Kickstarting the month with an arguable dose of stress and caffeine saturated systems, the McHacks team is ready for the final rounds of hackathon prep.

With Hack Day right around the corner (less than 2 weeks away!) and an increased sense of urgency, the team no longer has time to waste. Hastily, they’ve been running intense scrum meetings every single night in a rush to close final sponsorships deals.

Earlier on, at Sharethebus HQ, I had an one-on-one with Ashique, also known as Mr. Finance and Sponsorship himself, who’s in charge of assiduously handling accounting, budgeting and generating leads while ensuring that the team hits their goals. During our discussion, we primarily chatted about the preliminary work that goes into securing these deals. During the following weeks, the team kept me looped in on their progress with sponsorships always being the topic du jour. Turns out, there’s a lot more grunt work involved than I had originally anticipated.

With fundraising playing such a paramount role in how the rest of the event pans out, we set out to discover how McHacks breaks down its sponsorship strategy.

Step 1 – Dressing up a list of potential sponsors

First thing first: figuring out who to reach out to. 

When asked who their preferred choice for sponsors are, the team exclaimed, tongue-in-cheek, “Everyone!” In all seriousness though, certain criteria did need to be met. The three basic ones are: companies that have sponsored other hackathons, companies that the team is interested in, and companies who are genuinely into tech. With that in mind, sponsors are selected based on:

Corporate culture and strong ethics

McHacks welcomes any kind of tech company that would like to work with them, but they also have to agree with how the company operates and carries itself. There have been a few instances where past sponsors sent reps who behave in reprimandable ways or broke certain rules. Lesson learnt: those are the companies that the team will tend to shy away from in the following years. 

These standards also extend to general ethics and company culture, or in other words, how the company treats its employees. To no one’s surprise, hackathon organizers talk amongst themselves, so this is the kind of information that travels around fast. If employees aren’t being treated well, then hackathon organizers sure as hell will not want them hiring from their hackers.

Company size

Though the bigger fish in the sea are without doubt tech giants like Google and Facebook, larger companies are actually less keen on sponsoring. They’re large enough to have a strong following, and don’t necessarily require help in attracting new talents. As for smaller ones, they’re more inclined to limit their spending and invest their money wisely. This leaves us with mid-sized companies. They’re usually the ones sponsoring hackathons because they’re not too big that everyone is already applying for their jobs and not too small that their budget is tight.

A common interest for technology

Aside from obvious tech-centric companies, McHacks will also be venturing into a new foray: established companies that are looking to expand their tech involvement. For instance, the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB) has started to get into algorithmic trading within their organization, so they’ve been doing a lot of hiring recently – a great selling point for hackathon organizers.

The key takeaway is that sponsors need to love hackers. If a sponsor is as excited about McHacks as the hackers are, then they’re the kind of people the team would like to have on board. Some companies have shown that they’re really passionate about hackathons through their discussions and hopefully those feelings will transpire at the event as well.

Once they’ve made a list of potential sponsors, the humdrum work can commence. Finding leads and actually getting a hold of them are two vastly different things. Sponsors are hard to find because even if they fit the profile (i.e. they genuinely love hackathons, have money and are looking to hire), they might still say no. This means the team needs to reach out to as many people as possible, which leads us to step two.

Step 2 – Courting new sponsors

Now that the team established which companies they want as sponsors, how do they go about actually finding leads and building their contact database?

There are three standout strategies at the moment: LinkedIn research, networking at job fairs, and cold emailing.

LinkedIn research

LinkedIn is the numero uno place where the team goes to scout for contacts. They start by spotting recruiters and engineers since they’d be the ones most interested in hackers resumes. From there on, all is fair game: the goal is to initiate that first contact by all means possible whether that be through email, phone, or even social media. If the search for HR and tech reps isn’t doing too well, reaching out to other departments like Marketing (they’re usually up for partnership proposals *wink*) or directly to the CEO of smaller companies can prove itself to be worthwhile.

Networking at job fairs

The team attends a lot of networking events and career fairs. While talking about themselves and handing out their own resumes, they try to slip in a few words about McHacks, get people’s emails and subtly drop hints at their sponsorship package. Getting in-person leads is where the team typically excels and have gotten a lot of success in the past. Speaking with someone face-to-face is generates a better outcome than communication by email or phone.

Cold emailing

Now, here comes the grittier part. Not the glitziest of realities to depict, but there are tons of hours and power sessions spent strictly on cold emailing. The team first aimed for larger companies but as they get closer and closer to the event, the focus changes towards smaller players such as startups. Most sponsors need to be contacted no later than by the end of December. Otherwise, taking into consideration all the follow-ups and subsequent negotiations, it’d be too late to get them on-board in time for February.

AngelList

Our own recommendation? Throw in your geolocation and search for startups on AngelList who have recently raised a round. They might have capital set aside for things like event sponsorships. Word of caution: it’s usually a hit-or-miss with startups. Even if they’ve recently raised money, they might remain a bit reluctant to sponsor hackathons. But not all that effort is lost. Reaching out to startups is definitely worth it especially when most of them are heavily focused on technology and can help you get the word out on your hackathon!

The team has to be armed with nothing less than patience and true grit to not be discouraged by the refusals, or the even more disheartening absence of replies. In other words, their cyclical work can be summed up to as: research, reach out, and repeat.

Step 3 – Presenting an awesome sponsorship package

Want to walk away with a partnership? This is the moment where you can truly make it happen.

If the company asks you to send over your sponsorship package, then you’ve definitely piqued their curiosity. This is your best shot at convincing them to work together. Make it worth their time by showing them what they can gain by partnering up with you.

By now, you should know what your sponsors are looking for, so make sure your package is targeted towards their needs by setting specific sponsorship tiers. In other words, present sponsors with what they get and at what price through the different package levels offered. Of course, these things differ depending on the company, but in general, hackathons will be looking for the following in exchange for funding:

  • Sending recruiters and engineers to the event as mentors
  • A chance to participate in the judging process and to vote for winning projects
  • Hackers’ resumes
  • Promotional opportunities like having their logo on the website or banners at the hackathon

Make the package nice to look at. That’s exactly what McHacks did when they hired Isabel Lee to redesign their brand image which includes a complete overhaul of their website and sponsorship package. 

Here’s a couple of sneak peeks at the redesign, but if you want to learn more, be sure to check out our interview with Isabel where we feature more of her work so you can get an idea of what direction the team went for (and it’s down the minimalist road, which gets a huge +1 from me).

Step 4 – Giving sponsors a bang for their buck

The team has recently announced that their fundraising efforts have come to an end, and that they’ve concluded negotiations. Now, the focus is shifting towards solidifying the relationship with their sponsors and making sure that they get the best value out of this. In other words, the team’s working on having their swag and tables ready for the sponsors’ arrival at McHacks, creating social media posts about their APIs, and keeping them in the loop with their event.

The team has landed all the sponsorship deals that they needed. The question now is, where does all this money go to? Venue, transportation and food – these are the three essential elements that hinge upon sponsorships. We’ll be going through what each entails, and what the team has finally decided to do for this year’s edition, so keep your eyes out for our next post!