How To / Leadership

Hosting a Hackathon in Cafes

This past weekend we hosted a group of Portlanders participating in ProductHunt’s first global hackathon. No, we don’t have a dedicated office—we used to find a great location and organize the event in 3 days.

The opportunity sprang up late (thanks to a post on PDX Startups Switchboard by Meet the Founder’s founder, Kevin Bastien) so we started organizing the same week of the event. Two of those days we were in Seattle for Startup Week, so we were was also limited on the amount of time we had to organize. I started our hunt by calling two, local coworking spaces. They were incredibly helpful, though we ultimately couldn’t arrange a “drop-in” event on such short notice. Had one of us been a monthly member and had weekend access, it’s more likely we could have pulled it off. However, both places also required a rental fee and we couldn’t work out a sponsorship deal in our short amount of time.

So we moved onto looking at the more popular cafes we’ve worked from in our weekly meetups and began filtering on my list of criteria:

  1. large group space and ability to break into smaller groups
  2. reliable WiFi
  3. a variety of food and drink options
  4. a variety of seating for folks who can’t sit in one chair all day
  5. open later on Saturday
  6. free parking, bike parking and accessible from metro transit

This led us to Ford Food & Drink. They allowed us to make a free reservation for their large, group table set in the back of their space. I initially thought we’d only be there for 4-6 hours before folks wanted to migrate, but most of us stayed until closing—between 9-10pm. (I checked in with the staff at mid-day to get a sense if we were welcome to stay and they were very supportive of us staying on.)

Their back space was perfect, as we were able to have a home base that was out of the way of the transient traffic staying for brunch, lunch, snacks, coffee and happy hour. We ran a tab, making it easy for our group to stay fueled and save the establishment on individual credit card fees. At the end of the night when we closed our tab, we saw that we spent as much on everyone’s food and drink as we would have renting a space — so our budget was happy. For folks who didn’t want to stop at 10pm, they could walk a few blocks to Southeast Grind, Portland’s only 24hour coffee shop.

We all agreed to meet back up at Bare Bones cafe the following morning to regroup and submit our team projects. We picked Bare Bones for its brunch, access to power, reliable WiFi, free parking and central location. After some food, coffee and a round of mimosas for all, we found once again that the money we spent was on par with what we’d have had to spend on renting a dedicated space.

One of my personal highlights of hosting the hackathon in cafes was the poetry reading I got to code through. It was a lovely change of pace from the sound of typing and a great shift in energy as the space filled up with folks sharing their passions, ideas and stories. Creativity is contagious — a lovely benefit to sharing spaces.

Check out what the teams all made!

View more photos shared in our Facebook group.

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