by Erik Mashkilleyson

Four hints on hacking the hackathon

Nortal’s teams have been winning prizes in hackathons in Finland lately. A winning solution needs to be creative – naturally – but what else can we tell you about mastering the hackathon? The proper foundation to start hacking your way to the top rung can be condensed into four points.

1. Listen

Arriving at the scene of the hackathon can be exciting and most teams just desperately want to get on with the nuts and bolts of their idea. It’s worth listening extra carefully to what the hosting company wants – by paying close attention your team might spot something others miss in excitement. Sometimes the company might even insinuate the existence of a problem that they can’t articulate but which they want answered. Team Nortal won Gasum’s Hack the Gas with a smartwatch solution that helps drivers of biogas-powered cars find fueling stations and optimize consumption. The hack featured several ready-made topics offering easy paths, but our team ended up choosing something else entirely. User experience means a lot to users of novel solutions and a little wow-effect goes a long way to get people to adopt biogas-powered vehicles.

Team Nortal at Gasum IndustryHack HackTheGas photo: IndustryHack
Team Nortal at Gasum HackTheGas photo: IndustryHack

2. Think beyond technology

Hackathons are often seen purely as coding events where programmers sink their teeth into the company’s data. However, designing a new service concept and planning the business model for it is usually much more valuable to the company than just a new gadget, feature, or app. In the Maritime Hack by Konecranes, Team Nortal won with an app that helps truck drivers save the time spent picking up cargo at the port by using data from container logistics. The idea of an easier way to find cargo was quite simple, but Nortal spent the time to build a business case based on optimizing the company’s material flows, where a change of even one percent in lead times would bring considerable savings to Konecranes. This ensured that the app creates meaningful value.

Team Nortal at Konecranes IndustryHack Maritime Hack 2016 photo: IndustryHack
Team Nortal at Konecranes Maritime Hack photo: IndustryHack

3. Simplify and optimize

For many startups and companies, winning a hackathon can be a breakthrough. Teams reach for the sky and forget that simple outcomes are the easiest for the hosting company to adopt. The jury is interested in solutions that create revenue and can be taken into production almost straight from the pitching podium. Nortal’s team won KONE’s challenge in FIMECC’s Demobooster hackathon with a clear and simple visualization of building spaces. The floor plan visualization was based on cartograms – expanding and deflating rooms in the layout based on the amount of traffic they have. The idea was instantaneously understood by the viewer. The rest of the presentation could be used to show how the work of the facility manager is made easier.

Nortal at KONE Demobooster 2016 photo: Juha Virko
Team Nortal at KONE Demobooster photo: Juha Virko

4. Use both hemispheres of your brain

The pitch only lasts a few minutes and you want to make sure your demo isn’t forgotten as soon as it’s over. If your presentation evokes emotion you’re halfway there. People are emotional beings and their right half of the brain needs to be won over first. Once the jury feels that this is something they like instinctively, the rest is about stating the business case and appealing to reason. Needless to say, a team that doesn’t put effort into the appearance of the presentation also decreases their chances of winning. In the currently ongoing hackathon for YIT called Hack the Living, Nortal’s team focused on the contemporary pressure of maintaining work-life balance and how YIT can invigorate communities and add value to their properties through a concept that benefits everyone living in the vicinity of YIT’s buildings. A clear emotional need backed up with a sound value-adding model is the stuff good hacks are made of.

Team Nortal at YIT IndustryHack Hack the Living photo: Erik Mashkilleyson
Team Nortal at YIT Hack the Living
photo: Erik Mashkilleyson

Team Nortal is currently hacking YIT’s living services in IndustryHack’s Hack the Living. The team consists of creative lead Erik Mashkilleyson, graphic designer Topi Saavalainen, and full-stack developer Teemu Pehkonen. YIT is looking for solutions that add value to living, develop the way that buildings are being used and innovate their business model from mere construction to living as a service. Nortal’s team is focusing on communities around built environments and improving their everyday lives through a new business concept.

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I joined Nortal, a company that perfectly aligned with my values and offered a program called 'Nortal Nomad,' enabling me to grab my suitcase and code globally.

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