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What is Startup Weekend?
Startup Weekend is a 501c(3) non-profit organization based in Seattle, WA, on a mission to promote entrepreneurship around the world. Our weapon of choice in this quest is 54-hour workshop-competitions that vividly demonstrate how much of a business can be accomplished in just a weekend. This includes polishing the problem statement, building a prototype (fake it until you can make it), finding some potential customers to validate your idea, and creating a presentation about it all. Our typical event begins early Friday evening with a diverse group of industry experts, creative professionals, engineers, and business hustlers convening at the designated location over some (gourmet) pizza. An hour or so into the mingling, the organizers break up the feast to begin the Startup Weekend kick-off ceremony, which consists of an overview of the upcoming work and some brief inspirational speeches from experienced entrepreneurs. The moment the speakers are done, the floor opens up to 60-second idea pitches that are timed very strictly. It’s common to have as many as 70 pitches in a 100-person event but only 15 or so of them will capture enough eager minds to form a team. Some ideas are so alluring that the authors can really pick the best people to build them, while others may struggle finding the right talent. And sometimes a talented person can’t decide which team to join. Fear not! The facilitators will help you find the talent or the team that fits you as much as possible. As soon as your team is assembled, you’re free to start working. Mentors often come on Friday night so if the person with the right expertise is available, you can ask for help right away. If the venue is available until at least midnight, the newly formed teams usually get started immediately. Otherwise, they go to the nearest watering hole to bond and strategize the game plan for the rest of the weekend. Saturday starts at 8 or 9 a.m. with a hearty breakfast and hot coffee. At this point, all teams should know the direction of their work and have some idea of what help they would need from the mentors who begin arriving around 10 a.m. The facilitators do a quick check-in with each team separately to get their names, contact info, and any special needs or requests. Other than that, the teams should be doing something until the lunch. The lunch on Saturday is often accompanied by several presentations by world-class experts on topics related to product development and startup company management. The speakers and topics vary between events depending on people’s availability and the organizers’ wishes. After food pit-stop, it’s more work independently and with mentors until the last man collapses with some breaks for dinner. Some hosting venues allow late-night access whiles others must close early, which could mean another night of working at a bar, coffeehouse, or other impromptu space. On Sunday morning things suddenly speed up beyond belief. Teams realize they have barely 8 hours to complete their business model, prototype, and presentation. There’s little time for idle talk or food and that’s where true teamwork emerges. The organizers will announce the order of presentations shortly after lunch on Sunday so you have enough time to prepare your presentation and motivate the teammates responsible for the prototype. Depending on the number of teams, the closing ceremonies may begin as early as 5 p.m. of Sunday. The program of the demo night is simple:
- a quick overview of what has happened since Friday night for those who didn’t realize 2 days have passed;
- 5-10 minute presentations of the completed projects (order is decided randomly; exact time allowance is determined by the number of teams) followed by 3-5 minutes of questions by the judges;
- mildly entertaining activities by the wannabe emcees, aka the organizers, while the judges are painfully deliberating on which team gets to be called the event winner;
- a speech by a high-profile guest or a judge;
- acknowledgements of sponsors, hosts, and volunteers;
- the announcement of winners and the awards ceremony.
At this point, everyone goes through their catharsis and is ready for more food and networking (and maybe even some partying). When you come to your senses on Monday morning (or evening, you party animal!), you’ll be amazed with the people you’ve met, the knowledge you’ve received, the experience you’ve gained, the comfort zones you’ve left, and what you’ve accomplished in some 54-hours you’ve spent among the most innovative and risk-taking people in your city.