30 Creative Hackathon Ideas that Push Innovation

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30 Creative Hackathon Ideas that Push Innovation

2018 was a golden year for hackathons following a spike of 140% in 2017 and there will be many more to come. Standard hackathons follow the routine I mentioned earlier, but there are new ways of doing things.

If great minds think alike then hackathons are a great way of putting them in the same room, giving them snacks and leaving them together to create magic. Hackathon ideas are the center of innovation, they are responsive to change and find solutions to problems twice their size. Our creative hackathon ideas promise twice the excitement and we’ve got 30 of them!

Quick Reads

Department vs department
Give it a theme
Create a movement
Include all experience levels
Go big, go massive
Simultaneous Events
Go global
Prototype challenge
Make it musical
Think it, pitch it!
Go corporate
Element of surprise
Make it sporty
Welcome new players
Make it free
Combine industries
Go virtual
Make it arty
Reward risk-taking
Create merchandise
Incorporate sustainability
Urban city planning
Add a mission statement
Take it to space
Make it multi-platform
Prizes worth winning
Repeat it!

Department vs Department


Cross-team collaboration is best between people who work in the same company. But what about working against other departments within this to step up the competition? Not only does this cement workplace bonds, but working against another team can sharpen everyone’s focus on developing the best idea.

In a department vs department arrangement, IT could fight it out with marketing, design, product team, and HR. By trying to out-think each other on creative hackathon ideas they could strengthen their communication skills and win eternal bragging rights in the staff room.

Did you know? There were: 3450 Hackathons in 2016, 4480 Hackathons in 2017, and 5636 Hackathons in 2018

Give it a Theme

Themes make everything fun. With one, you can give your hackathon idea some creative direction and give your participants something to be enthusiastic about. No theme is too simple and depending on the location your event layout can reflect the theme and become fully immersive for participants.

If you’re struggling to pick a cool theme for your hackathon, the good news is that you can’t go wrong. As long as social media creates a buzz, your hackathon will be able to foster engagement both online and in the real world.

Did you know? Majority of Hackathons happen in the US? Far less Hackathons are going on in Asia.

Create a Movement

The potential solutions that can come from hackathons are endless. With the creative input of a team, any product created can be used for good as part of a wider movement. Whether you are interested in education, healthcare or environmental responsibility, the best causes are usually those that appeal to people’s hearts.

In India, hackathons are used to give public health the kick start it needs in finding solutions. In the NITI Aayog Pune Smart City Hackathon, Anashwar Tech came up with a water disinfection container cover plate that uses digital purification from UV-C light to purify water containers. Governments and NGOs are recognizing hackathons as authentic change makers, with India, USA, Canada, and UK ranking as top hosts.

Did you know? 37% of participants are Developers, 18% are engineers, and 9% are Data Scientists

Include All Experience Levels

From beginners to intermediates and experts; everyone has something to contribute, whether it is expertise, ideas or leadership. It’s not just the product that wins a team a hackathon, creating it involves a process. Getting everyone involved is a sure way to encourage teamwork and guarantees that everyone will learn something from another teammate, no matter how small.

Did you know?  The most popular developer language in a Hackathon is JavaScript.

Go Big, Go Massive


There’s no limit to the number of people that can enter a hackathon at any time. The largest ever recorded was at MHacks in 2013, with 1214 hackers in total. As long as resources and plug outlets can stretch to accommodate numbers, there’s little reason why added participants can’t double the fun.

Efficient and robust server hardware can accommodate a larger attendance pool, along with generous numbers of equipment including projectors, HDMI cables, and adaptors to create a high-resolution experience for your participants.

Did you know? Only 64% of Hackathons are Public?

Host Simultaneous Events

For non-participants, watching a hackathon for hours on end can be boring. By organizing another event at the same time, you can diversify your event’s attendance and encourage networking between attendees. Structuring talks and workshops during the day will attract more visitors, create awareness and make your hackathon more than average - it can become an inspiring hub for innovation.

Did you know? Of Internal Hackathons, majority are for Retail and Finance hacking

Go Global

global hackathon

Everyone has access to technology. With a stable internet connection, there’s no reason that a team from New Delhi can’t hack alongside a team from Los Angeles with a live stream between them.

Introducing globally remote teams can take your hackathon to the international level. The average hackathon ranges from 24 to 48 hours, so as long as time zone differences are accounted for, each remote team can work when they have the best resources available to them to cement an idea with the potential to create global change.

