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How to win the ultimate hackathon?

Finland celebrates its 100th birthday with the ultimate innovation competition Ratkaisu100. As the application deadline is approaching, we asked for advice from specialists on how should one approach a “hackathon” which lasts seven months and has a 1-million-euro prize pool.

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The organisers at Sitra have set some ground rules.  Any team of 3-5 people offering a solution for ‘the better use of everyone’s skills’ can sign up by 13 February. The long hackathon is more like an incubation programme than the classical hackathon, so most classical startup advice applies.


“It’s about the team, the team and the team,” says Ott Sarv, who has mentored at many hackathons. “The leader of the team should have previous experience, and preferably has also failed before.”

One can approach this as an additional driver for their young business. “If the team is working on something in this field they can get an additional boost from this,” said Paolo Borella, who runs Vertical accelerator in Helsinki.

Let’s be fair; you can get a lot by just qualifying for the competition as the teams will be assisted in developing a practical solution, which will also be tested in real-life, and developed further during a piloting stage.

The long competition is not only about the product – it could match you also with a perfect advisor or investor. “It is about widening your network and getting to know the field. This can usually be done even in a short 24-hour hackathon. When you have access to the right people for seven months and they basically ‘have to’ help you, that is something you should use to the full. Think about how this sort of access can help your startup or an idea and use it to the max once you are in,” said Dmitri Sarle, who has attended several hackathons and organised them as CEO of ArcticStartup.

The organisers have put down some rules — like the solution must create a model that enables better recognition and/or use of qualifications, skills and competencies of people — which mean that most likely many ideas which are offered fall into categories of EdTech and HR.


The solution must be significant, and it must have a broad-based societal impact. The winning solution should also be innovative and new. It approaches the societal problem from a new point of view and provides something that has not been provided by previous solutions.

The solution must also work in the long term. It must be based on a profitable business model or another funding model to guarantee its sustainability.

Signwise Services’ founder Ott Sarv says the decisive factor is a combination of team, focus, and capital.  “These are the things you should think about if you want to build the next Google or Alibaba,” Sarv said, adding winning the competition would be like a good pre-seed round for any early stage team.

The Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra has launched a challenge prize to tackle challenges related to the recognition of competences and their better utilisation.

Ratkaisu 100 Challenge’s call for applications is now open. Come up with a good idea, put your team together and apply by 16:00 Finnish time Feb 13.

Photos from hackathons, by Tarmo Virki and Maido Parv

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Tarmo Virki
Tarmo Virki
Hi its Tarmo here!

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