The Hackathon: Intrapreneurship's Dry Run

11 December 2014


"The hackathon concept as a dry-run for intrapreneurship."

1. The Concept

The key to delivering an application with relevant business value in less than 48 hours? A team of five exquisite people and an endless motivation to get the most out of everyone’s skills and talents in this action-packed mini-project showdown.

It was an amazing opportunity to see how everyone’s talents mingled to come up with an idea that was innovative, refreshing, realistic and relevant to AE’s core values.

It surprised me greatly what can be achieved with the current state of technology, even when the triple divinity time, budget and scope are extremely limited. Every consequence of adding or removing requirements to the scope resulted immediately in a tangible impact on the final quality. Even up to this day, a feeling of accomplishment and ‘entrepreneurship’ still lingers on and gives an incredible motivational boost to promote the intrapreneurial mindset within a project or enterprise.

2. Establishing Intrapreneurial Impact

Intrapreneurship is hard. We learned a great deal during these mad hours, lessons learned I would very much like to share with this fine audience.

The art of displaying your hard work

We won the hackathon with an application that supported one happy flow and had a grand total of two users. It was not the matching algorithm, nor the extremely future-proof technical architecture that made it into the attention bubble of the audience. It was a clear vision with a relevant and sustainable business added value for the mother company.

Is technology irrelevant during these kind of presentations? No. It provides the tools to implement your creative ideas, it convinces the techies in the audience that you are not presenting the result of a brainstorm session, but a structural solution to a well-defined problem. It gives you credibility.


"Pick your battles"

I like this quote. It is simple and yet, I still find it hard to stop fighting battles, especially when deeply and emotionally involved. Keep your eyes on the price, use an appropriate level of internal locus of control.

On a technical level, this remains true. Committing to a few new technologies and relying on structural and proven experience for all other components is key to leveraging what the fancy, shiny technology has to offer nowadays. Taking risks is key to getting you somewhere, but this includes knowing what your strengths are. Focusing on the area’s where the difference really matters: differentiate when the change provides significant added value, not for the cause of ‘being new’.

For instance, we used a brand-new state-of-the-art continuous deployment framework, but relied on our back-end development skills and tools to reap its benefits fully. Use new technologies with proven benefits.

Use your Best Practices

An example: at the very beginning of the application development, fake every functional behaviour that is potentially blocking for other team members. Mock every behavior in the application, postpone the detailed implementation until absolutely necessary. Focus on building the interfaces first.

“Fake fast, implement last.”

Ideally these should be treated as separate chunks of work, where the priority of the interface of a feature and its detailed implementation is handled differently on the scrum board.

3. Making the jump to real intrapreneurship

We learned a lot, no doubt. But the real added value lies in the organisational and cultural shift that this spawning pool of ideas, concepts and creativity outbursts provides. Participating in a hackathon gives a sense of involvement that is one step closer to every employer's holy grail: the entrepreneurial mindset.

By defining one of the success criteria as alignment to AE's core values, it basically boils down to innovation within an enterprise context. Rings a bell? Smells a wee bit like intrapreneurship to me! Intrapreneurship scepticists find this constraint limiting, but in my opinion it boasts a vision and direction that ensures buy-in from the overarching structure. The level of autonomy is crucial during these intrapreneurial activities.

A hackathon is a thankful insight into what decisions are made within a very tight budget. Giving priority to high-value features with a smaller risk in favor of extremely complex features with less proven value seems similar to contemporary entrepreneurial practices.

I look back and see these two days as a sandboxed environment where anything was possible, within the bounds of the cultural framework that the "mother company" provides. We actually used the results from our company's employee satisfaction survey to pinpoint the pains within the company! The final artifact of the two days was an MVP, in order to get feedback fast and establish validated learning.

This hackathon concept provides participants with an undeniable involvement in the company and fosters entrepreneurial thinking.


For more information and pictures on the AE Hackathon go to the Google+ event page or contact AE at

Jasper Verplanken

Written by Jasper Verplanken

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