3 Tips for Running an Online Virtual Hackathon

by | Apr 6, 2020 | Press, Applications

This past weekend we ran what we believe to be our state’s first ever 100% online hackathon using BizzyB.com, Zoom and Google Docs. For the story, read the press release below… but first, three tips for anyone trying to produce online education programs with digital technology:



1. Online Anything is Different Than Live ~ Think it Forward

Everything is different online, and you need to account for the time it takes folks to get oriented to a new navigational environment. To this end it’s important to get contestants, mentors, judges and production staff onto your hack tools (like BizzyB) before the event. This pays huge dividends, as users will be at least partially comfortable (and certainly less uncomfortable) than if they cold-turkey’ed it. At the same time, it’s likely that team members may not have even met each other before the hack, so they could suddenly find themselves in a room of strangers, all talking by video conference. Orientation is key to any hack, but it’s especially important in virtual space.


BizzyB online virtual Hackathon

$2,500 First Place winners Brian McMichael, Zoe Whitney, Karly Requelman and Jaslinn “Makamae” Kamaka-Mauhili of Home Raisers App work on the BizzyB.com challenge-based learning platform with application author Steve Sue.


2. Expect Glitches ~ Be Open to Tech Work Arounds

We used some of the best technology available, but all of it had glitches during the weekend, in one way or another. That’s EVERY service.

We were pushing Zoom so hard that their auto-blacklisting features kicked me (the meeting administrator and producer of the hack) out of their service an hour before our Pitch Showcase. We had to scramble to get another admin put in, who ultimately got blacklisted himself. Meanwhile, I used a separate email to create another account on a different machine, but the new account was not able to play video for some reason. So, during our Showcase, I was only available by audio. We also had major league failures with Zoom’s video recording features. We suggest, if video is important to you, that you use the screen record feature on your own as a backup to Zoom recording.

We also used Google Sheets for judging forms and tabulation. It’s a simple application of a spreadsheet, and we’ve done this for years on G-Docs for other programs like Lemonade Alley. But when judging began, despite the settings showing that judges had access to edit sheets, they could not. We had them work around that by submitting via email and manually compiling.

Finally, even our base hackathon backbone app, BizzyB had a data entry hiccup on the first day. This sent our entire development team running on overtime while contestants temporarily held content on Google Docs so that it could be inserted to BizzyB once the issue was fixed.

In each circumstance, we found work-arounds and got the deal done. But, boy, was it stressful. Such hiccups will undoubtedly be reduced over time, but you should be prepared with smart, in-the-moment-thinkers on your team to keep the lights on.


Photo of laptop showing a Zoom call of BizzyB hack


3. Stay Positive ~ Good Vibes Heal All

In some ways, going virtual is really tough. But in others, it offers greater benefits and outcomes than live events. The goal is for all to learn and enjoy the experience together. We were amazed at how positive all participants were, despite the stress of disorientation, different working styles and glitchy tech. We’re very thankful to all for participating with such good will.


Screenshot of Garnett Stone, Jr. working during the BizzyB hackathon

Garnett Stone Jr., Business Student, University of Hawaii, Hilo works BizzyB.com online concept canvas with remote mentors from around the world.


Press Release Version:

Amid COVID-19 Stay at Home Orders, Global Hackathon Runs 100 Percent Virtual Through Online Challenge-Based Learning System. Students and Mentors Around the World Collaborate to Create Disaster Recovery Apps

HILO, HAWAII – Billed as the Aloha State’s first virtual hackathon, 4 teams of students from the University of Hawaii at Hilo (UH Hilo) and Hawaii Community College (HawCC) competed remotely from home locations as far away as Spain, Mexico, Washington and California to develop app-based solutions for lava recovery efforts from the 2018 Kilauea eruption. Mentors offered advice from remote locations as far away as Bangladesh, San Francisco and North Carolina. The HIplan Hackathon took place April 4 – 5, 2020 from 10am-5pm each day and $5,300 in cash prizes was awarded to winning teams.

$2,500 First Place went to Makamae Kamaka-Mauhili, Brian McMichael, Karly Requelman and Zoe Whitney of The Repair Crew for their Home Raisers App, $1,500 Second Place went to Kevianna Adams, Santos Gutierez, Ryen Helzer and Catherine Kane-Paulo of CommUnity Inc. for their Coconut Grove App, $1,000 Third Place went to Luca Checchia Adell, Casey Chow, Kevin Oh and Jena Shidaki of Double D for their Disaster Defense App, and $300 Fourth Place went to Alan Cincunegui Corres, Kapaia’alaopuna Earle and Garnett Stone Jr. of Second Responders for their Second Wave App.

“We were all set to run this hackathon when COVID-19 shut down schools so many of the students returned home to far-flung places around the globe,” said Jason Ueki, Executive Director of HIplan. “We were set to use BizzyB.com, an online challenge-based learning system for the hack and realized that we could run the hack remotely with BizzyB. The most surprising thing for me is that our hack turned into a truly global event with both students and mentors collaborating from remote locations around the world.”

Says mentor Phillipe Rosse, “This is a game-changer. With BizzyB, we realized that we can connect students and mentors in deeper and more efficient ways than ever before. The quality of ideas and attention to detail generated concepts that are infinitely more mature than your average hackathon contest. This takes hacks and STEM education to new heights. BizzyB represents the future of education.”

The goal of any hackathon is to challenge students to address real-world problems, in this case, conceptualizing app-based solutions to support Kilauea Volcano eruption recovery efforts facing Hawaii County. By participating in hands-on concept development activities, students learned leadership, collaboration, creative problem-solving and other “Soft Skills” that are increasingly demanded in today’s business world.

“When schools began closing due to Coronavirus, we made BizzyB entirely free for the rest of the school year,” says BizzyB author and Bizgenics Foundation Chairman Steve Sue. “The HIplan Hackathon is a smart, forward-looking application of BizzyB’s Contest Module created to serve in-class challenges, hackathons, business plan competitions and accelerators. We’re happy to support HIplan and other producers of innovation-based learning programs.”

BizzyB’s approach combines self-directed learning, 4Cs learning (Creativity, Critical-Thinking, Collaboration & Communication), STEM learning (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) and SEL (Social Emotional Learning). The result is an online innovation Concept Canvas where student teams collaborate on five essential themes of an innovation project. This canvas supports remote collaboration via sidebar comment channels, built-in feedback surveys, pitch deck builder and showcase presentation functions. Mentors can view team content and advise remotely from anywhere, anytime. Team members also experience corporate leadership roles serving as facilitators of the five themes. 21st Century Soft Skill measurement standards are measured in the system by pre- and post-project user surveys. Outcomes are reported through contest public pages and through individual student portfolios that feature project summaries, awards, certifications, badges and Soft Skill assessments.

The event was sponsored by Kamehameha Schools, Ulupono Initiative, County of Hawaii, UH Hilo, and HawCC. It is being produced by the Hawaii Island Business Plan Competition (HIplan) and the nonprofit Bizgenics Foundation.

Judges included Melanie Wilson, Dean of Liberal Arts & Public Services at HawCC, tech entrepreneur Steve Sakoman of Steve Sakoman Inc., and Chris Rehkamp, former Program Manager at the Digital Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Maryland. Mentors included Director of Accelerator Operations at Elemental Excelerator Sherrie Totoki in San Francisco, Consulting Organization, Learning Leader, Louise Lorton in North Carolina, Phillipe Rosse from RFP Match, North Carolina. Facilitators included local entrepreneur Mike Nakamura, former tech executive Wayne Morris, and retired tech professional Walter McCoy.

Learn more about BizzyB and its many innovative applications.