For corporations wanting to dip their toe in the water of startup-style innovation, hackathons can be a great, low risk place to start. Hackathons, despite containing the work “hack”, are anything but an anarchic or dangerous form of innovation and are proving to be a breeding ground for quality, business-ready ideas, prototypes and “minimum viable products” that can transform a company’s approach to research and development.

The word “hackathon” itself is a combination of the words “hack” and “marathon” where “hack” is used in the sense of exploratory programming, not its alternate meaning as a reference to computer crime (see the Wikipedia definition here). Hackathons are run as events where computer programmers and others involved in the process of software development (like designers, user experience designers, analysts etc) come together to create usable software within a friendly but competitive environment. Lasting in some instances, only 24 hours, the “hackers” compete for prizes and community reputation.

Over the last six months, we have been working with Qantas to host their first ever hackathon. Held over the weekend of 30-31 May, the Qantas Codeshare Hackathon brought together teams of developers and entrepreneurs tackling real world business problems that emerged from our consultations with Qantas.

The teams tackling the problems had just 30 hours to understand and address the challenges and produce a working prototype. At the end of that time they had to pitch their ideas to their fellow competitors and a panel of judges including Jo Boundy, Qantas’ Head of Digital and Entertainment, Frank Arrigo, Telstra’s API Evangelist, Steve Cooper, Developer Advocate for PayPal and Braintree, and Bonnie Gardiner, Senior Journalist for the CIO website.

Bonnie has written a great article that gives a real insight into the hackathon process from a judge’s-eye-view:

It demonstrated that hackathons are a direct route to new entrepreneurial thinking and that corporates would be remiss to ignore the opportunities present in coding competitions and similar initiatives in a time of digital disruption.

We have also compiled a tweet-by-tweet view of the event allowing you to follow the event as it unfolded. This is available below.

As Jo Boundy explained:

It’s certainly a great way of thinking differently – you’ve got to be the right organisation … I feel like most consumer-facing organisations that are keen to innovate and keen to think differently should certainly consider his kind of creative thinking.

In our experience, it’s not a question of companies “wanting” innovation. It’s helping them to know where and how to start. That’s where we come in – helping you to focus, manage both the scope and the risks, and to deliver an experience that will surprise and delight.

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