into the issue and learn what’s behind Ultrahackers’ success. Here’s five different types of teams we found:

The Student Team — from a classroom to SLUSH

Ultrahack 2015 Happier Hospitals Track winner and 2016 Health Track Bonus Winner Rehaboo! shows that experience is not always a precondition for success.

The student team had background from Metropolia University of Applied Sciences where they were studying humanities, physiotherapy and game development at the time. The team saw their unique talent as advantage and decided to build a physiotherapeutic game to help kids recover from surgeries.

Being a beginner in software or business development doesn’t mean you have to settle for less. “At Ultrahack, mentors, business angels and coaches are there for you and help you to make the most of it. We even found our Co-Founder at Ultrahack. It’s the idea that counts”, Matias Koskinen, CTO at Rehaboo! says.

Their determination took Rehaboo! to SLUSH where they pitched their solution in 2015 and launched a new game in 2016.

The Friends Team — combine fun and hacking

Would you spend weekend coding with your friends? To Team Hibbo, the answer was definitely yes. These experienced software professionals show that friendship comes a long way in winning hackathons.

At Ultrahack 2016 they nailed FinTech Challenge with their solution that helps kids to learn the value of money in today’s cashless society. The team developed a digital payment card and a piggy bank with a parental control app in just 48 hours.

“The fact that we knew each other well and had collaborated on many projects together helped us to start working right away”, Hibbo team’s Customer Developer Kimmo Koivisto says.

He also believes their combination of talent was close to ideal, as they had expertise from customer development, prototyping, full stack development and design.

“We drafted the plans for Hibbo in a local bar where we usually meet for burgers and beer. Planning ahead left us time to pre-order what we needed: a screen and other components and sort out 3D printing facilities. All the coding was done on the spot, which meant we slept only a couple of hours during the weekend”, he laughs.

The dedication paid off as the team was awarded with 50,000 euro main prize. “It means a lot to us that we can try out ideas — even the crazy ones.Taking part in Ultrahack was a perfect way to set some time aside and really get the work done”, he says.

The Company Team — take up the challenge with your co-workers

Trading your weekend break for hacking with your colleagues might be a smarter move than you think: you already know you can work seamlessly together and you have previous experience building software.

The team SeCapp won Ultrahack 2016 Media Track with a solution that allows summoning freelance journalists to cover news events globally. This was the first hackathon the team of co-workers decided to participate.

“We used geolocation data in our solution which allows users to notify freelance journalists and photographers when something newsworthy happens. We were able to build a fully functioning application in 48 hours, since we were able to use some of our own software components”, Kari Aho says.

Aho, who holds a PhD and works as Business Developer at Magister Solutions Oy, says the weekend was productive in many ways. “Ultrahack really boosted our team spirit and made us feel a great sense of achievement. Our hackathon experience has impacted our work ever since. Not to mention valuable contacts and business opportunities we got”

The Match-made Team — a jump into unknown

But what if you decided to join Ultrahack without a team? Sardana Ivanova, a Master’s Student in Computer Science from Yakutsk, Russia came to Ultrahack hoping to find good use for her skills. She quickly found out that startup entrepreneur Yina Ye was looking for developers to join her team Better Day.

“It was really awesome team forming with us and two other team members Courtney and Anna joining from the US”, Sardana says.

Even though the team didn’t have previous experience working together they were able to build a solution that activates and motivates the elderly with the help virtual reality and other digital assets. They ended up winning both Health Track and the Cross Motion Bonus Prize along with Reboot Finland Hack and Awards.

“Ultrahack gave us an opportunity to build and expand our team. Aleksei Grabtchak joined Better Day at Ultrahack and we have been working together ever since. He’s a physiotherapy student with a keen interested in VR and a really valuable addition to our team”, Yina concludes.

The Team Better Day — Picture: Veeti Haapsamo

The Online Team — Hacking on two continents

“My journey to Ultrahack began when I got a phone call from Lyana Parzhetskaya whom I had met at Demola in Oulu. She persuaded me to join Medical Hack with them because of my business skills and previous experience as a facilitator, says Simo Kekäläinen from Team CoSeGa.

The phone call meant Kekäläinen would be working alone on-site for the whole weekend, as Lyana and her partner Vlad Kupriyenko would be supporting him on-line from Mauritius. The team’s mission was to turn their eLearning platform into a solution that medical industry could use for patient recruitment. Motivational features would enhance the patient-doctor relationship and cut drop out rates, they figured.

Kekäläinen didn’t mind taking a leading role while other members were working remotely. “Of course you’ll need to say yes when opportunities like these present themselves. Just go with open mind and heart. Don’t expect too much or worry whether you make it or not. Give the project the best you can and also, give yourself opportunity to learn and grow.”, Kekäläinen says.

“We really wanted to re-think what participating in a medical trial would mean. We realized that motivation is the key and wanted to pursue this direction. Ultrahack mentoring and coaching was really valuable to us in our pursuit”, he says

Chill-out after Ultrahack — Picture: Veeti Haapsamo

And since you all want to know how the teams are doing, here’s a short summary on what happened them after Ultrahack 2016:

Team Rehaboo launched their new product and secured their first angel investment in 2016.

Team Hibbo have applied for patent for the innovation they made during Ultrahack 2016. They are also continuing discussion with Fintech challenge partner OP Group.

The Team SeCapp continues to develop their solution with Media Track Challenge partner OKSA. They have also been approached by other media houses.

The Team Better Day won Reboot Finland Hacks and Pitching Award at SLUSH.

Team CoSeGa are continuing with their project and are discussing with investors.

Ultrahack will take place again at SLUSH 2017, and kick off with the Ultrahack Sprint on April 21-23rd.  Learn more at Ultrahack.org.

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