If you’ve been sitting on a brilliant business idea, but don’t know what to do with it - you may want to check out a series of events called Startup Weekend.
These events bring together budding entrepreneurs where they can learn how to take any idea and evolve into a viable business concept over 54 hours.
Almost 3,000 Startup Weekends have run across more than 150 countries around the world and each one is based on the same winning formula: building a team, an idea, learning from some the industry’s brightest minds and pitching your idea.
But a Startup Weekend is not a hackathon. It’s not an incubator. It’s not a conference. It brings together a community of learners and entrepreneurs to see how far they could take one idea in one weekend. The Startup Weekend website simply states: “You'll be immersed in the ideal environment for startup magic to happen”.
Each Startup Weekend has a different theme. There’s one running in New York this weekend (28th - 30th April) and it’s targeting travel and tourism technology.
We spoke to Roger Osorio, a global facilitator for Startup Weekend, to find out what New Yorkers can expect from this weekend’s event - and other upcoming Startup Weekends around the world.
What makes this weekend’s event different from other Startup Weekends?
We run the same agenda for every Startup Weekend - the only difference between each event is the context, which will be Travel Tech for this weekend. We also have another Startup Weekend planned in New York from the 19th - 21st May, which will cover Blockchain ideas.
We like to use the same recipe grounded in the lean startup methodology, so the experience at each and every Startup Weekend is essentially the same. There are minor differences depending on the location - but we’ve found a formula that works.
On day one, Friday, we get everyone together in the evening for dinner and some networking. You can choose a project to work on, pick which team you’d like to work with and do a quick one-minute pitch to try and sell your idea to everyone. There’s a quick vote and the most popular ideas are selected and will be worked on over the weekend.
On day two, Saturday, you’ll get to work with your team and develop your idea. Local mentors will be on hand to coach you through any problems you may be experiencing. There will also be the odd talk and occasional breaks, but this is where you really knuckle down.
On day three, Sunday, you get a five-minute slot to present the product or service you built to the crowd and a panel of experts. And we like to end with a bit of a celebration where you can talk to the judges and mingle with the mentors and other attendees.
What do your attendees get out of these events?
Many of our attendees will walk away with a great network of people. We gather the best expert mentors and industry all-stars in the city that can add a lot of value to the event.
The level of interactions you’ll experience will these mentors is exceptional. You’re not watching them present on a stage or trying to snatch a quick conversation at a busy conference, you can shake them by the hand. It’s a great level of access - you actually get to work with these experts and problem solve with them.
Other attendees turn up and want to kick their ideas around and get feedback from their peers and these expert mentors. It’s a great forum to talk through your ideas and find out what others think.
And some walk away from a Startup Weekend with a new potential business partner. These people may not even form a business based on the original idea they came to the event with - they make a valuable business connection and run with it.
For others, it’s a massive confidence boost. They walk into a Startup Weekend afraid to pitch and thinking they do not have much to offer - and by the end, they realise their potential and the potential of running a business.
I’d say all our attendees, no matter what they walk away with, would describe their Startup Weekend experience as ‘transformative’.
Do you need a killer business idea to come to a Startup Weekend?
Not at all. If you’re just interested in the concept of startups and entrepreneurship and want to find out more about the process of setting up - this is a great way to do this. Whether you’re a serial entrepreneur or new to the startup scene, it doesn’t matter. You just need to be motivated to build a product or startup and open to new ideas.
We get a range of backgrounds from our attendees too. Roughly 50% have a technical background (developers, coders, designers) and 50% are more business oriented (marketing, finance, law).
What’s your most memorable experience from a Startup Weekend?
There are so many - I’ve facilitated at roughly 30 around the world now. One that does stand out is an event in Paris last year. There was one team that was really stuck. They came up to me on the Saturday night at about 5 pm and had met with most of their mentors. But most of their mentors had told them that their idea would not work and to go back to the drawing board.
They thought they would have to start from scratch and were panicking. I told them to forget the mentors. Their idea was an on-demand alcohol delivery service - in French culture this sort of model could work nicely. One idea they had was that if and when a group who, for example, are having a picnic and run out of wine, they could provide a service where you ring up and bring the wine to the picnickers.
It was a lovely evening and I told them to go to a nearby park and offer this service to anyone having a picnic. To go and talk to people and offer to pop to the shop on their behalf, for a nominal fee. They thought I was crazy, but they did it. And they came back a couple of hours later in incredibly high spirits (and completely sober I’d like to add!) They were elated as they had found three customers and made a few Euros.
The really memorable moment for me is how empowered this team were by that experience. They knew that their idea wasn’t so bad and, more importantly, that they could make a business idea work.
Is empowerment one of the key drivers for the Startup Weekend?
The majority of attendees are brand new of the Startup Weekend concept. Many experience similar moments to the one I just outlined in Paris - they realise that there is potential for their idea in the wider world and from a business standpoint.
What advice would you give to someone attending a Startup Weekend for the first time?
I always tell them to do something that scares them. It’s a great environment to do this from. You (most likely) don’t know anyone at the event so it’s a safe place to make mistakes and learn from these mistakes. There’s no line manager there to fire you!
So, when you get that scared feeling in the pit of your stomach - go for it. If you’re scared of pitching, stand up and tell people about your idea. If you usually sit back and follow the crowd, tell your team if you disagree with the direction they’re going in.
The Startup Weekend was formulated to help anyone interested in starting a business to connect with people driven to build something new, discover where you are on the entrepreneur’s journey, learn what it’s like to start a company and, ultimately, form a startup.
We’re there to make things less scary and help potential entrepreneurs experience the highs, lows, fun, and pressure that make up life at a startup.