How to SurviveYour First Hackathon

Jumping Into the World of Tech Startups | Tips from a First-timer

By Melisa Wilson

Within the walls of Miami’s newest coworking space Building.CO, 79 attendees eagerly showed up for the city’s first Global Fashion Battle, an event organized by Startup Weekend Miami and UP Global.

GOAL: Create a wearable technology company from scratch within 54 hours (a long time compared to other hackathon events that take place across the country).

For the record, Miami is actually making a lasting footprint in the land of startups. According to the new 2015 Kauffman Index, the city ranks number 2 in the ‘Top 10’ metro areas for overall startup activity amongst Austin, Texas; San Jose, Calif.; Los Angeles; Denver; San Francisco; New York; Houston; San Diego; and San Antonio, Texas.

Not bad, Miami. The new finding suggests that this might be a new turning point for the vice city. That said, the experience was a first for me, and I left with a newfound appreciation for anyone who has the endurance to build a company, let alone over a weekend.

Startup Weekend Miami 

Power Pouch  2nd Place Winners 
Power Pouch developed a purse for women that wirelessly charges their mobile devices.
Precision in Motion 1st Place Winners  
The team developed a wearable solution that tracked and corrected the exercise movements of your body.
The body suit consisted of body sensors in

Should you want to try one of these events for yourself, here’s a few tips to help you get prepared:

Hack for what you believe in.

This weekend, the theme was focused on building startups utilizing wearable technology; just one variation of what a hackathon can offer.  I’ve also heard of a few that focus on building tools around the issues of global warming, poverty and education–even one that aims to build a better life for your pet.

The possibilities are endless, and anyone who’s self-driven should participate at least once.

For upcoming hackathons in the area, check out Refresh Miami’s event listings. Got a hackathon coming up? Share with Tropicult’s readers! Submit your event:

Know what you want, be prepared for anything.

When I first heard about the event, I was sitting in a Javascript class and my instructor mentioned that she was forming a team. I thought to myself, “Perfect. I’m going there to assist with development!”

What did I do? Customer validation and being selected as the presenter on demo day. Not complaining, I gave it my best and we ended up with a solid presentation at the end of it all.

I suggest opening up for anything. Although this is only my first time, each hackathon offers a unique experience–so don’t be surprised if you find yourself doing something you never thought imaginable. Besides, the learning experience is priceless.

Have an Idea

Regardless of your motivation, I would recommend having an idea or two. The basis of a hackathon is to bring concepts to life that fit the theme of the event.The Startup Weekend concept is simple (or not): Pitch an idea during an open mic session in 60 seconds.

That night, I joined my instructor and another designer who worked on a prototype for improving the mobility of patients who suffer from neurological diseases.

Don’t worry if you’re strapped for ideas, though. This is certainly not a requirement by any means, but you’ll have a more fulfilling experience if you have something you’ve been wanting to work on. In fact, I suggest you grab a pen and start jotting them down right now.

Eat & hydrate (sleep optional)

Sounds obvious, right? But when you’re nose deep in research or code, replenishing your body could be the last thing on your mind. At least it was for me. It’s really easy to get caught up in the work you’re involved in, especially if it’s your first time. Take a breather and catch some fresh air, catch a nap if you have to. Most venues will offer a space for you to recoup your thoughts as needed.

Aim for done, not perfect

Let’s be honest, 54 hours isn’t enough time to build a company with a fully functioning product. However, what the judges are looking for might come as a surprise to you. The challenge isn’t just about writing good code or presenting a final product.

The panel of judges are more interested in hearing hypothesis you made on the first night and how you tested them with potential stakeholder and customers’ feedback. The term prototype is what you should remember, meaning a basic version of your product will suffice so long as it is presentable.

Have Fun!

Robin Nilsson (Fashion Designer/Fine Artist) Natalie Zauhar (Innovator; Nick Mckenzie – Business) Dajour Resiere (Developer) Adrian Mederos (Electrical Engineer) Gustavo Grande (Business) Colleen Coughlin (Fashion Designer)

This is entirely subjective because my idea of fun is a casual chat with one or two other attendees. You could very well take part in a dance session or something completely different.

Whatever it is, enjoy yourself. You’re surrounded by like-minded individuals who all share a common interest, so meet others and step out of your comfort zone. You never know what might come out of it.

In the end, I caught up with Natalie Zauhar and Nick McKenzie, members of the winning team Precision In Motion. Collectively, they created a bodysuit prototype outfitted with sensors that corrected body form to prevent injury during exercise. They were kind enough to share a few survival tips as well.

“Do your research, follow the process and follow the rules. Listen to the mentors and make sure you cover all of the bases. Practice, repetition, timing and incorporating everyone’s ability into the project is important. Remember: The judges are investors and entrepreneurs, so make sure you get to the bottom line on demo day.” Nick McKenzie

Precision in Motion is now headed to Poznań, Poland where they’ll send two members to compete against other startup winners from New York, Paris, Milan and London at the 8th annual Art & Fashion Forum.

“Team collaboration is key.” Natalie Zauhar

Have any other suggestions for attending a hackathon? I want to hear them! Leave a comment below or tweet @tropicult