How to host a virtual hackathon

Hosting a virtual hackathon can be challenging. It involves a lot of planning, preparation, gathering an audience, and a handful more steps to pull it off the right way. But there’s good news: it’s easier than you might think.

Whether you’re looking to tap into hackathons to drive innovation in your company or sourcing talent, this article will hopefully guide you on the right path to host your first virtual hackathon.

We’re going to dive deep into the technical setup and tools, but also the main components and processes you should be familiar with to get your first virtual hackathon up and running in no time.

Ready? Let’s go 🚀

The origin of the Hackathon 🗝️

Hackathon is the portmanteau of the words hack and marathon. A hackathon is often used to refer to sprint-like events where computer programmers and other software developers cooperate to solve real-world problems. Hackathons can be used for a multitude of purposes: from community building to problem-solving to even talent sourcing. The term was first used by OpenBSD to refer to an internal cryptographic development event held in Calgary, Canada, on June 4, 1999.

Over the next decade, hackathons surged in popularity. They began to be viewed by organizations as an effective way of developing software technologies and solving challenges.

The transition from live to virtual hackathons 🌐

If we fast forward to today, the benefits of hackathons are still the same, if not even broader. However, we’ve started to transition hackathons from in-person events to the digital world.

You might recall the good ol’ days of hosting a live event, as software developers would come flocking in.

Laptop in one hand. 

ID Card around the neck. 

A t-shirt of their favorite tech brand. 

And a beaten-up backpack solely containing a sandwich and a couple of energy drinks to stay awake for about 48 hours. 😅

Good times.

But times change. Here’s why:

Benefits of a virtual hackathon

Hackathons are effective as they facilitate a set of creative minds to come together and focus their energy on a single goal in a short amount of time. Transitioning from a physical space to a virtual one may bring some drawbacks, such as generating less hype than onsite hackathons. However, a virtual hackathon platform overcomes these drawbacks by offering a plethora of benefits.

Cost 💰

The costs incurred by hosting a virtual hackathon are significantly less compared to a real-world hackathon. While hosting an onsite hackathon, you would have to factor in the cost of renting a venue, employing staff, utilities, etc. Online events, in comparison, require significantly lesser funding. Providing software licenses and building a digital infrastructure and equipment are a few things that would take up most of your expenditure when you host a virtual hackathon event.

Participant Comfort 🛋

Many participants have different skillsets and work better under different conditions. An online hackathon event grants each participant the ability to work in conditions where they are most efficient. For some, this might mean working in an ice-cold room. For others, this might mean blasting their favorite music. Whatever the preference, they will be able to do so without becoming a hindrance to other participants. This, in turn, leads to increased productivity and better results. This liberating experience tends to create a sense of community among like-minded enthusiasts.

Diversity 👩‍💼🙎‍♂🙆🏽‍♂️

While hosting an online hackathon event, you are not bound to a particular location, allowing individuals from different backgrounds to participate in the event. This is beneficial as it leads to more creative output. Additionally, companies would not have to invest in transportation costs for individuals who might live in a different corner of the world.

Safety 🦠

The Covid-19 pandemic brought a lot of changes to our daily lives, and social events took the hardest beating. With all the restrictions, lockdowns, and social distancing, we’re just slowly starting to get used to seeing large crowds again.

Hosting a live event today might be feasible, but it could easily damage your company’s reputation if it were the cause of a covid-19 outbreak.

Also, and most importantly, participants feel much more comfortable knowing that they can still enjoy hackathons without compromising their own and others’ safety.

Still not sure if we’re the best platform for you to manage your hackathon or open innovation challenge? Our team is here for you! Get in touch to know more and experience our collaborative platform with a personalized demo.

How to set up a virtual hackathon ✅

Virtual hackathon events require less preparation compared to real-world hackathons. In order to make successful hackathons events, it is essential to carry out proper preparation before a virtual event. In this section, we will discuss how to set up a virtual hackathon.


As virtual hackathon events occur entirely online, the software is the most substantial component of the event. Types of programs required for hosting an entire hackathon event are as follows:

  • Text-based chatting: Participants in a team must communicate with each other to discuss ideas, clear doubts, or ask questions. A text-based chatting program would allow teams to stay in contact and swap ideas. 

