How to win at a Hackathon

When it comes to a hackathon it is always a good idea to have a plan of action in mind. I have been to a lot of hackathons and have realized that a well planned logical approach always leads to good results!

Here I have compiled a 5 step Action plan from my personal experience that can be used to tackle any hackathon!

Step 1: What’s your problem

The mistake many hackers make is that they start working on things right away. Although it’s not bad to jump into development (after all hackathons can be pretty intense), its always better to start off with a ‘problem’.

The point I’m trying to get across is that it’s not about how good or bad your project is, it’s about what problem are you trying to solve. I usually set the first hour or so with my teammates and discuss what problems exist and that’s it. Nothing else but the problems of the world! In this time, we don’t discuss any solution or how are we going to solve the problem. We only jot down the problems as they come to us.

Now the big question is, what kind of problems are we looking for?

There are all kinds of problems, but what we are specifically looking for is IMPORTANT PROBLEMS.

How do you know if your problem is important?

  1. It has a lasting impact on society
  2. Past solutions have failed to solve this problem effectively
  3. Solving this problem will benefit society, or at least a part of society, immensely

Sometimes at hackathons, Sponsors have prizes for solving their own challenges by using their hardware so you can also look at those specific challenges but the key thing again here is to make sure you understand what problem is being solved here or what problem the challenge pertains to.

Know your problem and you know everything

Here are some sources you can consult to research about various problems:

  1. The Economist
  2. Bloomberg Businessweek
  3. The Globe and Mail
  4. The library database of your University

KEY takeaway: Set up 1 hour with your teammates and jot down all the problems that come to your mind. Don’t think of the solutions yet. Hackathons are not about developing solutions they are about solving problems. Hence the word ‘hack’. Hack your Problem!

Step 2: Storm the brain

Now that you have decided what problem you are solving, you need to find solutions. Don’t think of how you are going to make stuff, just completely ignore the developmental side of your solution for now. All you need to do is just note down whatever solution comes to your mind and put it down. it’s also a great team activity where everyone’s ideas can flow freely. What I usually like to do is that my teammates and I create a google doc and share it amongst us and put everything in that document as it comes to our minds. Brainstorming allows you to think out of the box especially if you are trying to solve a tricky problem.

Step 3: Decision time:

At this point, you have all the data you need to make your decision. Discuss with your group and look at the developmental side of your solution.

Here are some suggestions on how you can tackle the developmental process

Discuss amongst yourselves what skills are everyone in your team good at. Keeping that in mind you can look at several methods of presenting your solution.

  • If you believe your solution would take more than the allotted time, make a mockup using services like Figma, Adobe XD etc.
  • If you decide to create a mobile app, web app or a website, there are boilerplate codes and other resources available online.

psst.. I would be adding a new post on hackathon resources so do sign up for email notifications 😉

  • Make use of APIs (don’t worry if you don’t know what that is, it’s just services companies provide to make your life easier). Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Platform have an amazing set of AI/ML services you can integrate into your project.

Step 3.5 Fun is IMPORTANT

This is the part where you take a break! Tap yourself on the back and take a 20 – 25 min break, eat food, go to hackathon activities (believe me they are fun). There’s no point of hackathon if you are not having fun!!

Step 4: Presentation

As much as it is important to have a good solution, the presentation also equally matters. You can also download free slide templates from

Try to keep your presentation short and sweet. Here are some things you can add to the slides:

  1. Your identified problem
  2. Personal experience (I’ll explain this in a minute)
  3. Value Proposition (If you really wanna impresses the judges)
  4. Your proposed solution
  5. How your solution is better than past attempts to solve the problem
  6. Future implementations and developments of your idea

Usually, 5-7 slides do the job just right. You don’t need to have a lot of information on the slides, just basic ideas work fine as long as you exlain them verbally in your pitch.

Step 5: Pitch your startup

Remember, when you have a solution to a problem, you are not a regular hacker, you are a business and you need to pitch your project like a business.

Be confident and practice your pitch 2-3 times with your team. Let each member of your team speak on a specific topic. For example one of you can explain the problem, then one of you can explain your solution.

Pro Tip: Personal touch adds magic. Relate your project/solution to a personal experience and what inspired you to develop that. This is helpful in making a connection with your audience.

Practice the pitch such that you can finish within 3-4 minutes including the demo if your project


You are now a hackathon ninja! Go practice your skills at a hackathon. Make new friends and most importantly HAVE FUN!!

Looking for a hackathon? is your place to go!!

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Do check out my other post where I answer All your questions about Hackathons 🙂

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