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A guest blog from Portland Startup Weekend organizer and past participant Shelby Miller.

Shelby

When I first applied for Startup Weekend, I had no clue what to expect. I was simply told to attend because I would learn a lot. I was a little nervous, but reflecting upon my first Startup Weekend experience, it was easily one of the best activities I’ve ever attended. Startup Weekend is a fun, challenging, and engaging activity that allows anyone to apply their skills to an innovative entrepreneurial project. To make sure you get the most out of Startup Weekend, I’m going to tell you a bit about the Startup Weekend format and share a few insights I have that will help you make the most out of your Startup Weekend experience.

Startup Weekend starts with a networking opportunity. For an hour or two, attendees walk around talking with one another, exchanging business cards, and refining their pitches. If one is looking to network, now is the time to do it. If one is looking to hone their pitches and get people’s feedback, now is the time to do it. If you’re just wanting to have fun and drink beer, now is the time to do it. This is the only time you’ll feel relaxed, so go meet people, drink beer, and get yourself ready to find an idea that intrigues you and some talented people that can help make an idea a reality.

Following the networking event is a speech by none other than a guest speaker. My speaker was Nat Parker, founder of Globe Sherpa, and he shared his founding experience. Nat shared his biggest challenges, tips on how he overcame them, and ideas that really helped keep his business stable. These insights certainly set the tune for the rest of the event and really give people something to think about when building out their ideas. People should be ready to pivot as they learn new information, and the speaker sets the tone for how you should build and pivot your idea to make the perfect product and business.

Following the speaker is the round of pitching. In a room of 150 people, 60 people got up to share their ideas in less than a minute. While some ideas resonated with me more than others, they all were good ideas. A good idea has a solution to a pain point. It is the speaker’s job to share their story and the pain points they have in a way that makes us all feel similarly. If you want to succeed in your pitch, you need to bring the audience along and engage them. Tell us how you encountered your pain point, what sort of solution you envisioned, and how your idea is going to make my life better in more ways than one. While there are multiple ways to engage an audience, I’d highly recommend sticking to this format as it’s the most successful at gaining audience engagement and support. I do remember clearly that one individual tried to engage the audience by taking off their shirt, but upon reflection, I have no memory of what their idea was. In hindsight it was probably a pretty poor idea. While they certainly did engage the audience, their idea failed to resonate with me.

After everyone who wants to pitch does, all attendees are given three stickers. Imagine these as golden tickets, for the best ideas will be selected by which ones have the most stickers. You can give all your stickers to one idea, or you can divvy them up between multiple groups. The decision is yours, but be sure to introduce yourself to the individual who you give your star too and make sure they know what your strengths and talents are. If their idea is chosen, you’re going to want to make sure you have a foot in the door with their team (although to be honest, the environment at Startup Weekend lets you join any team you want).

Once all the stickers have been given out, the top 10-13 ideas with the most stickers are selected as the contestants. From there, Startup Weekend attendees form groups and begin planning and building their ideas. When planning your idea, keep in mind that change will happen, so don’t spend too much time trying to set things in stone right out of the gate. Judges look for customer validation, so as you go out into the public and seek people’s feedback, understanding what the public’s pain points are and incorporating that back into your original idea will be important. On a number of occasions, the original idea will not look anything like the finished product or service. Important things to remember during this stage are: expect change and welcome it, be quick and ready to adapt, seek idea validation from as many people as possible, document your changes, and build a MVP (minimum viable product) that supports your idea. The MVP doesn’t need to be complete and polished, although that’s an added plus, but judges want to see some basic proof of concept.

Around 5pm on Sunday, the group’s time to work and develop their ideas comes to an end. Groups are then expected to give a five minute presentation to the judges that discuss how their ideas came about, is there a need for it, is there a market for it, what does the finished product or service look like, and is it feasible. Groups will be graded on a number of attributes, but the ones mentioned are very important to the presentation as it provides context to your idea.

Usually three winners are determined, one overall winner and two other’s that specialize in one area (such as best business opportunity). The winning teams are given prizes that prove useful if the team decides to hit the streets and get funding. While the prizes constantly change each time, their value is significant.

Startup Weekend is an amazing opportunity to learn new skills, push your talents to the limit, challenge yourself, and meet like-minded individuals. I cannot thank Startup Weekend enough for everything it has done for me and I look forward to meeting many new attendees that the upcoming Startup Weekend events.

Jeffrey Whissen