A survey of top global companies by Innovation Leader found that 61% of big companies regularly team-up with suppliers, distributors, partners and franchisees to innovate. 58% work directly with customers and end-users to co-create new products and services. And 45% regularly co-design with start-ups. Those adopting these new ways of working are seeing some big benefits already. According to a report by Hitachi Europe, 51% of companies found that co-creation has improved their financial performance, and 54% say its has helped improve their social impact.

Hitachi’s vice president of industrial IoT solutions, Greg Kinsey, explains why, saying: “Customers are looking for a different type of relationship with their suppliers. They want shared innovation, shared development, and potentially even shared engagement and ownership of the outcome of the project.” And the big brands know it, with 49% of their report’s respondents saying they now work with consumers on a regular basis.

Hackathon events and co-creation initiatives are fast becoming embedded in the business strategies of household brands and leading global companies. But if the stats aren’t swaying you to consider taking a co-design approach to solve your business problems or transform the way you innovate, maybe some inspiring success stories will. Read on for insight into the top four ways the most innovative organisations are using hackathons and reaping real rewards.

1. Co-creation for the greater good

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Some of the most inspiring examples of how organisations are using hackathons are those that are innovating to create positive change and help those who need it most…

Improving people’s lives

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Take learning disability charity Mencap, for example. One in four of the 4,300 people with a learning disability that they work with presents challenging behaviour (emotional outbursts, violence and self-harming). Mencap recognised that this was because they found it difficult to express their wants and needs. What they needed was a solution to promote more positive behaviour. So, in July 2019, they hosted a hackathon in London, inviting developers to work on a brief to create a new positive behaviour support app.

Scott Markham, Head of Business Improvement at Mencap explained why the charity decided a hackathon was the right approach for the new initiative, saying: “The worst-case scenario was that we’d raise awareness around who Mencap is and what we do. The best case scenario was that we were going to see an app developed for us, one that we haven’t got at the moment, around Positive Behaviour Support, with the option to bring that app back into the business and really figure out whether it totally supports our needs, or needs to be adapted, and what we might learn from it.”

On the day of the hackathon, seven teams tackled the challenge of designing a PBS app, with the products they came up judged by representatives from software company Mendix and Mencap. Judging was based on how well they’d used the Mendix platform and understood the use case, how good their products looked and how well they functioned. The top three then presented to a team from Mencap and a winner was chosen. The winning team designed a people-focused app to enable carers to create plans, log incidents and show key performance indicators relating to improvements in behaviour. It was chosen as Mencap felt it really understood their need to maximise time spent with the people they support, not simply to offer an app as a tool. Markham recognises how hackathons accelerate opportunities to do better, saying: “Obviously, it’s a bit of fun on the day, but the main thing for us was to get some really good ideas and think about how we can take those back into our organisation and develop them further.”

Following the hackathon, Mencap will consult with PBS coaches and support workers to get their views on how the PBS app should work and how training should be given to users. Again, turning to a co-design approach to help hone their final product.

Powering a better planet

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From empowering people, to helping the planet… The National Grid’s vision to gather a power available signal from all operational wind farms on the grid is the catalyst for another hackathon event, hosted in partnership with The Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) Catapult, ScottishPower Renewables (SPR), and the Energy Technology Partnership. Power available is the electrical power that can be provided by a wind farm at any given instant and is influenced by the wind resource in that moment and the status of the assets, including any on-site curtailment. The idea is that having this data will improve efficiency and reduce the costs of running the entire national power system. The problem is that current measures of PA aren’t accurate enough to be used in operations. Which is why a hackathon is set to take place in October 2019 in a bid to find a solution.

Held at the Glasgow Science Centre, the two-day hackathon will see co-creation between UK-based small businesses, academics, students, consultancies and specialists from data-led sectors. The problem statement for the hackathon is: “Provide an accurate wind farm ‘power available’ measure using data that is already available at operational wind farms”.

Conaill Soraghan, data and digitalisation team leader at ORE Catapult, explained that the challenge of providing power available signals highlights that operating a wind farm doesn’t rely solely on engineering, but needs an array of skills, including data and digitalisation expertise. Soraghan said: “We are very excited about this event and are very much looking forward to seeing what innovative prototypes the participants will bring forward for ScottishPower’s consideration.”

