The Winner's Guide to Shipping Web3 Hackathon Ideas (2023)
Every blockchain is competing for developer talent and one of the best growth marketing strategies that blockchain projects use to encourage innovation is to organize web3 hackathons.
With Polygon offering $50,000 for the top project in its BUIDLit Hackathon and Solana offering $65,000 for the top project in their Solana Summer Camp event, there are many web3 hackathons for developers to showcase their skills and turn hackathon ideas into web3 startups.
Because every blockchain ecosystem has different development goals based on their roadmap, there is not a singular "best hackathon idea." Instead this article presents a framework for coming up with a great web3 hackathon idea. However, there are some common ares that need builders:
- Decentralized infrastructure
- Developer tooling
- Blockchain gaming
- Decentralized Finance (DeFi)
- DAO Tooling
- NFT Tooling
- Community Tooling
If you’re thinking about entering a blockchain hackathon soon, explore our web3 hackathon survival guide, and study this framework so you and your team can ship a minimum viable product that impresses the judges and increases your team’s chance at winning the top hackathon prizes.
How to Find the Best Web3 Hackathon Ideas
Here are the seven steps to finding the best web3 hackathon idea:
- Use the hackathon sponsor's latest web3 tools
- Build a web3 hackathon project you love while meeting the organizer’s goals
- Search Crypto Twitter for pain points and opportunities
- Focus on web3 building blocks and composability
- Understand the web3 hackathon judging criteria
- Focus on a niche rather than forking popular dApps
- Refine your pitch and hackathon submission
Let's explore each one!
1. Use the Hackathon Sponsor's Latest Web3 Tools
Blockchains and decentralized applications that sponsor web3 hackathons want developers to experiment with new tools and technologies to advance the ecosystem. For example, Polygon’s BUIDLit hackathon featured a specific track for projects focused on zero-knowledge tools, which is a new technology they’re prioritizing as is demonstrated by their goal to develop a zero knowledge EVM (zkEVM).
Typically during web3 hackathons, the sponsoring organizations will emphasize the tools, libraries, and resources that are made available to participating developers. It’s important to understand that blockchains are trying to create ecosystems in which people build on top of their technologies.
Through hackathons, organizations can encourage dozens or even hundreds of developers to become familiar with their new technology, which helps the protocol gain gain more traction. With better tools, blockchain developers can create better applications, which attract more users.
Organizers will typically share resources on their hackathon website, but Alchemy also offers a number of helpful web3 developer tools to accelerate your preparation and participation in your next web3 hackathon.
2. Build a Web3 Hackathon Idea You Love While Meeting the Organizer’s Goals
Whether you’re entering a hackathon as an individual or as part of a team, you’ll need to choose an idea to work on during the event. In some cases, the sponsoring organizations may even provide a list of potential web3 project ideas that they’ve sourced from their communities, which could make the process a lot easier.
If you don’t have a pre-made list of hackathon ideas to choose from, it’s important to understand the organizer’s priorities first. While your idea may be interesting, if it’s not well-aligned with the goals of the sponsoring entity, you may have little chance at winning any of the available prizes or bounties.
One strategy for coming up with a winning blockchain hackathon idea is to first come up with several potential ideas. Rather than entering with a specific concept, start with a brainstorming session without filtering your ideas.
Try using a digital whiteboard solution like Mural or Figma to ideate hackathon projects in each of the following categories:
- Problems from your personal experience using blockchain technologies
- The skills, strengths, and passions of your team members
- The organizers’ priorities
- New developments in the web3 space
- Social media discourse surrounding the technology
- Winning ideas from recent hackathons
Once you’ve brainstormed in all of these categories, then you and your team can look at your digital whiteboard to narrow down your options and choose a project idea that would be fun to build and meets the needs of the organizer.
3. Search Crypto Twitter for Pain Points and Opportunities
If you’re not already a power user of the platform that you’re going to be working with during the hackathon, you’ll want to spend some time understanding the nature of the ecosystem. Here are a few strategies for finding challenges that could make for interesting hackathon projects.
Web3 communities are constantly sharing their problems in public on Twitter, and their complaints can be useful if you follow the right crypto Twitter accounts. Accounts such as @punk6529 and @Zeneca_33 consistently share thoughts that might lead to valuable hackathon ideas.
While Twitter is great for sharing public opinions, serious conversations about web3 projects tend to happen in Discord. While the #general channel may be filled with unrelated conversations, channels that imply people are sharing ideas, asking questions, or in need of support can inspire a hackathon idea.
Channels like #suggestions or #developers will often contain more in-depth discussions where you can potentially find challenges or ideas for hackathon projects.
