Startups and hackathons: an unlikely match

A hackathon or hacking marathon is an event where people participate in the rapid development of an idea in a short period of time. A startup, on the other hand, is a company that is looking to rapidly grow beyond the small group of founders by creating innovative ideas. This rapid growth over a short time and the focus on innovation are what make startups and hackathons such an unlikely match. It’s no surprise that many startups were introduced during such a hackathon. In this article, I will list some of my favourites!


The Zapier founding team: Wade Foster, Bryan Helmig, Mike Knoop

Zapier is a web-based platform that allows users to automate repetitive tasks by connecting different web applications together, without the need for code. The company was founded in 2011 by Bryan Helmig, Wade Foster, and Mike Knoop and was created during a hackathon event.

The idea for Zapier came about when the co-founders realized that they were spending a lot of time on manual, repetitive tasks and wanted to find a way to automate them. They took this idea to a hackathon and developed a working prototype in just a few days. Impressed with the potential of their creation, they decided to turn it into a full-fledged product and Zapier was born.

Since its founding, Zapier has grown into a widely used platform with millions of users and has become a popular tool for automating workflows and increasing productivity. The company’s success is a testament to the power of hackathons and how they can bring innovative ideas to life.


Photo by Souvik Banerjee on Unsplash

Twitter, the widely popular social media platform, has a surprising origin story. The company was created in 2006 by Jack Dorsey, Biz Stone, and Evan Williams, and its origins can be traced back to a hackathon event held at Odeo, the company where the team worked. At the time, they were focused on podcasting and were looking for ways to make it easier for people to share updates about their podcasts.

During the hackathon, they developed a prototype for a short messaging service that would allow users to share updates in real time. This prototype was the beginning of Twitter and the team soon realized the potential for the service as a standalone platform. Over the years, Twitter has evolved into one of the largest social media platforms in the world, with over 330 million monthly active users.

Twitter’s success shows how even the most unconventional ideas can have a significant impact when given the chance to grow. The company’s origin story serves as a reminder that participating in hackathons can be a valuable experience for entrepreneurs and can lead to innovative solutions.


Photo by Gabriel Heinzer on Unsplash

While not technically a startup, it’s fascinating to know that JavaScript was created in 10 days by Brendan Eich. This programming language started off as a simple scripting language but quickly grew to become the driving force behind web development. In its current state, it’s used in front-end as the language of React as well as in back-end with NodeJS, making it one of the most popular programming languages in the world.

At the time, the most popular browser was NetScape and webpages were static. For the internet to become what it is today, the company decided to hire Brendan Eich to devise a new programming language, called LiveScript. To capture the hype around Java, another popular language launched in the same period, it was renamed JavaScript.

The rapid development of JavaScript from scratch shows that it’s possible to create unimaginable things in just a short period of time as long as there is a focus and a drive for the team to create and innovate.


In conclusion, startups and hackathons are a perfect match, with many successful companies, like Zapier, Twitter, and JavaScript, originating from hackathon events. These stories highlight the potential for innovative ideas to come to life in a short period of time with the right focus and drive. The rapid growth and success of these companies serve as inspiration for entrepreneurs and innovators everywhere.

Picture of last year’s Holy Hack

So, if you are looking to take your ideas to the next level, consider participating in hackathons like Holy Hack, organized by AFT Leuven. Not only will you have the opportunity to bring your ideas to life, but you’ll also have the chance to connect with like-minded individuals, gain valuable experience, and maybe even create the next big startup! Don’t miss out on this exciting opportunity to unleash your creativity and take the first step towards turning your vision into a reality.

Disclaimer: the views posted on this website are my own and are not representative of BCG or any other entity.