How We Won Hack|VT

This post describes how our team, Datamorphosis, won the HackVT hackathon, and the strategy we used to ensure that if we didn’t win, we’d at least be proud of what we built. Read on to find out how we formed our team, brainstormed an idea, researched and planned our application, executed during the event, which technologies we used, and how we presented our winning application: The Vermont Business Landscape.

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Forming a Team

Hackathons are not just about writing code. They are about solving a problem in the most succinct way possible, and effectively communicating the problem and solution in a remarkably short period of time. Having the right team is critical to accomplishing that goal. There are very few people in this world who alone can brainstorm an idea, aggregate complex data, build APIs, design a usable interface, and present their work in front of a judging audience. The rest of us are mere mortals. Forming a solid team is about understanding the strengths and weaknesses of each member, and how they will fit together.

Our Team:

Combined, our team was highly skilled in web design and development, data analysis, user experience, and communication; precisely the skills needed to succeed in a hackathon. Almost every member of our team had previously worked with another member at some point in the past. We understood each other’s strengths and weaknesses and knew exactly how each person could contribute. This allowed us to trust one another and stay focused on the tasks that we were most qualified for.

Brainstorming and Planning

When selecting our data set, there was one theme that seemed to resonate with our team: Incorporating data that was challenging to aggregate and analyze. The reason for this is that many successful business models are built around simplifying a tedious task. Our team believes in the value of small businesses to Vermont’s economy, and in doing research, we discovered that the state has a need for aggregating business data from disparate data sources. The Community & Economic Development Office receives frequent inquiries from prospective new business owners as to the health of various sectors throughout Vermont.

Once we had a vague idea that we wanted to build a tool to assist new business owners, we began to research and plan our application. Our team met a few times during the week leading up to the hackathon, and used Flowdock to discuss ideas (even when we were in the same room).

Here are a few of the areas that we researched:


Given the amount of upfront work we did, we were able to start the hackathon with confidence and direction. We knew who was doing what, and essentially hit the ground running. We made a couple mistakes along the way and had to pivot a few times, but overall we were able to stay focused on our goal and finish within the allotted time.

Datamorphosis team at work

What we learned:


In planning for the event, we anticipated having at least five minutes to present our idea. It turned out we only had three. Three minutes is not a lot of time for anything, let alone present a problem, solution and walk through a software demo. Every second is valuable and should be spent selling your idea to the judges.

presenting at HackVT

Here are some tips for nailing the presentation:

Technologies Used

Final Thoughts

Winning the hackathon means so much more to our team than the cash or prizes. HackVT was by far the most well organized Vermont event I have ever attended. Every last detail, from the quality of food to the mounted, decorative data sets, made the developers feel welcome and comfortable during our 24 hour stay. This event demonstrated the level of commitment that companies like MyWebGrocer and have made to Vermont, ensuring our state becomes a sustainable technology hub and attract talented individuals for years to come. Thank you to all the volunteers, sponsors, and participants who made it happen. See you again in 2013!

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