5 companies using hackathons to drive innovation

Every week, we bring you the FreshMinds Friday picks – ideas to help you make the most of digital technologies and understand how they are helping brands to grow and innovate. This week we examine five companies, including Hasbro, Tesco and Unilever, that are using hackathons to foster innovation.

Retail Week

As part of its Technology and E-commerce Summit, Retail Week held a 24-hour hackathon with the aim of ‘creating the ultimate customer experience’. 10 teams, made up of start-ups and established brands, such as Tesco Labs, competed for the honour of being crowned on stage at the summit. The winning hack addressed the issue of basket abandonment by linking online shopper behaviour with iBeacon technology in store. The idea, conceived by Dutch company Kega Retail, would mean if an item is abandoned in an online basket, the next time that customer is passing the retailer’s physical store, they would receive a message to their mobile via iBeacon with promotions prompting them to invest, hopefully resulting in sales conversions for the company in question.


Coming at the end of October, Hasbro is running a 24-hour invite-only hackathon for designers. They’re looking for teams to develop new games ideas that fit into one of three categories – off the board gaming, games for girls and digital / physical gaming. Hackers will have free reign to hack, code, tinker and pull apart products. And although Hasbro will retain the right to first refusal, all the intellectual property is owned by the hacker incentivising those with the most innovative ideas to engage with the event.


Unilever has a bit of a reputation of using hackathons to drive innovation. In August, Unilever invited teams to help develop new ideas to influence purchasing decisions and this October they are reviving the format to look at how to use data to influence consumers to live their lives in a more sustainable manner. Unilever will be opening the doors to its data vaults and giving access to participating start-ups at this year’s Ad:tech London Future Media & Technology Summit. The winning team for this October’s hackathon will receive £30,000 and a partnership with the global FMCG brand.


Not to be left out of the action, Tesco has run a number of hackathons. The most recent brought together web developers, marketers, designers and entrepreneurs for a 48-hour hackathon with the aim of improving health for the long term as part of the group’s longer term campaign on obesity. Similar to the Unilever event planned for October, Tesco handed over their customers’ (anonymised) data and gave event participants the opportunity to explore digital possibilities on how they can change behaviour. The winning entry, an interactive barcode scanning app called Barcode Monsters, encourages kids to lead healthier lifestyles by making them aware of the nutritional content of products in store.

CaixaBank and Global Payments

It’s not just FMCG companies that are using hackathons. Financial services companies are getting in on the act too. Spanish Bank, CaixaBank, and Global Payments are collaborating to stage a 24-hour wearable financial app hackathon at the end of October. The hackathon, which will run simultaneously in Barcelona and Atlanta, will bring together developers, designers, programmers and creatives to design payments apps for wearable devices, thereby helping these companies tap into this emerging trend.