Did you know? Most Public Hackathons are for Technology or Transportation

Prototype Challenge

At the end of most hackathons, teams present their work to judges. However, you can add a twist to yours by challenging the competing teams to create a working prototype. For those that fail to make a product that operates, it's their loss.

The challenge of bringing an idea to life as a real product means that participants can’t simply have their heads in the clouds, at some point it will have to come back down. Most ideas are not perfect the first time around, so it’s best not to expect polished products. By testing their utility, ideas become more refined and more likely to help the audience they are intended for.

Did you know? The goals for Internal Hackathons include Inspiration, Team Building, and Internal Entrepreneurship Projects

Make it Musical

music at hackathons

With headphones, each participant can type away while hard at work. But with a coordinated playlist, team members can experience the same songs while working separately. This could make hackathons a less isolating experience and match each unique playlist to a similar theme. Work and play can always mix when music is involved.

Did you know? The goals for public hackathons include Product Discovery, Talent Recruiment, and Third-Party Collaboration

Think it, Pitch it!

The power of ideas is in their business value. Often, this is extracted and presented with data and persuasion to businesses to invest in. Pitching ideas to business owners gives participants experience in scaling ideas, presentation and professional skills for their own personal development.

Did you know? 21% of Hackathons are based on AI

Go Corporate

hackathon corporate

The corporate world demands solutions to complex problems just as much as the social world does. Increasingly, companies are using creative hiring methods to attract the best talent. According to the Talent Acquisition Benchmarking Report, the average cost of hire is $4,425 whereas the average cost of hackathons for hire is $4,000, with the advantage of hiring multiple candidates.

If four employees are hired by conducting a hackathon, the average cost per hire boils down to $1,000 as opposed to $4,425 for conventional hire. Hackathons help in building a pipeline of talent for Gen Z, especially students who are looking to get straight into tech from their lecture theatre.

Did you know? 16% of Hackathons are based on AR/VR

Element of Surprise

Most hackathons operate on the assumption that participants will be allowed some time to prepare for the task beforehand and will begin it with a full understanding of the set brief. Considering the element of surprise, however, releasing the task with much less time for prep (maybe even none!) could force people to think outside the box.

Only allowing a short window for preparation will benefit the quick, energized thinkers who are capable of making well-planned decisions on the spot and push them right to the front where you can see them.

Did you know? 12% of Hackathons are based on IOT

Make it Sporty

Sometimes the hardest part of working on an idea is getting started. Getting the creative juices flowing in your mind can be a struggle, especially with the added pressure of wanting to win. Exercise can get the blood flowing and bring activity to what can be an otherwise stationary activity.

Participants don’t have to get sweaty or dirty in the process. Sport is anything from table tennis to air hockey to yoga, whatever it takes to get participants into the zone!

Did you know? 11% of Hackathons are based on Security

Welcome New Players

hackathon ideas new players

Programming’s representation problem can be improved by the inclusion of under-represented groups in hackathons. On International Women’s Day 2018, Raikes Girls created Rosie at the International Women's Hackathon under the theme of economic freedom. Rosie is a Chrome extension that detects undermining language and suggests more confident phrasing to help women represent themselves as professionals in their communications.

Named after Rosie the Riveter, an American symbol for female empowerment in the workplace, this tool encourages confidence in its users to have business-minded conversations. The solution to representation problems solution can come from inside, all it needs is the space to flourish.

Make it Free

To make the competition fully accessible, why not consider making it free? Travel reimbursement, free food, and unlimited drinks can be just the start of perks for participants. Grants and scholarships can act as a hand up for hackers who otherwise wouldn’t be able to access such opportunities.

Removing limitations could open your event to more people than ever and depending on the unique thinkers you attract - this might just become its biggest selling point. You can always consider using sponsors to help manage costs. Depending on the sponsor you secure, it could also give your hackathon some added visibility through exposure.

Combine Industries

If someone from marketing collaborates with someone from the product team and they consult with someone from design, the finishing product is sure to be something great. Having an even-handed team with different skills will create well-rounded ideas that can respond to a wider variety of problems.

Internal hackathons can close off innovation to any staff that isn’t technically specialized as developers or programmers. By opening it up to all disciplines, your hackathon can send the message that there is no place that technology doesn’t meet the real world.

Go Virtual

virtual reality hackathon idea

The virtual world sits right next to the digital one so bringing them together could be a way of taking your hackathon to the next level. In the education sector, for example, using virtual reality games to map out activities to help children learn could be both a meaningful and fun idea for developers.