ScottishPower are also quick to champion the hackathon approach, with senior asset performance analysis engineer, Tim Fletcher, saying: “ScottishPower Renewables are excited that the Hackathon will yield innovative data science solutions from experts across the industry to unlock additional value from data streams already available from our wind farms.”

At the time of writing, the hackathon is yet to take place, but ORE Catapult hopes that it will provide a reliable business case to offer ongoing support after the event, with the aim of developing a prototype solution for use in wind farm operations.

Protecting wildlife & preventing crime

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Beyond the UK, the U.S. Department of State and USAID has signed a grant with the Uganda Wildlife Conservation and Education Center (UWEC) to host Zoo hackathon in November 2019. Zoo hackathon is an established event that brings together developers, designers, project managers, and subject matter experts to create applications, systems, and tools to help reduce demand for trafficked wildlife products. The event is the product of the continued joint commitment by the U.S. and Uganda to combat wildlife crime, with Uganda being a key destination in the global, black market trade of illicit products. Criminal networks use it as a transit hub for products such as ivory, big cat bones and skins, and reptiles for the exotic pet trade.

The task set for the hackathon is to find a solution to reduce global demand for illicit wildlife products and disrupt wildlife trafficking value chains. And while the main event will take place in Entebbe, an additional 15 cities around the globe will take part simultaneously. The winning teams in each participating city will earn a local prize that will help them develop their technology solution, and they will also compete against other winners from each hosting city for a global prize.

2. Co-creation with customers

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Customer co-creation is a popular approach to a hackathon for most companies as the outcomes are mutually beneficial for the organisation and the end user. Following the inaugural State of Technology in Retail report which surveyed more than 200 product professionals from retailers and brands, it was revealed that understanding end-consumer preferences remains a top challenge for product teams.

  • 43% indicated their toughest challenge is understanding customer preferences.
  • 41% reported that the most critical challenge in retail today is acquiring and retaining customers.

The good news is that inviting customers to co-create is the solution to these very problems, and according to the same report, they’re ready and waiting to do exactly that. The State of Technology in Retail report also surveyed around 300 consumers, and saw major shifts in how customers want to communicate and transact with brands. The report clearly showed that collaboration, transparency and continuous dialogue are top of mind when assessing purchase options. It also highlighted that consumers value being engaged in the product-creation and go-to-market process, and that being part of the process would impact future purchase decisions and brand loyalty.

  • 75% said a brand asking them for feedback on future products or ideas would increase their likelihood to purchase from that brand.
  • 66% wished there were more opportunities to share feedback with their favourite brands.
  • 83% of millennial and Gen Z consumers surveyed said they were more likely to purchase from a brand that asked them for feedback.
  • 22% indicated that having a say in how or what products are made was a driver of loyalty to a brand.

While many brands still need to take the first steps towards a co-design approach, there are plenty of big brands paving the way for your inspiration. For example, traffic-busting app Waze provides accurate driving information through real-time inputs from drivers. Barclays Bank collaborated with consumers and found a new group of payment app users: parents wanting to transfer funds to their minor children. And Heineken engaged with clubbing fans from Tokyo, Milan, Sao Paulo and New York to co-create the Nightclub of the Future project, designed to alleviate clubbers’ frustration such as long bar queues. But let’s take a closer look at Nike and Coca-Cola…

Design your own sportwear

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You might be familiar with Nike’s personalisation service, Nike ID. While the service clearly invited customers to put their own stamp on designs, Nike has recently rebranded the concept to Nike By You, and is now positioning it as more of a co-creation service.

Daniel Edmundson, strategy director at Gretel, the creative agency behind the co-creation concept, explained the evolution of the service, saying: “Nike’s audience craves creative input and the chance to be heard, and Nike needed a pivot not only in how they spoke about customised experiences, but also what the entire offering meant across the brand, inside and out. With this launch Nike is celebrating individuality, the value of being unique and standing out from the crowd.”

Speaking about the decision to rebrand to Nike By You, and the strategy behind repositioning Nike as a service as much as a product, Edmundson said: “We needed to figure out a way to re-orientate the brand around co-creation, delivering something that is recognisably Nike, can stand out within Nike environments and flex across endless, unique applications.”

