8 Successfactors of a (virtual) Global Hackathon in 2021

10 min readDec 17, 2018

From the Facilitators’ point of view

What does it take for a team to win? Best practices from the Global Aegon Hackathon, 2018

As a Design Thinking-based collaboration platform, we at Be-novative have translated the best practices of in-person Hackathons to an online experience in 2020 and 2021. Check out client and participant feedback scrolling to the bottom of the page 😉

Virtual Hackathons still rock in 2021, as one of the most exciting ways to engage everyone within or beyond your company while creating an enjoyable ‘learning by doing’ experience using Design Thinking methods and online techniques. Our goal is not just to support companies in making better products and services for the future. As a founder, CEO with a psychology background, for me it is just as much about the experience and learning we can provide for the participants. The most I can imagine we can give for anyone is discovering their ideas and recognizing which of them they are passionate about most to pursue (which solves a specific, existing problem), then help them find connections and resources to make it happen in real life — which leads to creating breakthroughs.

And the surprising part — this experience is not about the winners, neither about failing fast.

Be-novative: What happens at a successful international Hackathon?

We have talked about the most important aspects of organizing a successful hackathon with Henrik, Open Innovation Specialist in Be-novative on the second day of the Aegon Hackathon. We have a short video that summarizes most of our take-aways:

How to organise a global Hackathon?

4 key factors of a successful Hackathon event

  • A good topic that is motivating with clear expectations and judging criteria

The Aegon Hackathon’s innovation challenge: ‘What is your disruptive idea that supports wealth + health?’ was a visionary and motivating theme for the participants from all around the world. The landing page we created together brought in tens of thousands of visitors from across Asia, Americas and Europe in 4 months and over 4000 users to share and evaluate ideas in a collaborative session.

Contributing to solving important challenges and tackling opportunities for growth moves the globe around. It is the highest form of motivation for every one of us to find meaning in our everyday job and leave a positive mark on the world around us. If you start an innovation challenge with the right question, which is motivating, narrow enough to be able to imagine a specific positive impact solution for, but wide enough to call for disruptive and creative ideas, it will drive people with the best attitude to participate and create something extraordinary.

  • Online challenge, virtual team and idea formation to span geographical regions even globally

This way, 1–2 months before the actual Hackathon, employees, participants from partner companies, startup founders and talented university students joined the challenge and shared more than 1500 ideas together collaboratively within 2 months on how to solve the problem in a disruptive way. Distributed teams were formed by like-minded people from different backgrounds across Asia (279 teams), Americas (88 teams) and Europe (106 teams) bringing in various viewpoints about their future products. Experts, managers of Aegon and the team members themselves added their feedback, questions and suggestions for the ideas. This way, by the end of the 2 months period, most of the judges on the 3 continents were happy to see the quality and the disruptive, creative approach the submitted applications had. It was a hard job to select the top 12 teams per continent through an online evaluation session by selected experts about the project’s disruptiveness and potential positive impact on wealth & health.

We usually see that it is best not to start the process by requesting people to submit their ready-made ideas because they will come from the same mindset and will be rather ordinary than disruptive. Let people collaborate and ideate from different backgrounds and watch how they get inspiration from unlikely industries or places.

  • Design Thinking sessions — facilitated personally

Winners of the online challenge, the top 8–12 teams per continent, 240 people overall made it personally to the 3 Hackathon events: Budapest, Mumbai and Dallas. In Budapest, the teams went through several Design Thinking Sprints throughout the Hackathon day. We asked participants about how they find the value of the event and most of them said the biggest value is the learning experience they get about how to get from an idea to a validated prototype.

These 1-hour Design Thinking sessions help the team members concentrate on one goal at a time with joint effort and collaboration — from deciding on their solution with a one-sentence-tagline, characteristics of a target persona, an empathy map showing the USP (Unique Selling Proposition), design their MVP prototype, collect their riskiest assumptions and validate them with the target clients.

“It is very new for us and it is cool to see the energy, all the people, the amazing ideas everybody has, but also see the focus of the group to work out the ideas. Going to the streets and talking with potential customers were new for us, not just because it leads to pivots, but it gives new insights. We have learned a lot from the Design Thinking principles” Participant, Manager at Aegon.

The problem with an unstructured Hackathon (where teams are ‘let go’ after the welcome speech to come back with a ready presentation in 24 hours) is that psychologically in a diverse team, team-forming and team-norming takes so much time and energy that even deciding on what to do and in which order becomes a center of long debates. In the meanwhile they are losing time, focus, energy and often it reflects on the quality of the outcome. At Be-novative, we strongly recommend for any Hackathon organizer to divide the day into small sprints because they ensure quality outcome and a unique learning experience. Here you can find a sample Hackathon Agenda we created.

  • Resources for implementation

The real learning experience happens when the teams build a solution as a prototype or MVP and go out of the building to validate it with real potential customers. By the time the teams came to us for Pitch Coaching sessions, they iterated their solution and idea based on the customer discovery and validation interviews. Their passion significantly increased after validating their riskiest assumptions through the customer discovery interviews — they experienced and could identify which parts of their solution makes their target clients a wow-effect with a real sparkle in their eyes to know what creates real customer value.

Most of the teams got so enthusiastic they already talked about how to form a company regardless of winning or not. This is the most important value I feel we can provide as facilitators or organizers.

Surprisingly, it is less important how much resources the teams will get in the beginning following the Hackathon — but there must be a way they need to know about what is available for them after the Hackathon to plan moving forward. The Hackathon should not be a one-off event that ends with identifying the most disruptive solutions.

