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The MedTech Boston Guide to Planning a Healthcare Hackathon

The Participants

Participants focus at MIT's 2014 Grand Hack. Photo via MIT Hacking Medicine.

Participants focus at MIT’s 2014 Healthcare Grand Hack. Photo via MIT Hacking Medicine.

After the logistics of a hackathon are set – the where and the when – organizers must invite or recruit participants to attend their hackathon. Most organizers agree that social media plays an important role in publicizing hackathons; most maintain active Twitter accounts and Facebook pages that advertise the event well in advance. “I think [advertising] depends on the context and focus of the hackathon,” says Lindsey Kempton of athenahealth. “Whatever the audience, social media channels and the Boston college communities are great places to start.”

Because many hackathons are associated with a university or hospital, they can take advantage of internal email lists or memos to advertise the hackathon as well. Once an organization has planned or hosted a hackathon, they can collect the contact information of former participants and invite them to hackathons in the future, too. For instance, the Consortium for Affordable Medical Technologies (CAMTech) maintains a network of over 1,300 former participants that they contact when they’re planning different events.

Although there is no silver bullet for high attendance at a healthcare hackathon, Justin Mendelson, the founder of HackFit, emphasizes finding the “influencers” in a given community. According to Mendelson, influencers are people who have lists – email lists, LinkedIn connections, Twitter followers, Facebook friends – of the members of a community who are interested in entrepreneurship and hackathons. Influencers can publicize a hackathon over these lists and recruit potential participants.

Of course, the number of people who come to a hackathon is not nearly as important as the quality and mix of the participants. Many hackathons have some sort of application process to ensure that participants are dedicated to working toward healthcare solutions.

“We want our teams to be well balanced between the medical, business, technology and design sectors, in order to facilitate a comprehensive end-product,” says Rohan Jotwani of Tufts MedStart. “While we have a set of differing criteria within each discipline, the one trait we value most of all is passion towards solving problems within our theme, even if there is no solution proposed by the applicant.”

Some organizations, such as MIT Hacking Medicine, also collect demographic information about applicants so that the event has an even male – female split and participants of all ages. The selectivity of these application processes varies by hackathon, with some accepting most applicants and others being highly selective due to limited space.

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Brendan Pease

Brendan Pease

    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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    1. Laura Henze Russell says:

      This was such a great event that I registered for @IBMWatson #Hackathon May 4-5 in NYC. Who else from GrandHack is going?

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