Forums on Stack Overflow, Stack Exchange, and self-hosted websites are a good place to search for new hackathon ideas. Forums collect a large, searchable collection of questions, ideas, and resources. Browsing forums can present pain points others have articulated which could serve as the starting point for coming up with a hackathon idea that wins.
Similar to forums, reading through the issues tab on popular GitHub repositories is another place to find conversations about fixes and improvements to specific tools, libraries, or smart contracts.
4. Search Engines
Once you’ve narrowed your focus for an idea down a little bit more, searching for similar projects on Google could be a fruitful way to find relevant concepts that other projects are trying. For example, searching for “zero-knowledge identity system” will provide you with projects and research articles that you could use to come up with an improvement on the current offerings.
If you're a new web3 developer, explore collections of educational web3 resources to find newsletters, influencers, and tutorials to spark ideas for winning hackathon ideas.
4. Focus on Web3 Building Blocks and Composability
Composability is a core value in every blockchain ecosystem, so the best hackathon ideas will allow for other developers to build on top of your work and integrate it into their projects. While Web2 consists of closed ecosystems that can cut off API access without warning, web3 is full of open and composable protocols.
Because blockchains are trying to create vibrant developer ecosystems, projects that help developers expand their use cases through a composable, fundamental web3 building block, you can advance the entire ecosystem's goals.
Furthermore, composability is sometimes listed as judging criteria, which can score your submission additional points.
5. Understand the Web3 Hackathon Judging Criteria
Typically organizers will engage a number of industry experts to judge hackathon submissions. Some hackathons will make it clear which judges are judging each track, whereas others will simply share the names of all judges who will be evaluating projects.
If you’re lucky enough to find out the specific judges who will be looking at projects in your track, then it’s worth spending some time becoming familiar with their backgrounds and points of view. Knowing what they value can help you tailor your solution and storytelling so it better resonates with the people who will be scoring your submission.
If you’re not sure who will be judging your project, then you’ll have to rely heavily on the posted judging criteria, which is usually easy to find on the hackathon website; for example, you can find the judging criteria for Solana Summer Camp Hackathon in their FAQ section.
Other competitions, like the hackathon at EthDenver, have general judging criteria for all projects and additional criteria depending on the track you compete in.
In addition to the posted criteria, get familiar with the organizer’s priorities. For example, Solana is heavily focused on mobile usability (e.g. Solana Mobile Stack) and payments (Solana Pay) at the moment. Mobile is one of the tracks in their hackathon, but it’s also a broader narrative they are investing in to onboard more users.
6. Focus on a Niche Rather than Forking Popular dApps
Since you only have a short period of time to build, try to focus on a concept that adds something new to the ecosystem. Popular projects like token exchanges, NFT marketplaces, and block explorers are common in nearly every blockchain ecosystem.
While there are potential improvements in all of these categories, it’s often better to launch a project that utilizes technology in a novel way and explores new potential applications rather than to offer minor improvements to what already exists.
One way to think about this is to focus on a specific niche.
Maybe some of your team members have extensive backgrounds online gaming, and narrowing your focus to build tooling for blockchain gaming ecosystems could make your project stand out as it is more grounded in the real needs of web3 gamers.
Certain web3 hackathons can also help you find a niche and will even encourage building in categories.
For example, EthDenver included a specific track called ColoradoJam for builders, using web3 technology to advance and reimagine the public infrastructure within the State of Colorado.
Most great ideas start with a very specific audience in mind. If you can build out a proof-of-concept in your niche and then articulate the potential for growth, your team can stand out in the eyes of the judges.
7. Refine Your Pitch and Hackathon Submission
Hackathons often cater to a technical audience, but at the end of the day, everyone wants concepts that add value to the lives of real people. Once a solution works as intended, spend some time focusing on refining your pitch and communicating your story.
Blockchain innovation can often sound abstract, so it’s helpful to ground your project in an example or two about how your project will concretely help people. Emphasize key value-adds, like how your project will help someone save time, money, or increase their earning potential.
Lastly, make sure you’ve nailed the important workflows to properly showcase the potential of your project and make a strong impression on the judges.
With massive prize pools, job opportunities, credits to use new platforms and potential seed funding for innovative ideas, participating in a web3 hackathon could be your entry to the lucrative field of blockchain development.
If you're looking to compete in a web3 hackathon and need reliable infrastructure, robust developer tooling, and a free blockchain developer platform to build dApps across popular blockchains like Ethereum, Polygon, Solana, Arbitrum, Optimism, and more, start building on Alchemy!