Eventornado blog How To Judge A Hackathon: 5 Criteria To Pick Winners

How To Judge A Hackathon: 5 Criteria To Pick Winners

Written by

Sabreen Swan

Content Strategist/Writer at Eventornado.

Believe it or not, there’s a method to the madness.

When it comes to selecting winners, some traditional hackathons choose to stick to good old fashioned demos. That’s when teams are invited to stand up and demonstrate their project for their peers, mentors and judges. 

For smaller hackathons (like an internal company event), that’s easy enough.

But for larger hackathons with hundreds or even thousands of participants, without using a dedicated platform to manage it all? Yikes.

Then there’s a “Science Fair” style of judging, where teams set up tables and judges roam around the room and eventually choose a handful of the top contenders to present a demo. 

It’s safe to say that social distancing has pretty much ruled that one out.

But what are the best, most dynamic ways to judge a hackathon? Is there a secret formula for creating the perfect criteria? We’ve put together fool-proof criteria you can use to judge and pick your next hackathon’s top winners:

1. Does this have business value?

First things first. Will this thing sell?

While not all hackathons require a viable product or feature, tool, etc., the winning team’s idea needs to contribute to something. If it’s not a solution to the problem, it needs to be a means to eventually getting there. 

Examine and evaluate the teams and map it against the market. Is this idea going to make money, or at least contribute to the solution that will? 

Is there a potential to grow the idea into something profitable?

2. Will it make an impact?

A copycat idea doesn’t impress anyone. 

One of the most key criteria when judging a hackathon comes down to how original the idea is. It doesn’t need to be the next Microsoft, but it should certainly be impressing. 

A great hackathon idea should wow both the judges and other hackers, and while it may be unrealistic to strictly expect a brand new, never-heard-before masterpiece idea (although that happens), you should at least be seeing a fresh approach to an old problem. That can be just as impressive as a completely novel idea.

So, how much edge does the idea have? Is it original and cleverly thought out?

3. Is it realistic?

A team’s product can be cool and original enough to completely knock your socks off, but is it realistic?

Judging an idea against how realistic it is to execute is often where some judges trip up—after all, a hackathon is a crazy hectic event where some of the digital world’s most whacky ideas get cooked up. Shouldn’t a little bit of crazy be okay?

In theory, yes. Some of the most exciting hacks have been utterly useless in terms of producing minimum viable products—BUT they’ve gone down in digital history as making a mark on the hackathon world.

So it depends entirely on what you want from your hackathon. If you’re looking for original viable products with potential for market value, judge against how realistic the idea is.

4. Have the team innovated to build this product?

Judges, this is what you want. 

While an idea may be original and/or impressive, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s an innovative one.

Did the team factor in all their disposable resources and time in order to come up with the final product? How strong is their awareness of how others are attempting to solve the same problem?

Could this product be used as a stepping stone for even better products? Is it a real solution to a problem? Has it confronted a new problem? Does the final product have a sustainable lifecycle? Are there opportunities for collaboration?

Choosing hackathon winners with fool-proof criteria

Judging a hackathon can be incredibly exciting—and high-pressured and difficult at the same time. 

Without clear criteria to judge teams on, judges are left to evaluate ideas based on initial redactions, external opinions and other non-reliable factors, potentially passing up on great talent.

Choosing the “best project” comes with a lot of pressure. 

With these four criteria, judges can focus on each area separately to more accurately evaluate the strongest ideas and eventually choose a winner. And as well as helping organisers find their winners, having clear criteria is vital for fair reviewing.

With a crystal clear set of criteria for all judges to follow, organisers can rest easy knowing that judges are evaluating their assigned teams with the same pre-approved requirements. And with Eventornado, organisers can add as many evaluation criteria as they need. 


Do you have your own set of criteria you use for judging hackathon teams? Send us a message on LinkedIn—we’d love to know!

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