For the January edition of Pancakes & Muesli we had the honour to welcome Jonathan Isenring, co-founder of HackZurich, one of the largest hackathons in Europe. What everybody wanted to know: How did he come up with the idea of starting a hackathon in Switzerland?


During his studies, Jonathan was active on the student council, where he gained his first experience in the start-up sector and finally got to know his co-founder for HackZurich. He spent part of his studies in the USA, where he had the opportunity to take part in local hackathons. Inspired by this idea, they got together to set up the first hackathon in Switzerland. Switzerland, and Zurich in particular, quickly proved to be a suitable location with a large pool of talent and enough potential partners. Over a weekend, more than 350 people from all over Europe came together for the first event to implement their ideas with like-minded people.

The 7 following key learnings ensured that HackZurich could be professionalized year after year and today attracts around 600 enthusiastic developers.

  • Budget: Think big and find a lot of partners! Because if the budget is not sufficient, they will be the ones who can cover a deficit. In the first year, the budget was calculated far too tightly and could only be kept positive with the help of sponsors. Get an expert opinion if you don't have the necessary know-how at the beginning.
  • Wi-Fi: A hackathon needs powerful Wi-Fi. This aspect was completely underestimated, and so the professional Wi-Fi equipment ultimately accounted for almost half of the planned budget. Better preparation in the second year helped reduce these costs.
  • Sponsored Food: The most obvious solution is not always the best. Sponsored food may help reduce purchasing costs, but it often involves additional logistical and organizational effort.
  • Waste: The resulting waste and its disposal are often forgotten. 600 people who work and live in a room for several days produce several tons of waste. In order to keep the working atmosphere productive, an efficient system must be found to deal with this problem.
  • Details: Watch out for details! For example, are Goodie Bags for 350 people a good idea e.g. if you're thinking about preparing them? The goodies can be distributed much more efficiently if the sponsors do this independently at their own stands. The attention to detail can help you to use a variety of unnecessarily consumed resources more sensibly elsewhere.
  • Think beyond the border: Advertise in foreign networks because many young and creative people are willing to travel for several hours to exchange ideas with like-minded people and develop a project together.
  • Old but gold: For HackZurich, Jonathan and his team have relied on proven marketing strategies. Instead of producing elaborate paid ads for social media for a lot of money, they asked universities in Europe whether they could advertise their event with an email or poster at their respective location. So never underestimate the power of traditional marketing, especially with a small budget.

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