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Innovation from the Ground Up: 24 Hours of Passion and Purpose

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Marc Pomerleau
Marc Pomerleau

Vice President, Global Strategy


How one team used the power of intention, innovation, and inspiration to bring an unlikely hackathon together

What happens when a group of corporate creatives, seasoned fabricators, budding engineers, hackers, and active dreamers put their heads and hands together in a warehouse equipped with supplies, materials, tools and more?

Ideas happen. Connections form. And sparks fly… literally and figuratively.

We’re talking about Buildathon, a decidedly un-corporate experience.

Like other hackathons that came before it, Buildathon was inspired by the maker movement and Maker Faire, which celebrates the passionate people behind the work. Emboldened with this and the Freeman design-thinking mindset, our small group proposed a big idea: Transform the largest Freeman fabrication facility in Dallas into an innovation lab.

We believed that by bringing together fabricators, makers, thinkers, and hackers, during a one-time, 24-hour creative incubator, we could inspire creative magic.

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An uphill trek

Armed with this out-of-the-box idea, our team moved quickly to go from dream-mode to preparation-mode. With less than three months to plan, a limited budget, and tight resources, we knew the stakes were high. But despite these hurdles, we believed in the idea too fiercely — making Buildathon a reality was the only option. So we got to work.

We had the equipment, materials, creative minds, and the perfect space. Next, we brought on enthusiastic and resourceful partners who shared our vision. Finally, we sought out and invited the right local attendees who were ready to tinker, hack, and build. Through this creative mashup, this determined group brought Buildathon to life. 

Blazing a trail

When planning any event, location is priority number one. Lucky for us, we had a local spot in mind – our own fabrication center! It’s not an event facility per se, but we saw opportunity beyond the surface. When not in use, we knew it could provide the perfect work space for a hackathon experience.

Once we had the location and teams in place, we made sure there were no creative constraints (other than a tight 24-hour schedule!) on attendees to allow for maximum ideation and flow. The main goal was to create an amazing experience that benefitted everyone, from event mentors and organizers to fabricators and attendees, who all participated to learn, create, and connect.

By providing access to equipment and materials at our facility, Buildathon offered two-tiered opportunities for participants: They could choose to create their own masterpieces or tackle some of our industry’s top challenges. Allowing participants a chance to problem-solve with fresh eyes and perspectives provided opportunities for our teams to learn as well.

This group effort inspired transformative experiences for all who participated and showcased how easily innovation can happen when you bring motivated and talented people together. Our team proved what’s possible when you believe in your project and every aspect of that intention is focused on creating an incredible attendee experience centered on inspired innovation with the attendee as the headliner.

Ready for your own hackathon experience? Whether it’s a maker-inspired event or an important meeting where collaboration is essential, learn from our experience. Here are four key takeaways and team member quotes to inspire your next planning session.

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1. Take intelligent risks.

The foundation and purpose of Buildathon was purely for the experience. We believed that creative collaboration would lead to new ideas, potential products, and meaningful connection. This idea was outside the status quo for our company, but we knew it was necessary to unleash creative thinkers in a new way. Shaking things up and taking risks leads to big rewards.

If you want to do something meaningful and swim in the deep end, there is only one way to do it — climb the high dive, sprint to the edge, and cannonball in. Being a part of this effort gave me a chance to quit talking about making a change and start being the change. — Tommy Leaf, VP Business Transformation 

This was an incredible event to collaborate and design for. I felt alive working on a rogue project, where the art is in the uniqueness of it being a live event — something that couldn’t be recreated with the same outcomes. We threw out rules and convention, allowing maximum creativity to thrive. Unencumbered by red tape, everyone felt empowered to deliver contributions to the Buildathon vision — that helped make it so successful. — Natalie Harrison, Senior Designer

2. Provide necessary tools and the right environment to collaborate and innovate.

Buildathon offered attendees a space filled with equipment, materials, and open area ripe for creation and collaboration. An open invitation stocked with all the necessary tools and ample space allows imaginations to run wild. Providing the tools and space upfront gives attendees freedom to focus on creative output, collaborative problem-solving, and relationship building.

It was a great networking event for attendees, sponsors, and the host — this type of experience forges a community. — Joachim Moeller, Director of Design Technology

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3. Develop engaging partnerships.

Partnering with local entities such as HackDFW and DallasMakerSpace and outside sponsors like RedBull and SMU made Buildathon possible. Because these incredible sponsors believed in the Buildathon idea and what it could become, they donated mentors, judges, speakers, equipment, and promotion support to create an unprecedented experience.

Forging the right partnerships makes the difference between a good and great event. This also means partnership on the team itself and celebrating all the expertise (and shared passion) everyone brought to the table to make the event go from dream to reality.

I was awed by the generosity and kindness of our partners. By the time we got through talking about what we wanted to accomplish, they asked, “How can we help?” They answered questions, gave advice and guidance, and became our biggest champions.  — Tommy Leaf, VP Business Transformation

4. Assemble an enthusiastic and motley crew.

When planning events, it’s common to collaborate with the same teams over and over. There’s certainly value in the congruency that builds through ongoing teamwork and shared expertise, but it’s also enlightening to mix things up with alternate perspectives, skillsets, and experience.

Integrating talent from across an organization allows you to think differently and see the work in a new way. Learning from each other behind the scenes makes for a better experience during every phase of the event.

The result would not have been as creative had the Buildathon leadership not hand-picked and combined people from different parts of the company, some who had never worked together before. — Natalie Harrison, Senior Designer

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5. Build trust and community with a shared sense of purpose.

In today’s world, our power lies in our ability to come together as diverse individuals to solve challenges. We believe when smart, talented people are motivated by a shared sense of purpose unimaginable greatness can happen. Collaboration leads to community at a hackathon or any event where likeminded people have the opportunity to work together on shared goals. 

It was wonderful to see disparate groups come together and learn from each other. For example, when the novice engineers watched the seasoned fabricators work, they were excited to learn and tackle new challenges. And the experts found new inspiration watching the novice minds at work — it helped them see new angles for old challenges. — Susan Bendily, Senior Director, Regional Design

Throughout its phases, Buildathon revealed the interconnectedness of humanity and working together to cultivate innovation. — Alfred Tinao, Executive Producer 

Buildathon was an event that centered on the attendee to create a fulfilling, meaningful experience like no other. By transforming our largest fabrication facility into an innovation lab, we promoted collaboration within the Dallas community of makers, budding creators, and engineers, mentored and learned from fresh perspectives, and introduced a new offering into our experience portfolio. When you step outside your standard operating procedure and take a risk, you often find the most rewarding (and fun!) experiences. 

Want more inspiration for your next event? Explore the Freeman Trend Lab website for ideas.

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