Project Manager Erna Gronow running an online hackathon with 40 people. Photo: Larissa Gronow

Covid Challenges: 48h Hackathon Events Go Online


South-Eastern Finland University of Applied Sciences has previously organized several intense 48h hackathon events on campus. Covid has made these hackathons go online, for better or worse.

Several Xamk innovation projects include hackathons involving local companies and students, but organizing campus events became impossible. The Covid crisis brought about a new international phenomenon: online hackathons, ranging from immense international events to smaller Xamk local hacks.

The Birth of Crisis Hackathons – National Events

The Covid crisis rapidly brought about online hackathons across Europe, where teams of students and volunteers pitched in to help find solutions for businesses floundering under the new restrictions and lack of customers. Xamk RISICO’s Project Manager observed or participated in a number of these crisis hackathons, with the goal of learning how to best organize intensive hackathons completely online.

The crisis hackathon kick-off in Finland was Hack the Crisis Finland organized by Business Finland. It was just one of a string of national crisis hackathons organized across Europe. Xamk University was active in these events: Xamk students participated in Hack the Crisis Finland and a Xamk staff member from Kouvola campus even acted as a mentor in Hack the Crisis Germany.

Crisis Hackathons – Both Global and Local

These national events preceded a slew of other hackathons organized by various organizations, including universities and startup and innovation centers. The scale of these events ranged from global to local regional events.

The largest by far was the mammoth Global Hack, organized by Garage48 in Estonia with startup centers and other collaboration partners across Europe and beyond. Global Hack had over 12 000 participants from over 100 countries, working on over 500 challenges. The size and scope of this hackathon was truly exceptional.

Crisis Hackathon Movement Arrives at Xamk

Xamk Xlab Kotka wall fresco by Ekami Rannikkopaja. Photo: Erna Gronow

Even Xamk University became active in the crisis hackathon movement. Xamk staff began developing online hackathon events and course-structured entities to find solutions for local companies. One example was Crisis Hack Kymenlaakso, which piloted the online 48h hackathon concept at Xamk Kotka campus.

Using easily accessible solutions for Xamk students, the hackathon attracted a broad range of students from various engineering, business and design degree programs from three different campuses and seven different cities.

Crisisis Hackathons – Themed 48h Hackathons

After the Xamk RISICO project piloted the Crisis Hack Kymenlaakso, the lessons learned were incorporated into a hackathon formula that could be replicated and modified for other themed hackathon events, including Digital Business Hackathon in October 2020 and Green Future Hack in February 2021.

Online 48h Hackathons – the Challenges

The organization of online hackathons presents a number of challenges, needs that arose included:

  1. Rigorous scheduling & clear explanations
  2. Greater facilitation needs
  3. Food & snacks online

The planning and organization of the event must be more rigorous than a live event, since people are not present in the same physical space. All participants, mentors, speakers and facilitators should be provided with their personal schedules, so they know where they must be online at what time. This includes clear explanations and deadlines, repeated often online.

Online hackathons also require more facilitation and project management. Since one facilitator is unable to circulate between teams in a physical space, tighter online scheduling means more facilitators must be available.

Students are used to food and snacks being provided in most hackathons. This problem was solved via restaurant vouchers for takeaway food from local restaurants, which also helped to support local business.

Online 48h Hackathons – the Rewards

The feedback from the hackathons has been largely positive. Students have appreciated the flexibility of participating online – some even participate from abroad. Local businesses have given positive feedback on the outcomes of the Xamk online hackathons:

“The range of solutions the students provided was truly outstanding! We were really amazed.”

“The students presented innovative ideas to develop our services during the Covid crisis. We would love to further our collaborations with the students.”

Covid will pass one day, but the online hackathon is here to stay. We hope many will join us in the future on our online hackathon journey.


Writer Erna Gronow

Writer is a Project Manager in the Digital Solutions team at South-Eastern Finland University of Applied Sciences, Kotka campus.