Photo of several young employees sitting at open table developing code on multiple monitors

Connecting Theory to Practice Through Hackathons

Some business schools are using hackathons to generate knowledge on topics relevant to their research priorities, as well as to connect with industry partners to solve business problems.

Hackathons are events where participants, often computer programmers, get together to work through challenges and experiment with new code. These hackathons can take place over several days and can produce both innovative ideas and lasting connections for those who participate. Some business schools are using this format as a way to generate knowledge on topics relevant to their own research priorities, as well as to connect with industry partners in creating actionable research insights for addressing challenges they face. The following are two such examples drawn from AACSB’s Innovations That Inspire collection.

Hackathons as a Research Method

SDA Bocconi, School of Management (Italy)

SDA Bocconi’s School of Management recognized the disruptive potential that emerging blockchain technology may present to organizations, especially intermediaries, and employed a hackathon-style method for gathering related data and knowledge across the Italian Notary ecosystem. The hackathon represented “phase 2” of a three-phased approach and consisted of 32 participants representing consulting organizations, blockchain-based startups, and digital transformation firms whose goal was to better understand how Italian notaries could better design business models that leveraged blockchain protocol. In the final phase, participants answered a questionnaire that helped identify business solutions based on the knowledge gained from the hackathon.

The hackathon methodology proved to be impactful in that it generated practice-oriented research that represented a wide variety of perspectives, in addition to shortening time to market. As the business school aims to bridge the gap between theory and practice, it discovered that hackathons were one way for understanding business needs and challenges and generating the types of research-informed results that can help impact organizational decision-making.

Hackathon Series ‘Digital Changemakers Summit’

University of Mannheim, Business School (Germany)

Students at the University of Mannheim’s Business School can participate in a biannual hackathon, called the Digital Changemakers Summit, with the goal of identifying digital solutions for social and environmental challenges. Twenty-eight students participated in the collaborative event, which incorporated design thinking. Student groups were mentored by practitioners and corporate partners, and software engineers provided support during the development process. At the end of the event, student teams presented their solution and business model canvas to a jury of experienced practitioners.

The Digital Changemakers Summit presents an interactive and engaging format for academics, students, and practitioners to create opportunities for further collaboration. The hackathon series also raises awareness about digital social innovation and its potential for promoting sustainable development and corporate social responsibility (CSR). The organizer of the event and chair of CSR at the University of Mannheim Business School is planning for subsequent events to focus on the varying topics outlined in the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals and to include partners from various groups, including large companies, startups, NGOs, think tanks, and politicians.

To learn more about the above innovations, please visit the Innovations That Inspire database located in DataDirect. There you can read the above submissions in their entirety, as well as search across all submissions of innovative and effective practices.

About Innovations That Inspire

Since its launch in 2016, Innovations That Inspire has collected 840 innovative practices across a variety of themes and areas within business education. For each challenge year, a selection of innovations is featured at the International Conference and Annual Meeting (ICAM). Further, current members have the ability to browse through all innovations using AACSB’s DataDirect database. AACSB continuously highlights submitted examples in publications, events, presentations, and in other media as examples of business schools doing innovative things that push the boundaries of business education.


Hanna McLeodHanna McLeod is senior manager of research at AACSB International, located in the Tampa, Florida, office.