Hackathon Planning

What AI Means for Hackathons

Here are 5 ways AI improves hackathons—and how to leverage them in your business.

AI is on everybody’s mind. The “innovate or die” mantra has taken on new meaning as businesses try to leverage artificial intelligence (AI) in their operations or build their own AI tools. 

So, how are you incorporating it into yours? Innovation is at the heart of harnessing the power of AI—meaning it’s time to make time for creativity, problem solving, and unique solutions. That’s where hackathons come in.

5 Ways AI Improves Hackathons

Hackathons are a business tool that make innovation a part of your company’s culture and help you crowdsource ideas. Whether you host an internal hackathon or a public one, you’ll be able to leverage the creativity of many and generate multiple use cases in a short period of time.

AI makes each hackathon more impactful and makes it easier for organizers to plan. Here’s how.

#1 Makes It Easier for Non-devs to Participate

Hackathons are known for being almost exclusively geared toward developers since they involve building some kind of software or application. AI changes that. AI opens the door for non-developers and non-technical people to participate in hackathons, which gives you access to people with more varied professional experience. If you’re hosting an internal hackathon, you can open it up to your entire organization and harness the problem-solving skills of teams who otherwise wouldn’t have been able to participate.

People with limited coding skills can use AI tools to do this type of work—meaning more participants, more projects submitted, and a higher likelihood of discovering an idea that could transform your business. 

#2 Provides an Unlimited Ability to Crunch Data

Experimentation is a big part of developing new software or applications. For hackathon participants, the time it takes for this type of work can be a huge constraint on the quality of their final projects.

With AI, instead of plugging into one API or data source, hackathon participants have an unlimited ability to crunch data. They can check multiple data sources, generate insights, and group data almost instantly using AI.

A note for companies holding internal hackathons: Be sure to provide guardrails that will allow teams to securely experiment with AI and large language models (LLMs) without risking accidentally releasing sensitive data. (Here’s how Okta securely provided teams an AI track in its most recent internal hackathon.) 

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#3 Enables Participants to Build Higher-Quality Projects

The ability to crunch data more quickly is just one of the ways AI improves hackathons. AI helps speed up work for participants so they can be more ambitious with projects and ultimately build higher-quality projects.

In particular, generative AI helps participants build rapid prototypes and get a lot closer to a shippable finished product in a short period of time. AI tools can do repetitive, time-consuming tasks, freeing up participants' time for more innovative, high-value work. 

A participant's creativity, rather than their ability or speed in writing code, determines the quality of hackathon projects. Essentially, AI allows participants to focus on how cool their idea is instead of getting bogged down by all the technical aspects required to build it.

#4 Simplifies the Submission Process for Participants

As a hackathon organizer, the last thing you want is for participants to spend hours developing an amazing project just to have it fall flat in their final submission. If you’re hosting your hackathon on a platform like Devpost, the project description submissions will be crucial for you and your team during judging.

Creating a clear and detailed project description can take a long time for non-writers, which is where an AI writing tool can help. With the right prompt, it can summarize the specific problem being solved, mention the key technologies used, and explain how the project solves the problem initially identified. That time can instead be spent on actually building the project.

Image generation tools can also be used to improve submissions. AI can quickly generate images showing something really specific or niche to the project, which will help improve the overall quality of the submission. 

#5 Helps With Idea Generation

We could all use a little help when we’re about to tackle a problem. That’s especially true for hackathon participants under a deadline!

AI tools are a great way to kick off brainstorming. They often generate the ‘obvious’ solution, which helps people focus on more creative, bigger-picture thinking. Or, they might pull together ideas in a way that sparks something big. 

The same is true for organizers. If you’re planning a hackathon and experiencing “blank page syndrome,” an AI tool can help get the ball rolling and generate possible topics. You can also use it to help you write your challenge description. 

(Side note: If you need support planning or running your hackathon, the Devpost team has over a decade of experience helping some of the world’s biggest companies host internal and public hackathons.)

Hackathons Are More Important Than Ever

So, where do we go from here? With AI, we’re already seeing things move so quickly that it’s hard to keep up. Hackathons help you harness that energy and use it to evolve your business. 

Think of your hackathons as business tools that are improved by AI. The potential applications for AI in hackathons are endless, but it comes down to three things: More participants, higher quality projects, and an easier planning process for organizers.

Get started here and make innovation a key part of your business with hackathons.