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Hackathon Innovation – It Takes a Village

group of colleagues placing their fists together over the center of their workstation, showing teamwork

Have you ever participated in a hackathon? Ever hear a developer colleague talk about a hack they attended and wonder, “What is it that makes hackathons special?” As we gear up for the TechCrunch hackathon in October, we’ve found ourselves increasingly thinking about what it is that compels developers and entrepreneurs to come together, solve for, and innovate around tough challenges or problems.

Working with the folks at MIT Hacking Medicine and attending the event this year here in Cambridge, Mass., gave us some insights into the dynamics that make hackathons both a unique and valuable experience for developers.

  • Community – One of the things that really struck us about the attendees was the camaraderie between participants. While we were expecting mostly technical folks to participate, we were surprised by the number of non-technical business, healthcare administration, clinicians, and design folks involved with the event. Listening to the different conversations, it became clear that all of the participants were contributing to the hackathon because of their interest in healthcare. Hackathons are communities - communities of individuals with common interests and the goal of solving for big problems. It’s the opportunities to embrace different perspectives within these communities that make them so special. It’s an environment that truly, “takes a village” to solve problems; the doers, the thinkers, the entrepreneurs, and the coders.
  • Collaboration – Common interests, pursuits, and goals tie many of the hackathon participants together. The desire to find solutions to challenging problems leads to this open environment and exchange of ideas. Participants pitch their ideas, and teams are formed based on shared interests. Each member of the team brings his or her own perspective, experience, and ideas to collaboratively solve for problems.
  • Nurturing – Another thing we loved seeing were participants encouraging growth and development of other team members as part of the process. During the course of the event, we didn’t hear ideas squashed outright, to the contrary, we heard them encouraged. Naturally, every idea doesn’t make it to the final presentation, but it is exactly this type of environment where both people and ideas are encouraged to grow, develop, and be adopted or rejected.
  • Iterative Process – Hackathons involve a repetitive process in which ideas are baked in a crucible of thought and then hammered repeatedly by questions and technology trials to determine if the idea holds up under pressure. Because of the incredible level of expertise available to everyone, participants can get valuable feedback that would take months, or years, to obtain in any other setting. Our mentor team spent hours speaking with participants, providing them with guidance and insight into real-world applications for their ideas. Participants would go on to put that newfound insight into practice, coming back to our team for either validation or additional insight into the solutions they created. It is this intense trial and error of ideas that roll theory into practice and makes these events so alluring.

What will TechCrunch bring for us? We hope to find other communities of developers and entrepreneurs who are coming up with the bright ideas and applications of tomorrow. We believe that whether it’s through hackathons or strategic partnerships, these collaborations and opportunities to nurture ideas and concepts are important. They provide enormous value to their participants and to the ideas they give rise to. Whether we are creating the future of care or building technology solutions in other markets through our clients and partners, all of us are truly building something that matters.

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