Hacking Beyond the Hype: NEARCON's IRL Hackathon Recap

Maria Yarotska
Hackathon Coordinator, NEAR.

September 21, 2022

Hey builders! Maria from Pagoda's hackathon team here. NEARCON Beta was a blast, right? After a long, hot Portuguese Summer, it was a breath of fresh air – quite literally, as we’ve had the first rain after a 4-months drought. It was raining cats, dogs, and hackers, and I’m proud to say that it was my first flooded hackathon. We created memories that will last a lifetime, and, hopefully, some projects that will last at least to become unicorns.

The NEARCON IRL Hackathon was record breaking in terms of engagement:
+ $180k bounty pool

+ 750 applications

+ 500 active participants

+ 155 travel stipend applications

+ 98 submissions

+ 18 winners for main tracks and sponsored bounties

All in all, I think this hackathon was a success. And success is meant to be measured, so we’ll keep a close eye on our key metrics: the number of active devs and the survival rate of the projects. Metrics aside, I’m just incredibly proud of the work our hackers have done, both on the building and the pitching side of things: a line to the open mic was the longest I’ve seen in any of our hackathons. Ideas were spread, teammates were found, mentors were sought after despite everything mother nature and bull market brought on us. And I was so happy to be a part of this.


How We Made It

The secret sauce to a successful hackathon, in my opinion, is being present – as a host, as a mentor, and especially as an empathetic human being. From analyzing and approving each application to picking the bounty sponsors, we weren’t afraid of handholding and getting into details. 

NEARCON was a great opportunity for Pagoda to connect with the developers and provide much needed mentorship at the booth. We also partnered with members of the NEAR Foundation to provide JS Tactical Support – which meant we had a group of mentors mingling around at the Hacker’s Den throughout the hackathon. Instead of waiting for the participants to seek mentorship, we were proactive and available. According to our survey, 92% hackers received help from our mentors!

Another thing we definitely will keep practicing is meeting up before the hackathon. More than 100 participants joined the orientation to figure out the rules and judging criteria, dig into the bounties, meet the mentors and look for the teammates. Some of the winning teams either met or acquired an additional team member at the orientation. A line of people willing to pitch their idea at the open mic session was 30 people long, and all of the presenters managed to get the audience interested. Amazing how a couple of minutes in front of a mic might make or break the future of someone’s project – that’s why we provided plenty of pitching opportunities.

For the first time for our hackathons, one of the nominations was dedicated to the best presentations. Open mic sessions helped our hackers to warm up and prepare their best pitch for the Dragon’s Den with Marieke, Illia and Alex Shevchenko – take a look and see for yourself.


Who Won and Why

In addition to the top-3 and the Dragon’s Den, we’ve had a winner for each of the seven NEARCON tracks – Future of finance, Sustainability, Governance, Future of work, Web2 to Web3, Technical content and Creators.

We ended up with 98 incredibly diverse submissions with the most popular tracks being Future of finance and Creators. We got the lowest number of submissions for Technical content and Sustainability tracks, however the respective winners in these categories submitted some really impressive projects.

Judging was a challenge in and of itself not only because of the submission diversity, but also because each judge was looking for something different in their winning picks. To properly evaluate this amount of submissions in such a short time, we used two groups of judges:

  • Pagoda DevRel engineers who analyzed each project page, GitHub repo and project frontend evaluating technical excellence and uniqueness
  • Ecosystem judges including Illia himself and a number of seasoned Web3 experts evaluating quality of the idea, potential impact, design and project sustainability.

Each project was evaluated by at  least two of the judges based on five different criteria.

Each team was asked to prepare a demo (slides or video) and a project description for the judges to evaluate before diving into the depths of GitHub. While I’m convinced that the presentation is only 50% of the project’s success, it definitely matters – at the hackathon, at the pitching competition, and especially going forward with grant applications or acceleration. The earlier the team adds a bit of storytelling to engineering, the more likely they will make a great first impression.

Another feature we’re looking at is the project’s sustainability. The winning teams for this hackathon are ready for the next step in their journey throughout the ecosystem, the hackers are committed to keep building beyond the hype, and listen to their mentors’ feedback. Being listening and coachable is a very important aspect proving that the project is actually compatible with the ecosystem.

Some of the most important qualities of the winning project are technical implementation and progress made throughout the hackathon. I’m intentionally putting these two criteria together because we’re bound on providing equal opportunities for everyone to perform their best work – be it a blockchain newbie or a seasoned developer. The only way to deliver fair judging is to base it off of everyone’s progress at each facet of the project’s development.

See the full list of our winners, including the sponsored challenges, here.


What We Learned

We received tons of feedback from the community regarding the process, rules, and outline for this hackathon. We took some time to -other than celebrate- reflect on what could’ve gone differently, or what we can do to improve our upcoming hackathons so that they are a more enjoyable experience for everyone involved!

One of the main feedbacks was regarding the differentiation between the pitching competition, and its rules, and the hackathon tracks and its rules. Having these two different competition formats caused some confusions and frustrations (like these), which brought up valid points to the table. For example, why the judging criteria were different for these, and how that created a stark difference where some projects focused on presentation while others on technical functionality.

Another important feedback was oriented to the type of projects that could apply. Initially, any project could join the competition and in 48hs develop a brand new project or grow an existing idea with new features. However, we understand how judging these projects in joint tracks can cause projects in different states to compete with each other, as well as generate frustration to those who spurt up brand new concepts in 2 days time. We’ll avoid this in the future by keeping a clear separation of scopes (new vs expanded projects), and doubling down on clarity/control to ensure everyone has the fairest experience possible.

These are just some of the many notes we received - and we hear you! Our hackathons are and will always be open and iterative, so feel free to voice your concerns so that we can build better, bigger, and funner events for all builders on NEAR.


What’s Next? MetaBUILD

We’re launching an 8-week long hackathon, MetaBUILD and are inviting everyone who participated in the NEARCON hackathon to join as well. MetaBUILD now includes  an incubation program designed to create an educational environment for the newly created projects. We welcome everyone to apply and compete for one of the 33 bounties from the $1m pool.

For some teams, MetaBUILD might become the first step in their grant application or acceleration process, and our team will support them every step of the way. 

Submissions for MetaBUILD will open in a few days, and if you’re set on building beyond the hype, join us for a 8-week long journey from MVP to marketable product.

The future is NEAR!

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