The best events don’t always start with a business plan. Often, they start with a spark. Someone has a passion they want to share, and a great idea about how to share it. They’re moved to bring people together around a vision, so they make it happen — even with no event planning experience. And sometimes, the idea can be as simple as the desire to get people together to do some fun science projects together, as we learned from the founder of Science Hack Day.
Memories of school science fairs often evoke a sense of nostalgia. The act of applying lessons from a textbook sparked curiosity and wonder for the world around us. For some, the desire to explore fades away — but not for Ariel Waldman, global director of Science Hack Day.
Science Hack Day is a weekend event where people work to create a scientific prototype within 24 hours. The event invites people of all ages to reignite their curiosity, with graphic designers and school children working alongside astrophysicist and chemical engineers. And it all started with Waldman’s and her friend Jeremy Keith’s creative spark that soon grew into an event that takes place on all seven continents.
What first sparked the idea for your event?
Ariel: There’s been this wealth of open source science data that no one was utilizing. Especially in San Francisco, where I lived, there was a bustling science industry and creative minds in one place — but no real collaboration among them. Science Hack Day was born out of that frustration.
When did you know your event would be a success?
Ariel: When I saw how happy and joyful Science Hack Day participants and attendees were — which was at the first event I organized in San Francisco.
A lot of events focus on tangible outputs — for example, did a product or startup come out of the event? But for me and Science Hack Day, people are the awesome output – changing people’s relationship to science, or to how they can collaborate with others, and the friendships they build after the event.
What was your first big failure and what did you learn from it?
Ariel: I’m not sure if we’ve ever really had an epic failure, per se. But when I think back to the very first event, I definitely tried to over-organize it to the point that I lost sleep and stressed myself out.
I had never hosted a hackathon so I was nervous. But thankfully the first event went off without a hitch. I learned that people are really awesome, you just need faith in them to help you figure things out.
When was the moment you had to take the leap and go all in on your event?
Ariel: I’m definitely all in, but I’m not a full-time event planner. What I’ve learned to do, though, is give myself enough time to plan events while I juggle other projects. For the first event, I gave myself four months to get it all together, which meant I could work on it part-time intermixed with all of my other projects. Now, I give myself six to nine months to organize the event.
How has your business grown?
Ariel: After the success of our first event, I realized the event shouldn’t be just once a year in San Francisco. So, in the spirit of open source, I published a set of instructions that anyone could use to organize their own Science Hack Day.
As of today, there have been over 100 events in 30 countries across — I’m proud to say — all seven continents. The Science Hack Day in Antarctica was one of the smaller events, but it was certainly one of the coolest moments since the first event. Over there [at McMurdo Station in Antarctica], every hour of every day is precious to scientists because they’re doing research and they’re only down there for so long, so we were worried that we’d actually get people to show up. Luckily, we got some researchers and people from different disciplines to come.
Go back in time and give yourself a piece of advice about your event.
Ariel: Participants need time to figure out what they’re doing, but as long as they’re talking to one another it’s going to be okay. Your job is to facilitate those conversations and give people the space to do awesome stuff.
Oh, and another piece of advice: If you’re doing a free event, always double-book. Just because 100 people registered for your event, doesn’t mean 100 people will show up. Instead, aim for 200 registrants if you want 100 people to attend.
The science behind event success
No matter what type of event experience you want to create, the most important scientific component is passion. That’s certainly what drove Waldman to help turn Science Hack Day into the success it is today.
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