Reinventing the Hackathon: Why You Should Open Up Your Product Development to All Employees

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Encouraging Internal Innovation: Shark Tank, Intronis-Style

Hosting an internal “innovation competition” could be your ticket to happier, more engaged employees not to mention your next great product or feature.

We’ve all heard about the science fairs or hackathons that many tech companies hold quite regularly. These types of events can be interesting, but to many of us who aren’t involved in product development, they can also be hard to really “get”. After all, the focus tends to be highly technical, and they often require a solid software background to fully appreciate.

Recently, however, I was fortunate enough to be invited to participate in an internal innovation competition at Intronis (one of OpenView’s portfolio companies), that was quite different.

What set it apart? Thanks to a slight twist in messaging and a new take on the way the competition was organized, Intronis was able to breath new life into the hackathon concept and reap incredible results.

How You Can Bring the “Shark Tank” Format to Your Business

A More Inclusive Hackathon

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Rather than limit participation to developers, Intronis decided to host its innovation competition following the format of the popular show “Shark Tank”. By borrowing the cultural flusht of the show, not only was the company was able to heighten the perceived “competitiveness” of the event, it also made it more accessible and appealing to a broader group of employees (it also helped that there was a substantial cash reward for the winning proposal, of course).

Another factor that made this stand out was that participants were asked to think not just about innovating a new product or service, but also think holistically about a business case with product, marketing, and service components. The company’s leadership also devoted substantial time to working with each of the teams to polish their ideas, sharpen their presentations, and to support and encouragement them throughout the process.

You can read more about the event in a Boston Business Journal article here, and check out a fun video recap of the event on YouTube:

Having attended this extremely successful event, I am deeply convinced that all companies should consider doing something similar very seriously. If you can invest enough thought, resources, and time into this, it can reap enormous dividends — both immediate and in the long run.

3 Key Benefits of Sourcing Product Ideas from Your Own Talent Pool

The competition didn’t just generate innovative ideas and a friendly entrepreneurial spirit within the company. I also saw quite a few additional benefits firsthand:

  1. Showcase what makes your company special: The final exhibition is a fantastic showcase of the company’s diversity and integrative company culture. There were teams consisting of people from different departments, blending vastly different specialties and tenures, all coming together to generate ideas and work hard together. It was a clear demonstration of how essential diversity is to creative problem solving and innovation.
  2. Gain insight from the front lines: The ideas presented offered a multitude of perspectives into the Intronis’ market, its competition, and its customers, directly from the employees who are closest to the customers and the products. I think it was very helpful for the management team to see through these new lenses and to appreciate the importance of these issues to the employees.
  3. Solidify your company vision and mission: It was revelatory to see how well each of the teams internalize the company’s core strategies and values in their proposals and how these proposals reflected both a diversity of thoughts but also a unity of purpose and a strong sense of mission.

Now if anyone asks me about ways to get innovation going in their organization, I will unequivocally point to competitions like Intronis’ Shark Tank. It was a fun, high-impact way to encourage innovation, showcase creativity and diversity, and, at the same time, a great opportunity to strengthen the company’s vision.