Recently, I had the privilege of attending a hackathon as a coach, which was organised by Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences where participants had the opportunity to innovate business ideas within the realm of blue, silver and green economy. The themes included, but were not limited to, the business ideas regarding environmental sustainability, supporting the aging population and creating digital solutions. Students from Haaga-Helia took part in NOCCA hackathon cruise on the Baltic Sea and earned study points while innovating business ideas.
So, what is a hackathon? A hackathon is generally defined as a codefest, a social coding event that brings computer programmers and other interested people together to build a new software programme (Briscoe and Mulligan, 2014). However, a hackathon does not have to be limited to software projects and it can be any event of any duration where people come together to solve problems (Tauberer, 2014). Haaga-Helia and some other Finnish universities are pioneers in using hackathons. However, numerous universities around the globe are unfamiliar even with the term and are far less likely to use it as a tool for teaching entrepreneurship.
In my extensive teaching and research career, this was probably one of the very few times that I experienced such passion among the students. It was heartwarming to observe how productively and diligently the students worked. They were driven and passionate, and most of them showed great potential and displayed various entrepreneurial traits such as a knack for problem solving and analytical skills.
I strongly believe that all Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) can benefit from using hackathons as a tool for entrepreneurship education. Such efforts can prove beneficial in improving the entrepreneurship programmes in Finland as well as abroad. After all, the whole point of including entrepreneurship programmes in the curriculum is to inculcate entrepreneurial spirit among the students, fuel their innovativeness and creativity, help them solve problems and make the world a better place. Therefore, using varied learning methodologies that pave the way for developing entrepreneurial competencies among students becomes imperative.
Here are seven reasons why HEIs should use hackathons as a tool for entrepreneurship education:
- Imbibing entrepreneurial mindset
An entrepreneurial mindset in students allows them to develop resilience and withstand everyday challenges. Such a mindset helps an individual to move forward in life, and experience growth and productivity. Skills like problem-solving, critical thinking, risk-taking, flexibility, creativity and innovation and spotting opportunities, are needed and further developed at hackathons – a fun way to foster entrepreneurial spirit.
- Creative learning environment
Students need an environment in which they feel free to experiment and share ideas, an environment that sparks creativity and gets their creative juices flowing. Creative spaces help in boosting “out of the box” thinking. Hackathons are such creative learning environments as they are mostly organised at different locations other than the regular university premises.
- Experience in pitching business ideas
Entrepreneurs must learn the skill of delivering simple yet unforgettable pitches. Pitching your business idea convincingly to investors is important, as entrepreneurs need to seek funding and expand their businesses. Persuasive pitching is the result of practice, and during hackathons, students learn this essential skill.
- Diversity encourages wide-ranging business ideas
As James Surowiecki, author of “The Wisdom of Crowds” points out, diversity is one of the most important elements required to form a wise crowd. During hackathons, students from various backgrounds and cultures gather and form diverse teams. As we are aware, different perspectives enrich the understanding of problems and increase the richness of business ideas. Diverse teams tend to be more resourceful and innovative.
- Gateway to entrepreneurship
During hackathons, students get an opportunity to innovate various inspiring business ideas. Thus, hackathons could act as gateways to entrepreneurship and churn out great candidates for exploring entrepreneurship. On the one hand, best business ideas generated may be given the opportunity for further growth hacking. On the other hand, hackathons instill entrepreneurial mindset in students and propel them to pursue their own business ideas.
- Opportunity to get feedback from a wider audience
As hackathon coaches and students evaluate the business ideas generated, the teams receive a considerable amount of constructive feedback that significantly improves their initial idea. The feedback allows the students to clarify the scope of their business ideas and improve them. Thus enhancing the possibility of delivering realistic business ideas.
- Cooperation with the business community
Inviting company representatives to the hackathons can be a win-win for all parties. The companies get an access to innovative business ideas and solutions, and students get the chance to work on real problems and get immediate feedback for their ideas.
One might wonder whether using a hackathon as a tool for entrepreneurship education is a practical option, especially when the universities are struggling with funding issues. I think that the hackathons do not have to cost fortunes and they do not have to involve extravagant trips. The idea is to give the students an eye-opening and a fantastic learning experience.