Living Off Hackathons: The Possible Rise Of The Pro-Hacker

Hackathon prize money keeps rising each year as organizations learn to take advantage of their value. Runner-up cash prizes are now in the thousands, and grand-prize payouts are as high as $1 million.

There is now a compelling argument for ambitious programmers to live off hackathons: They can forget the long-term slog of building a startup and instead focus on the fun part — the first few days of innovation.

Another motive to becoming a “pro” hacker is to find the perfect idea. Rather than marrying an idea without investor backing from the start, potential startup founders can attend hackathons until they win a big investment deal — essentially removing much of the risk of a startup. For example, Brian Clarke, a young entrepreneur, claims to have won more than $150,000 in cash-equivalent prizes, which are helping “fund his startup journey.” In one case, he claims to have won $5,000 for an app that took him four hours to build.