4 Next steps moving forward with implementation after the Hackathon

The winner team’s solution should always be in line with the overall corporate (innovation) strategy, because it usually will take numerous iteration rounds until it hits big on the market and this way it will require energy, attention and time from both the team and even the top level management.

Watch our conclusions on how to move the ideas to the implementation phase here:

How to move forward with implementation after the Hackathon?

There are at least 6 steps how concepts and solutions built at the Hackathon may be taken forward:

  • Investment / budget for implementation

It is recommended to offer an investment or budget for the team to plan the resources for implementation. This is an important sign showing that company supports a project. Aegon, in this case, is investing substantial amount in rolling out 6 new innovative concepts following the Hackathon.

  • Milestones defined together and checked at regular meetings scheduled

Usually meeting every 2nd week or month with the teams helps them plan realistic milestones and stable steps while going forward. Every team needs different milestones to prove they hit big. These milestones should be their focus points to move forward bit by bit and consider what success looks like. There should be multiple iterations but just one milestone to go after at a time)

  • Dedicated time for multiple iterations

If you involve employees in a Hackathon, they need to have a dedicated time to work on the implementation of their solution, and for an innovation it won’t always be a success for the first time. Allow them to meet on selected days or for a selected period of time to work together — this is the only way how their job could be done to meet these milestones. Let the teams get real customer feedback from the market and do several iteration rounds based on these number of clicks and interactions or based on the discovery interview answers.

  • Internal sponsors and experts

The company should mobilize its network of experts, industry leaders, sponsors and connections to be available and involved globally for the team to ask questions, gain suggestions, concerns and feedback to learn from previous projects early on and utilise them as the future company is scaling.

Right after the Hackathon, Aida, the winning EU team could already start a bigger scale go to market strategy plan and take their prototype forward to an MVP with the initial investment. This team of 8 was the most diverse with Aegon employees, an early stage startup and a university student who made the pitch for the jury. They listened and incorporated a huge amount of feedback from target clients, advisors and the management team.

The Value of a Hackathon

As an outcome, the Top-Level Management jury of Aegon consisting of regional CEOs, investors and experts were blown away by the quality of the presented prototypes and their disruptiveness and on both the EU and Americas continent found 3 times as many investment targets they initially aimed for.

But the real value will show over time. I regard it one of the best signs that besides the winners, that 3 other teams reached out with their questions as they move forward with the implementation regardless of winning — because through the Hackathon experience they found an idea they are passionate about to pursue regardless of the reward — they found meaning in their job.

We agreed instantly with Dr. Casper Van Der Veen, Head of Business Development Aegon Continental Europe, that Hackathons are sprints that help us train for the Marathon, that is creating a continuous innovation cycle in the company. It is a perfect way to boost regular business -, process or product-development related challenges, inviting people from different departments and locations for ideation, concept building, validation and experimentation.

Summary of the results and outcome of the Global Aegon Hackathon:

The theme of how a financial solution can ‘Disrupt Wealth + Health the World Over’ attracted 10,000s of visitors from across Asia, Americas and Europe to the landing page. Over 4000 individual users joined the challenge on the Be-novative platform, who shared and evaluated ideas collaboratively with people from across geographical regions to form teams between like-minded participants. This way, 1–2 months before the actual Hackathon, employees, participants from partner companies, startup founders and talented university students formed diverse teams and came up with pioneer, disruptive solutions as they mixed insights from different industries. These teams across Asia (279 teams), Americas (88 teams) and Europe (106 teams) got feedback and questions from each other and experts in Aegon to improve their concepts before the submission deadline and make them more tangible. A chosen expert jury did an online voting about the almost 500 submitted idea concepts. They evaluated all ideas digitally according to their disruptiveness and potential positive impact on wealth & health, and invited the top 12 teams per continent. At the Hackathon, going through Design Thinking sessions personally and digitally, the invited teams (240 participants in 36 teams) went through concept building, prototyping and validation in 24 hours. The Top Management and Expert Jury on all 3 Hackathon locations selected the winners based on the disruptiveness of their prototype and impact if invested by Aegon. Now, in only 2 months, dispite the planned 3, Aegon is already investing substantial amount in rolling out the best 6 new innovative concepts for MVP building.

According to the Top Management team, the quality of the presented solutions were above expectation, significantly higher than in previous years thanks to the online collaborative ideation sessions, team-forming and Design Thinking facilitation both virtually and personally. In 2018, teams are still engaging in collaboration with Aegon as they are moving forward with their prototyping and validation steps even if they didn’t win — because they found passion and common goals fighting for their concepts they want to turn into reality.

The key takeaway is that creating breakthroughs are not always about winning nor failing fast, but about the learning experience with people from diverse backgrounds. The real value is starting a long-term innovation-engine to discover ideas people are passionate about and excited to pursue with like-minded others going out of the building meeting potential clients who will validate the solution’s value and implementing it through continuous experimentation, even against the odds and first feedback, through several iterations and suggestions — with little to no resources. That attitude of the innovators finding passion in their everyday work can result in an extraordinary, disruptive solution that has a positive impact, that we find meaningful. In order to come up with real innovation, you need a diverse team, building on several insights and feedback and persevere through several iteration rounds.

As we transformed it into an online experience in 2020, check out the feedback we received from Amdocs:

Companies can drive the world towards a more creative place to be through Hackathons, workshops and Design Sprints where the ideas and insights that underpin innovation are driven by the challenges we identify, the unique observations we make, and the people we involve and inspire.




Be-novative is a Design Thinking and Innovation platform that helps organizations build breakthroughs collaboratively. http://be-novative.com @benovative