Life after a Hackathons

The Technology and Social Innovation week was brilliantly kickstarted today with the conference LIFE AFTER A HACKATON that took place on Monday Sept 29th at the well established Notman House in Montreal. The speakers were:


We had HackMcGill, Blitzweekend, WearHacks, StartupWeekend, MontréalOuvert, HackingHealth, écoHackMTL, #hackmtl and many other hackathons in Montréal, organized by developers, investors, entrepreneurs, students and fans of innovation.

We’ve all seen amazing projects that make you wonder how they made it happen in so little time. For man projects, we are still wondering “what if they continued?”

What happens after the stressful 48 hours? Can a “hacked” prototype be transformed into a startup? What are the resources available in Montréal? How can you keep teams together and motivated? With hackathon attendees, team leaders, hackathon organizers, we will discuss and think together these questions.


The event started with KWS co-founder Franck Nlemba who introduced the mission of his organization and the purpose of the conference.

His intervention was followed by a short presentation of Clayton Grassick, who explained how his non-profit, Mwater, went from a Hackaton-based app to a running startup.

Mwater is dedicated to the eradication of diarrheic diseases through an app that focuses on water testing and water monitoring. Clayton explained how he developed strategic partnerships with international organizations, which eventually helped him secure hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding from NGOs like USAID.

His advice for developers looking to do the same thing by participating to hackathons, was:

  • To have a pre-ready environment before the hackaton
  • To be ready to look for new partners, because the Hackaton team is seldom the production team
  • To understand that the hackathon code is never the production code. So the team has to be ready to start everything from scratch. Rewriting can be painful and the coding environment can change.
  • Applying for grants is a daunting task and requires experts in the industry targeted by the app. In Mwater’s case, he needed public health experts to apply for funding.
  • To be ready to pivot. For example, Mwater was also asked to develop household surveys.


Finally, clayton also admitted that sharing information with a community of health workers was very important in making the app evolve to the populations’ needs. Also, hackers have to be ready to work a full-time or part-time (flexible) job in order to afford a living while developing the app.


The five panellists gave very insightful information on what a hackaton is, what it’s not, and how the initiative can survive past 24 hours.

Our experts stressed the fact that the objective of a hackaton is not to create a final product, but rather to show what can be done.The goal is to come up with innovative ideas in a blitz period of time, rather than creating a company. Plus, they added that, not every participant comes in with the same objectives. For some developers, a hackaton is just a crash course to learn a new code. For other, it’s the opportunity to build a prototype of a wider and more complex tool that can be the beginning of a startup.


Learning, creating a product, experimenting, socializing, improving existing tools, are all good reasons to host hackatons. But most hackatons are not made to have a life after the event. However for organizers or developers willing to prolong the life of a hackaton, our experts suggested several things:

  1. Set back and assess the intentions and ambitions of developers to continue onto production. It’s important to confirm the interest of the participants, in order to ensure the continuity of the hackaton (if that is the objective).
  1. Work in collaboration with government institutions, vendors and private companies beforehand, to assess their needs for an app that could solve a specific issue. Hackatons can play a major role in helping industries that are slow in innovation. By organizing a hackaton, the sponsoring company has access to a fast and cheap way to solve a particular problem, of to fill a specific need.
  1. Organize Hackatons that foster the connection between developers, corporate professionals, mentors and investors. Live feedback from companies and industry leaders helps a lot.
  1. Provide resources to developers wishing to launch a startup, for example by helping them incorporate their companies, or pairing them up with a sponsor.
  1. Leverage the culture and art industry that is very rich in Montreal, rather than mimicking sillicon valley’s projects.
  1. Maintain connexions with previous hackaton participants
  1. Revisiting the format of those hackatons, by allowing more time for developers to build a stronger prototype.

The event ended on a very positive note, and as the discussion evolved, it became flagrant that the next step for hackatons may be to directly tackle more social issues. Open data apps, health apps, early-detection of autism apps, were part of the few examples that have been developed through hackatons.


Finally, the discussion also made us understand that connecting with the end-user is the best way to increase the chances of an app to be used after its prototype phase. Once more, social good hackatons can be a good way to ensure that.