by Niall Heath
In the summer of 2018, I took a leap of faith and signed up for my first hackathon – little did I know the impact it would have on me and my career. The program, called the Formathon, is the largest Canadian fintech competition of its kind.
I had recently returned to my studies after a long hiatus, but found that I was missing something outside the realms of academia. Books and lectures were great resources, but I had an itch to explore entrepreneurship. Since I entered the competition without a specific idea to work on, the real industry challenges sponsored by corporates was a key selling point for me.
On the first day, I stepped into the event space with trepidation. So many people were gathered, grouped and engaged in animated discussions. Pens, paper, stickies were everywhere; an explosion of colours and a flurry of activity. You could feel the energy.
After some fun ice breaking activities, I joined forces with two others at the session to work on an HR related challenge presented by BNP Paribas.
Together, our newly formed team worked 20-30 hours a week to hack out a solution that would improve the recruiting process of the bank.
Every Wednesday and Saturday we would meet with internal innovators from the bank to help us refine and test our prototypes. Between intermittent Red Bulls and shawarmas, we planned out our project plan on walls, interviewed potential users, connected with industry experts and created mockups.
We managed to win that challenge in 2018, and went on to participate in a Startup Fest hackathon that summer, as well as another open-innovation challenge, the Cooperathon.
The Formathon launched my journey into the startup ecosystem, and introduced me to the fintech world. Two years later, I am working with Fintech Cadence and playing my role in helping the new batch of keen entrepreneurs enter the world of fintech.
Here are my 3 key takeaways for any participant joining the Formathon.
It’s okay to step outside your comfort zone: Be engaged, collaborate together and learn the most you can from the mentors. No matter what your skill-set is, the FC team makes it easy to meet other people. Try to speak to as many participants as possible – you want to build a good team with people you get along with.
Work hard – but don’t put so much pressure on yourself. It was a lot of work, and It’s a competition, but remember to have fun too in this unique experience.
Final pitch presentation: You can do the research and build the best next solution – but you have to learn to present it well – That’s the art of pitching. Take the time to practice and try not to compare yourself so much to the other teams…though easier said than done! For us, everything was a blur during the demo day, and we thought for sure the other team did a better presentation. In the end we succeeded because of how we pitched and positioned ourselves well to respond to the challenge.
I encourage you to be part of the Formathon this year, starting May 28th. Now more than ever, we need a variety of skilled minds to think of innovative solutions in fintech. Help startups and companies solve their challenges!