Beating the hackathon hype in a hack for social good

When planning a hackathon, you have a lot of decisions to make. Food, venue, date, format, tools, schedule. After you’ve made all of your selections, you have an event roughly put together, and follow up with polish and action. It’s the choices you make that define the outcome. At Geeklist we take context and quality for developers with the utmost respect.

For our new series of hackathons, we didn’t want participants to try to find a problem (that may or may not actually exist), build a business model around it, and leave with a prototype, pitch, and prize for spending their time on something they could have built anywhere. In my mind, that’s like cramming for a test you’ve aced a few times already, for a class you took last year.

When planning our Geeklist #hack4good we chose a different path. There are problems that already exist. Problems that affect the lives of people that don’t have the latest smartphone, people that aren’t in traffic, people that don’t have scheduling conflicts or LinkedIn profiles, dinner plans, or even a plan for dinner tonight, or tomorrow. There are problems that already scale, because of earthquakes, flooding, fires and famine. There are verticals as large as 99% of the population. We chose to make this a hackathon for good above all else.

We certainly aren’t the first to encourage hackers to spend their extra cycles on problems that plague society, but we did have the opportunity to make it the theme for Geeklist’s first big event (and future events), and by doing so we hope to inspire more organizers and sponsors to consider what a hackathon can give back, and chose to do good. One thought lingered in our minds: “If so few hackathons take this route, is doing the right thing really the right thing?” You can’t predict the outcome of a hackathon; your involvement shouldn’t be much more than setting the stage.


We built it, and they came.

We set modest goals, knowing that in a first attempt, we’d be lucky to fill the field with teams. Further, we didn’t want to attract people to the event for the wrong reasons, so our signup form didn’t list prizes or awards. We wanted participants that understood what we were hoping to accomplish and could drive each other by betting against the status quo, and choosing at attract hackers for a different purpose. There is definitely an audience here. We were humbled by the response, dedication, support, and drive of the participants. 

See the standout projects in this blog post.

Thanks to the support of our sponsors, Pivotal Labs, Walmart Labs, Moovweb, Startup Monthly, New Relic, Smart Bear, Appsifyme,  we were able to make sure that our participants had an unmatched level of comfort and an inspirational hacking environment, plenty of privacy, resources, nourishment, and access to experts and support teams. Thanks to our sponsors, we were able to give awards and prizes that included donations to nonprofits that our teams built projects for. In total, Geeklist and it’s sponsors exceeded $52,000 in financial and in kind awards and our teams presented 10 brilliant and varied solutions to problems that actually exist today.

Look for our next awesome hackathon coming soon!

Ed Palumbo


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