Hackathon pitch – how to hack the pitch and win hackathon

the teams winning hackathon
BreakAphasia.com team in session during the MIT Hacking Medicine hackathon in Belgrade

Here is a fine selection of 11 hacks to help you create a winning pitch presentation for hackathon.

These tips came from the workshop I held at the first MIT Hacking Medicine  hackathon in Belgrade, in January 2017. Please note – these have also proven themselves to be very useful for other pitching competition, as well.

Fit the hackathon pitch story in the TIME SLOT

Write the full story as if you were telling it in writing, and fit it into the time slot. Although it looks like a horror plot – 3 or 4 minutes is more than enough. When you repeat it 10 times before the pitch, it will be like a song – one part will naturally follow another. Do not lose yourself in long descriptions, the story that clearly covers WHY, WHAT, HOW and WOW will impress hackathon audience/jury.

Tell a RELEVANT story

The more personal, the better. One of the winner teams – Mobizepam had the psychologist tell her personal experience with anxiety that strikes when she was on stage presenting. Then came the important twist that explained the entire concept. She said: ‘Luckily I am a therapist and I know how to cope with anxiety attacks because I have learnt what I need to do to eliminate the drama and calm myself’. After that, the mobile app that teaches you skills and tricks to rewire your brain and heart was a no-brainer to comprehend.

Utilize JOKES.

She was also using anxiety jokes as a contrast – anxiety seems funny, but people end up never leaving the house, and that brilliantly illustrated how serious this situation is. A great name and design also helped the pitch immensely.

Hackathon winner: the WHY, WHAT, HOW and WOW 

The Why of your pitch is like a mission statement – say why your product is important, why it solves the problem and it can change *the world, or someone’s world. What is reserved for the solution, described by its strong points. How is how you will do it and who will be doing it. And the Wow has to do with all the amazing things regarding the prospect of your solution on the market and its categories (your market that you have researched).

SHORTNESS and Improvisation 

Use maximum 2 slides for the product-solution. Have a big headline for every slide. Fit into the time slot and be ready to improvise if something stops working (clicker, slides or video…) be ready to tell the story no matter what. That is also why you need to have it practiced and kept in the good flow.


Are you an expert* or is it someone from your team? Show it clearly. When the problem is from your domain, you will be more trustworthy, confident in presenting it and will be ready to answer any questions from the field. If the person is in the team, think of using their story as the main pitch story. The team creating a panic button for Hypoglycemia (Candy button) had a designer with the exact health issue on the team – and they told her story on why hypoglycemia is so dangerous and why she is the first one to support their project on Kickstarter.

Hack the DESIGN, too

The slides have to look good. And what I mean by it – have them clear, align the text, choose a font that is very visible and, if there is no designer around, or no time for the slide design, use the Google Slides template or Keynote/Powerpoint templates.

Have maximum three points per slide, and avoid long paragraphs. If you have 2 photos on the slide, overwhelming each other, make two slides. The BreakAphasia team had a really clear, suggestive design (the design was also *broken in a way to suggest a speech disorder problem) and it helped format their winning story.

LESS is more. Less is also BRAVE

One of the winners of the hackathon had only two slides. But their story was so hilarious that it just flew out of the window. The team behind the GlutenTag had a really simple app that helps you with a serious condition – Gluten Intolerance. It tracked the causes of the terrible stomach problems (a.k.a – explosive diarrhea … and here is where the audience just cracked up) by asking you just two things – when have you eaten and when did you go to toilet. Instead of a long diary and boring inputs, you choose (this was an absolute winner) a type of poop you have just experienced! Through the crazy audience laughter the presenter stayed calm and serious like a Brit, which made it even more funny. The innovation was also the funnies part- from the poop type – the app calculates the time of digestion, together with meals you had and their location… and it learns about you. A great way to present the story and win this hackathon.


It shows that you are capable of delivering! This says a lot about the team and the determination to make the thing happen. Decide on the size and features of the *possible prototype (that can be done in 48 hours) and make it. After your presentation, ask the jury if they would like to see the prototype and then go around with the device and show them. If there is time and you have managed to rehearse it, ofcourse, you can also present the solution via the working prototype. This is going to prolong your pitch, so make sure you ask the organizers about it.

BUSINESS model is needed for a hackathon, too

Have it figured out. If it is a fund, state which one and how will you apply. Applied before and got funding – state it as well. If it is the company you work for, then get their official approval, if the governmental body will help, state which one. Do not forget Kickstarter, niche advertising or other ways of funding.

VIDEO and audio

Generally, they are best to be avoided if you aren’t sure about the equipment in the space, because usually something goes wrong and either sound or video are suddenly not available. If you must use audio or video, be ready to improvise. The team fighting asthma had to literally show the whizzing in front of the audience: *the presenter whizzed into the mic since the audio recording failed.

Have any questions for me regarding your hackathon pitch? Please do not hesitate to ask.

Let’s create better pitches.

Yours truly, PitchBitch

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