Hackathons follow a relatively simple formula, but they have the potential to produce extraordinary results. What is it about hackathons that makes them so effective? How do you create something that churns out good ideas in a short amount of time? Our conversations with hackathon organizers made us realize that there are a few major reasons behind the recent success of healthcare hackathons.
First, these types of hackathons promote out-of-the-box thinking and risk taking. “In industry, you are often asked to innovate incrementally, and failure is looked down upon,” says Smitha Gudapakkam of CAMTech. “Hackathons support thinking outside of the box; the innovation is disruptive, not incremental. In general, a hackathon is a great platform to fail fast and take risks.” Although medicine can at times be hierarchical, hackathons are a purely horizontal environment where participants can explore ideas that may otherwise seem too risky.
Additionally, hackathons bring together people from across the healthcare sector, forcing them to work with people of different backgrounds and expertise. “They’re the spark that gets unlikely players working together,” says Colucci. “That combination of people from different backgrounds and skills working together is what healthcare needs to overcome major obstacles.”
Finally, participants at hackathons are forced to collaborate and work with others in ways that might feel initially uncomfortable. “Often, people try to keep their ideas to themselves, but a hackathon is an open innovation platform,” says Gudpakkam. “Hackathons can create an opportunity for employees and stakeholders to come together and innovate.”
Healthcare hackathons are becoming more numerous and better attended each year in Boston, with no signs of slowing down. “One year ago, [healthcare] hackathons were a novelty, and few groups knew how to do them,” says Gudapakkam. “Now, they are much more popular, and are great at spurring innovation.”
Share our step-by-step healthcare hackathon planning guide with this infographic:
Brendan Pease was MedTech Boston's first ever editorial and events intern. He is now a junior at Harvard University where he studies Molecular and Cellular Biology. He’s also the Co-Editor-in-Chief for the Harvard Science Review. Previously, he worked as a Market Intelligence intern at athenahealth and as a research assistant in the Goldberg Laboratory at Massachusetts General Hospital.
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