Limbering up for hackathon season

20/04/2016 - 12:44


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Hackathons are creative, collaborative and crucial to the development of social networks in the startup sector.

HIGH-TECH: NASA holds a hackathon to get teams to work on space-oriented problems. Photo: iStock/Celso Diniz

Hackathons are creative, collaborative and crucial to the development of social networks in the startup sector.

About this time every year the Perth startup community erupts in a series of hackathons, which, together with pitching and networking events, are the lifeblood of any startup community.

In case you’ve never heard of the term, a hackathon is an event where people compete to build something. The events generally run over a weekend.

Attendees form teams on the Friday, work on the idea all weekend, and then pitch the result on Sunday to a judging panel, which then decides on winners and awards prizes.

While the events are often billed as opportunities to create new and interesting things, the real purpose of any hackathon is social. Friendships get forged here. Spending 48 hours working on a project with a bunch of strangers is a great way to meet like-minded people, and there is a definite bond between teammates from previous hackathons.


The first hackathon this season was Unearthed, sponsored by Woodside. Woodside provided a set of challenges (and relevant data) to the attendees, who spent the weekend trying to solve them.

Unearthed also run the Minehack event, which is a mining-specific hackathon. Sponsored by BHP this year, and held on its premises, it hopes to solve some mining challenges.

Unearthed has been pivotal in bringing the innovation community to the attention of the resources industry. The first Unearthed event was in 2014, and since then there has been an Unearthed event in every major Australian city. This year the event has even gone international, with Capetown ‘unearthed’.

Unearthed has also sprouted an investment fund, which is making a real difference in helping resources startups with early-stage funding.

Startup weekend

Startup Weekend is a global phenomenom, originating in Colorado in 2007. Pollenizer senior startup coach Sam Birmingham organised the first Startup Weekend Perth in 2012. It was also the first event run at the newly opened Spacecubed co-working space. In many ways this event marked the birth of the current startup community in Perth.

The event brings about 80 entrepreneurs together to try and build a startup in 54 hours. The aim is to have customer money by Sunday afternoon from an idea pitched on Friday evening. In recent events most teams manage to achieve this.

This season’s event will be the eighth Startup Weekend Perth, held at the end of April at Spacecubed.

Attending a Startup Weekend is the single thing that we recommend for new founders to do. The process of building a startup from scratch is counter-intuitive. Actually going through this process with teammates and mentors is an invaluable education. Teams don’t generally survive the weekend, but the friendships and education do.

The event has changed and evolved as it has iterated. The early days were much more about getting something built; these days it’s more about getting something sold, which is actually much more useful.

One of the biggest problems for startups is that they build something that no-one wants to buy. Startup Weekend forces the teams to go and find customers for their idea. This is the single most important lesson that the event tries to teach – startups need customers more than they need technology. Find the customer first, and then build something they need. Doing it the other way around doesn’t work.


Mindhack is a new event running in May at Spacecubed. It aims to create some solutions for the problems with mental health in our society. This will be interesting.


NASA’s hackathon aims to get teams to work on space-oriented problems. NASA is providing the data, challenges and prizes, and the event targets science, technology, engineering and mathematics students.


GovHack is in July, and marks the end of the hackathon season. The first event apparently resulted in some severely worded memos, because some members of the political establishment failed to appreciate that ‘hack’ has a positive meaning as well as a negative one. Since then, however, the state government has embraced the event wholeheartedly.

I’m biased towards hackathons. I organise the Startup Weekend event, so I should be. But I see the education they provide is real and invaluable. If you want to understand the startup community more, then attend one.



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