Managing for organizing

An Innovation Fest for Summer Interns

How do you give your interns a meaningful experience in the brief period that they are part of your organization? Have you ever thought about the value of a (no-code) hackathon? A 2-days workshop within their internship in which they will get to experience what innovation truly entails? An experience that will make their summer unforgettable and that could produce valuable results for your organization.

A (no-code) hackathon example

This no-code hackathon was a 2 days event held during business hours, at the Sheikh Zayed Campus of Children’s National Health System in Washington, DC. The agenda is shown in the table below. Prior to the first day, all student participants were provided with the topic in order to stimulate curiosity: Design a mobile app or tool that effectively addresses childhood obesity.

The first morning we organized two discussion panels, one addressing research findings and the other addressing clinical issues. These panels helped the students understand both the medical challenge and the needs of affected children and their families.

The first afternoon was spent introducing innovation and creativity methodologies, to generate and select ideas, and to form teams.

The second day started with short introductions to prototyping and mobile app development, and continued with teamwork. Some teams used freeware to create a prototype of their app. Other teams used paper and pencil. Both worked equally fine to express the concept behind the apps.

The morning of the third day was used by teams to practice presenting their apps, followed by a formal presentation in front of the other students and a panel of judges, who awarded first and second prizes.

Student Participants

The 34 participants of this hackathon, were of different ages and educational levels (high school, undergraduate, graduate), came from different disciplines (high school sciences, university-level biology and bioengineering, and medicine), and were from varied walks of life (Harvard and Princeton, disadvantaged backgrounds, Khalifa University in the United Arab Emirates).

Self-organizing teams

After the introduction and brainstorming sessions, the participants were instructed to form small groups of two-to-five members, focused around a theme.

In fact, the self-organizing led to five groups of five-to-eight members. These teams continued throughout the hackathon and all the way to the finals.

At the end of the hackathon, all participants were presented with the option to continue developing their apps. Few of the participants opted to continue because of the time commitment involved. This self-selection process nonetheless led to two smaller, dedicated teams, consisting of four members each.

These two teams continued working on their apps way beyond their summer internship. One team saw their app development all the way through to implementation.


The participants all declared that the hackathon had been an awesome experience. While nowadays especially students in the computer sciences are very familiar with hackathons, students in other disciplines have typically not been exposed to this way of working.

The amount of fun the students had should not be underestimated either. For a brief overview, see the video below:

Organize an Innovation Fest for your summer interns

So how can you go about organizing such an event for your summer interns? While it does not take a whole lot of work, it does take a bit of careful planning.

1. Find a champion

For example, there needs to be a central theme to the hackathon. What problem or challenge are your interns going to tackle? What problem or challenge your organization or your clients face, begs for an innovative solution?

In relation to that, you need to find a champion – can be at the organization or business unit level – who is interesting in sponsoring the event. This champion needs to have a vetted interest in the problem or challenge the interns are going to tackle. In the case above, the hackathon was championed by the Obesity Institute IDEAL clinic.

The champion gets to define the theme, has to provide subject matter experts that can explain the problem, and needs to be present to evaluate the final presentations.

If the sponsor is also willing to provide food and drinks for the event, that is a plus. In case of the IDEAL clinic, we received approval for healthy food options such as water, carrots and hummus. In this case, that certainly helped the participants to stick with the theme, literally!

2. Find a facilitator

You also need someone who can explain the process (especially in case most of the participants don’t have an computer science background) and facilitate the hackathon. Ideally this person also provides instructions on how to brainstorm and helps with the team-formation process.

(If finding a facilitator is an issue, Organizing4Innovation gladly assists and provides you a facilitator)

Plan your no-code hackathon

To give you an example, below is the agenda we used for the no-code hackathon described above.

Day 1 (9 am-5 pm)

  • Introductory session to set expectations
  • Q&A with panel of experts on scientific aspects of childhood obesity
  • Q&A with panel of experts on clinical aspects of childhood obesity
  • Background lecture on innovation and brainstorming
  • Video on the process of innovation (IDEO documentary) (Nightline, 1999)
  • 15 minutes of individual brainstorming
  • 15 minutes to select and elaborate on top 3-5 ideas from individually brainstormed list
  • Grouping of participants’ top 3-5 ideas on the classroom wall based on topic (e.g., nutrition, exercise, etc.)
  • Voting on favorite ideas (maximum of 4 voting stickers per person)
  • Self-formation of teams based on interest in ideas

Goal for end of Day 1: Have a team and a functional description of the app

Day 2 (8 am-5 pm)

  • Three 30 minute background lectures on rapid prototyping, mobile app development, and user-centered design
  • Rapid prototyping of the concept

Goal for end of Day 2: Finalize the app prototype that demonstrates the functionality of the app (e.g., the various screens/working principles of the app)

Day 3 (8 am-12 pm)

  • Rehearsal of app pitch in anticipation of judging
  • App pitch to panel of judges, using the following decision criteria:
    • Innovation / Ambition
    • App’s Potential Impact
    • User Interface / User Experience
    • Overall Quality / Team performance
    • Quality of Pitch

Goal for end of Hackathon: Chose winning teams

Especially the planning of day one requires some work. Having a sponsor, that has a vested interested in the theme and is willing to help you find panel members are a must to make this day successful.

From an organizational perspective, day two is the easiest one. It is the day that the teams do the work. It does help if all the teams work in the same common area and it is a great idea to have the panel members of the first day drop by to give input and feedback on the ideas the teams are working on. In my experience, your employees will all love to stop by, given the high-energy of the teams and the can-do atmosphere in the room.

Day three is the final day of presentations. By giving detailed input and feedback on their presentations, this day is a worthwhile experience for the participants, regardless of the outcome of their solution.

What to do with the winners?

For an internal no-code hackathon that is meant as a learning experience, I would not attach any prizes to the winning teams, except for a badge of honor.

The quality of the solutions provided can vary widely. Often, a hackathon results in unique out-of-the-box solutions, but that may not be the case. So don’t make any promises about what is next until you have actually seen the presentations.

We followed up with the teams a week after the hackathon was over, to ask the teams about their experience and future plans. Would they like to continue with their ideas? Such a debrief is the ideal moment to discuss next steps with teams that have a promising solution. Would they like to stay engaged with the further development, or is it fine with them if the organization develops it further? Or, as we had with one team, would the team like to continue independently – and if so, how can the organization support them?

In sum, keep it simple

Keep it simple. That being said, you must put in place an appropriate intellectual property agreement with the participants beforehand, if that is not part of your onboarding process for interns.

Now, go out there and help your interns make impact and change the world for your clients, organization, and profession!




P.S. If you need help or a facilitator for your no-code hackathon, please contact us. We gladly assist you with creating an innovation fest that is a worthwhile experience for your summer interns and your organization.