Ensuring an authentic taste

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The incredible success of the Coca-Cola brand would make it easy for them to assume they know best when it comes to creating a world-class product, but even industry giants are turning to customers for insight, ideas and approval. And their most recent customer co-design session was held to ensure its product innovation strategy reflected the true tastes of Southeast Asia.

Andrea Bracho Poirier, manager of marketing and commercial insights at Coca-Cola in South East Asia, said: “It becomes harder and harder and harder to connect to people and understand what they need. It forces you to disrupt, it forces you to push boundaries, to be on the lookout for going to mass market faster, and qualifying things in smarter ways.”

The session took place in a local café, but all that has been uncovered about the day is that Coke’s R&D team provided a kit of things for real consumers to play with while they experienced the products. Poirier explained that the journey of creating a product that really suited consumer needs has been gratifying so far, describing the session as “true co-creation in the true sense of the word.” At the time of writing, more about the day and the outcome of the co-creation event has yet to be revealed. Watch this space…

The reality is that companies can no longer get away with creating a brand perception. Customers and end users demand access to everything they want to know about a brand; how the organisation works, what it stands for, and how it creates value for their employees, suppliers and buyers. While this puts additional pressure on companies to adapt to ways of working they might not be as comfortable with, the benefits can be huge. Involving customers in business developments keeps you relevant and keeps you from wasting time money and resource on ideas that will fail when they reach the intended audience. Plus, involvement with brands builds trust and loyalty, and creates a pool of people ready and willing to champion your brand.

3. B2B co-creation for B2C

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While customer co-creation is yet to be embraced as a main strategy driver by many companies, collaboration between brands have been recognised as a strong development tool for some time. Some of the most recent success stories of brands co-creating to bring new and exciting products and services to customers include Netflix, Uber, Amazon and Chrysler.

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Netflix’s offering and market share is going from strength to strength following an array of collaborations with studios, directors and actors, and media start-ups, to create an endless stream of quality content for its customers. While Uber began by providing more convenient and accessible taxi services, they’ve broadened their model, and are now disrupting other industries such as couriers and food delivery. Procter & Gamble and Amazon’s collaboration saw the launch of the Dash Button, a Wi-Fi device for one-click product shipping. And the race to produce a car of the future sees Fiat Chrysler, Google and Samsung joining forces to provide music and video innovation, to facilitate car-sharing and enhance self-driving capabilities.

But it’s not only established brands that are recognising the opportunities and benefits business-to-business collaborations bring…

4. Co-creation with start-ups

people inside Startupday room

For some time now, leading medical device company Johnson & Johnson has been co-creating with start-ups in a bid to develop pioneering solutions to improve patients’ lives. Their co-creation efforts exist in the form of “JLABS” which sit within its R&D centers all over the globe. JLABS has rented space to over 450 start-ups and invested in about 25% of them. One of Johnson & Johnson’s most notable investments was in a start-up that makes customised 3D-printed implants for patients with gaps between bones due to trauma or surgery. These patients could face losing limbs, but this revolutionary implant could act as a substrate, allowing the bones to grow together and heal the fracture.

Organisations like IBM and Sequoia Capital often host hackathons that invite hundreds of start-ups to develop future applications and showcase them to investors. Events like these give start-ups a stage to showcase what they have to offer, and the chance to propel their growth. And it gives forward-thinking organisations access to untapped and highly driven talent.

The case for co-creation

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Which co-creation approaches will work for your business depends on your industry and objectives. But regardless of how you choose to continue to transform your organisation, co-creation helps to prevent you from getting caught up in new technologies that become available, blindly implementing them and hoping for the desired outcomes. Instead, co-creation ensures that everything you do serves the needs and wants of both your company, your partners and suppliers, and your end users.

Interested to learn more about how co-creation events could support your innovation program? Get in touch at [email protected] and we will connect you to an experienced facilitator.


1 https://www.innovationleader.com/research-reports/co-creation-and-ecosystem-development/952.article

2 http://www.hitachi.eu/sites/default/files/fields/document/sib/whitepapers/cocreatingthefuture-web-updated_17_oct.pdf

3 https://sustainablebrands.com/read/collaboration-cocreation/report-66-of-consumers-want-influence-in-product-creation-process