  • Presentation: The peak of a hackathon session is when all the hackathon teams present their finished project. It is up to the organizer to decide what program will help demonstrate the final project of their participants. 

  • Centralized user interface: A centralized hub where all the event-related information is updated. The information may include rules, schedules, FAQs, or contact information. This would help participants stay up to date on the event.

  • Timeline: Having a clear timeline will help both the organizers and attendees to manage their workflow better. Usually, the process is drafted like so:

    • Registration phase

    • Ideation phase

    • Project submission phase

    • Results phase

These are the most common time frames for virtual hackathons, but you can customize them depending on your specific needs.


For a legitimate external hackathon, a qualified judging panel must evaluate the participant's efforts and ultimately declare the winner of the competition. It would be favorable for the virtual hackathon organizers to choose a well-known judge among the event participants. Advertising a judge who is relevant to the theme of the event would indeed generate more hype and trust.


Organizers of external hackathons would offer prizes to incentivize the participants and to promote competition. The prizes come in different forms: it could be cash, gift cards, tech products (laptops, smartphones, tablets, accessories, etc.), software licenses or even educational prizes such as mentorships. As a rule of thumb, advertising the rewards helps garner more attention for the event and entice people to take part.

How to Host an Online Hackathon ✅

Now that you are informed about the tools required to organize a hackathon, we will talk about how to organize an internal hackathon or an external hackathon. Listed below are the steps to follow when you plan to host a virtual hackathon event.

  1. Define the Challenges: All hackathons are based on a particular theme. It is crucial to choose a theme that resonates with your target audience. The specific challenges could be defined prior to the event or at the start of the event. It is not necessary for the hackathon to be coding-related. Some non-coding themed hackathon project ideas include culture change or supply chain management.

  2. Identify Key Stakeholders: It is best to identify and involve key stakeholders as early as possible. They will be the ones who will sponsor a part or the entirety of your virtual hackathon event. As a result, they will be the ones who would be most impacted by the results of a successful event.

  3. Define Audience: Choose whether you want to organize an internal hackathon or a public hackathon for your target audience. Suppose you choose to host a public virtual hackathon event. In that case, you may decide whether you want citizens of your own country or city to participate.

  4. Host the Event: You would start by debriefing the participants about the nature of the challenges and judging criteria. The participants would then form teams and work on the project. Upon completion, they would present their projects in a wrap-up session. The best hackathon teams would be rewarded with prizes.

  5. Recap the event: Once the prizes have been distributed, you can recap the event and recall memorable moments and exemplary ideas. After the event, you can further recap the event on social media pages to garner attention and provide an insight into the event for those who missed out on it.

Strategies to engage your community during the hackathon

Hosting your hackathon is the first step, however, you must also account for community engagement. 

After all, you want to drive innovation and get as many participants as possible. We have an in-depth article explaining the best strategies and actions to perform before, during, and after the hackathon.

We know.

Hosting a virtual hackathon is demanding. But what if we told you could do all of this in one single platform?

TAIKAI is a virtual hackathon platform that provides a multitude of features such as live streaming, a messaging interface for communication between participants and a matchmaking system. Our platform also enables participants with the opportunity to publish their submissions in rich formats, build up their hackathon portfolio and share it on social media. The best participants could be rewarded with prizes and token incentives based on their performance on the platform.

As for you – the host - we provide a unified, yet simple web user interface, where you can manage the entire hackathon challenge. From competition content, rules, voting system, prizes, and an event timeline, we developed our platform to be an all-in-one solution so you can focus on the hackathon itself instead of wasting energy and resources managing it.

In Conclusion

To summarize, hackathons have emerged since the start of the 2000s and have become a way for companies and the tech community to generate business ideas and viable products. The advent of technology has allowed virtual hackathon events to take place. Virtual hackathons provide several benefits over real-world hackathons, such as reduced cost and diversity. Virtual hackathon events require very little equipment to set up and are, in general, more convenient for hackathon organizers.

Hosting a hackathon can be challenging on its own. That’s why at TAIKAI we developed a complete virtual hackathon platform that’s easy and quick to set up. In a few steps, you can host a hackathon, manage participants, connect with them, live stream your event, form teams, and evaluate submissions - all in one platform.

It’s your turn to drive innovation and engage with your community. Talk with us today or Request a Demo, we’re always here to help :)

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