When we at Latvian IT Cluster had declared it was time to make digitalization one of its focal points in the cluster's growth, we knew we wanted something more than fostering innovative thinking and making industries digital. It was also about introducing new approaches in how industries talk, understand and help each other. April 2018 saw the result of it in the very first X-industry hackathon, intended to bring industries and IT together to collaborate. The most important lesson learned? Digitalization is the future of business, and we all must do our part to make it right.
The idea was simple - the industry companies present their business challenge, the IT companies choose the challenges they want to work with. To get it done, however, was not easy. No other cluster in Latvia had tried hackathons before to encourage cross-industry collaboration, plus the format we decided to test out was also something different - 5 weeks of mentoring sessions and independent work. Thus, we - the managing staff - enjoyed the full spectrum of project management’s fun, including taking care of the planned events (logistics, budgeting, administration), community (participants, mentors, industry clusters/ associations, partners, etc.), PR (social media, promotion and media relations) and emotions (which are quite often forgotten but are an indispensable feature in every phase of the project).
In the end, from 6 teams which represented such industries as railway, forestry and manufacturing, 4 of them reached the final event, and, as far as we know, all 4 continue working together after the hackathon.
It was a great experience, and these are our lessons learned:
Make your community count
Look for partners who believe in your idea, build relationships and show it matters what you do. Sometimes you don’t even realize the size of your community, but they’re here. They’re all your buddies, they all help you make it work, they all have to be appreciated.
It will take time, and you must live with it. Twice as much (not kidding, maybe even more) in your preparation phase to convince clusters, companies and partners to say yes to hackathon and finalize the terms and then - till the end of time because this relationship you've built will have to stand for good.
We got financial support from Nordic Council of Ministers and Ministry of Economics, we got Latvian Startup Association as our mentor to guide us through hackathon event management, we got information support from public bodies, clusters, associations and mentors, we got our industry and IT companies who joined forces with us. We were all partners in crime to boost innovations and digitalization!
Let your teams be themselves
The biggest scare? Zero commitment from the teams. Not because they were bad, just because 5 weeks were a long period of time and something could definitely pop up to attract their attention more than we did. Things happen. Did it come true? No. They were more committed than we ever imagined them to be.
We can presume that mature companies, such as scale-ups and corporations, have high level of engagement, they value their time and their participation, even though not openly advertised, is a business decision, not entertainment. Every team knew what to expect and what to do. Every team had their freedom to be there. The hackathon let them be themselves and do the work, explore new business horizons while gaining new knowledge and contacts.
Enjoy - we're doing something great
One of the most valuable lessons learned is - chill and enjoy no matter what goes on! It’s easier to say than do, but it’s the truth. You can’t do and control everything, you can only multiply or divide the pressure.
Choose to divide the pressure and multiply the excitement that you’re doing something great. Because you do. Period. We’ve managed to pull this together with dozens of setbacks and obstacles to get to see that we’ve helped companies open an interesting page in their business lives. That industries can become more digital and they can trust their partners. That they can believe in the Latvian IT and its skills. That Latvia is full of smart, ambitious people who want to change things and are ready to experiment to validate their point.
That we as a cluster do something significant to prove there's a great foundation for digitalization. That's the bigger picture. And it's the best encouragement to work further.
* The autumn hackathon intake opens in October. Follow us to learn everything: https://www.x-hackathon.com/