Make it Artsy

We create with our eyes as much as we do with our brains. Focusing on the design of your hackathon will not only improve its visual branding but give it a legacy that can go on for years after its first year. Right down to the venue layout, design can contribute a sense of presence to your event.

It also gives your hackathon an automatic edge on social media as it is easier to promote something is aesthetically pleasing.

Reward Risk-Taking

It’s all too easy to rename a popular idea and reinvent it as your own product. To encourage originality, hackathons must reward risk-taking. After the chaos, participants will be left feeling energized and well prepared to confront any new problems that may crop up in their non-hackathon lives.

Awarding individuals for stepping outside of the norm and braving the judgemental cross-examination of their idea sends the message that problem-solving is not meant to be a simple, comfortable process. The fresh perspective award, anyone?

Create Merchandise

hackathon merchanise

Why not consider kitting every participant out with gear plastered in your hackathon branding? If you’re feeling extra generous, gift them with extras like laptop stickers, custom USBs and phone cases. This can unify your brand while making sure that participants feel like their contribution is appreciated. You can even follow our swag bag guide to spread branding around during these share-heavy events.


Some of the enthusiasts present at a hackathon could have a range of skills, expertise, and experience necessary to pass on to younger participants who may not have begun their careers yet. Mentorship is a great way of creating a new generation of innovative thinkers who are confident enough to act as change-makers in their own communities.

Consider Sustainability

sustainability hackathon

Sustainability is one of the most pressing issues of the 21st century so including it as a dominant guide for hackathon briefs is a solid idea.

Green hackathons have grown in popularity, with Blue Planet Hackathon hosting The Fraternity under a pollution control theme and creating a vertical access water turbine in the process. Designed to generate electricity, it traps the energy stored at the surface of the water uses it to generate electric current on a flexible large or small scale.

Urban City Planning

Metropolitan cities face some of the biggest 21st-century challenges and tech is responding to this by creating smart cities. They improve efficiencies and use sustainability to advance economic development in urban areas. This makes them the perfect target area for hackathons by bringing tech and the social world together.

Add a Mission Statement

mission statement

A mission statement has the power to guide your hackathon in the right direction. What is your hackathon’s purpose? Does it have an identity? Basing your mission statement on what you hope to achieve will give your event a sense of authenticity that will organically attract participants.

Millennials are statistically more likely to associate with events tied to good causes. HackerNoon’s Environmental Civics recommends adopting the UN Goals for Sustainable Development. You can also base your choice of judges, subject area and challenge statement on your mission statement to keep a consistent stream running through all your hackathon ideas.

Take it to Space

If an idea is genuinely out of this world, maybe it should go to space. Incorporating space into your hackathon encourages your participants to break even more boundaries in their thinking. NASA’s International Space Apps Challenge is heading into its eighth year and includes categories titled “Can you build a...”, “Make sense out of Mars” and “Volcanoes, icebergs and asteroids” just to start.


Throwing a few curved balls will force teams to think on their feet. Switching members of the competing teams around halfway through, for example, forces them to become less fixated on ideas and more focused on enabling any idea to become a tangible reality. In this way, the skills participants sharpen are set to become empowering when used in any area of their professional or personal lives.

Make it Multi-Platform

multi platform hackathon

Solutions can take a variety of forms; from software to websites to mobile. The options are almost endless as long as they are technically possible to implement and can be user-friendly. By allowing the products created to be multi-platform, you will create an even wider array of products that are optimized for the best user experiences.


Between intense brainstorming sessions and snack breaks, participants need the kind of entertainment that can relax and prepare them for their next session. The light relief of comedy is good for creating a positive, lighthearted atmosphere. Stand-up comedy, short shows, and card games encourage everyone to come back together and take a more laid back approach to hackathon ideas.

Prizes Worth Winning

Spending hours creating and executing a hackathon idea deserves the kind of reward that will make participants feel appreciated. Not only tangible cash prizes and free tickets but opportunities to network and take their ideas to the next level. Even incorporating one year's winning team into future events gives them the chance to establish a brand of their own.

Repeat it!

When branded well, hackathons can take on a reputation of their own and grow to become very popular and well attended in the future. Your event shouldn’t end at the close of the day when everyone leaves the venue. Why not make yours an annual hackathon? A lasting culture of collaboration and ideas is one that gives equal value to its organizers and participants.

With time, you might even want to expand further!

Hackathons have the potential to capture the mind of anyone who attends. Organizing hackathons can be an extremely rewarding experience and doing this creatively makes sure that whatever you do will be unique and inspired.

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