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latinoOrganizing a Startup Weekend can mean different things to an organizer: a chance to build a network and make connections, a way to be a part of a fun and transformational experience, or even a way to promote entrepreneurship in a community.

One of the reasons I organize Startup Weekend is because it represents a way to build and shape the community around me. In my most recent event, I was part of a team taking a small step toward making Seattle a place to celebrate Latino cultures in the local entrepreneurial community.

Seattle is a wonderful, intelligent, and passionate city. I’ve been involved in the Startup Weekend community here in some form or another for the last few years, and I noticed some things:

  • The people I was seeing at the events were generally from the same demographic.
  • There was an opportunity to spread entrepreneurship to neighborhoods and cultures beyond the downtown urban core.

If you aren’t from Seattle, you should know that our city is reasonably sized, but much of the entrepreneurial energy and support is concentrated near the downtown core. There are various cultures in other parts of Seattle that don’t enjoy the same energy and whose stories we don’t hear regularly.

That isn’t to say that there aren’t efforts to engage other communities and social groups in our city. In September 2014, we saw an incredible Hack the CD event to engage the African American community in the Central District, but we should be doing more.

A few other organizers and attendees I had met through various events realized we had something in common: we all loved our city, we loved entrepreneurship, and we loved our shared Latino heritage.

This gave rise to the idea that became Seattle’s first Startup Weekend Latino and Hispanic Markets event. In this post I’ll share our goals, lessons we learned along the way, and what plans we have for engaging diversity in entrepreneurship in Seattle.

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Vision and Goals for Startup Weekend Latino

Creating an event to highlight a culture is an interesting prospect. Entrepreneurship cuts across cultures, beliefs, and opinions in a way that is incredibly powerful. We wanted to celebrate a culture that means so much to us, as well as invite others to experience it.

We decided our event would be special and distinct from any other Startup Weekend in 3 ways:

  • Latino Entrepreneurs would feel welcomed in a way they may not have felt before
  • We would share our culture with those who had no connection to Latino cultures, giving them a chance to experience and consider another culture as they build their ideas
  • We would create a space for the Latino community to share and celebrate its culture in the context of entrepreneurship

We designed our event to celebrate and share fun parts of our Latino cultures. This included things like:

  • Salsa contest for pitch order
  • Inviting smaller Seattle Latino restaurants to the event to feed our attendees
  • Having parts of the event in Spanish, or providing translation help where needed
  • Latino music throughout the weekend

We also sought to include representatives from the Seattle startup community across cultures and industries. In addition to our standard partners from the Seattle Startup Weekend community, we reached out to Latino cultures to find sponsors, mentors, and judges. Ultimately, we wanted people to come away knowing there is a thriving Latino community in Seattle interested in the success of its entrepreneurs.

Lessons Learned

Organizing a unique Startup Weekend event means encountering new situations. Here is what we learned.

Diversity is Exciting and Fun!

My favorite part of the event was just how many cultures and nationalities were represented there. Beyond North, Central, and South American Spanish-speaking countries, we had attendees representing Asian, European, and African cultures. This was a delightful opportunity to experience entrepreneurship with new friends and faces. More importantly, we saw that an event dedicated to celebrating other cultures was interesting to so many people.

Marketing and Messaging

We knew at the start of the event that we’d have to be careful with our messaging and marketing to be clear that the entire community was invited to participate. Success would look like balancing a specific culture focus with an open invitation to all of Seattle. The clarity in messaging also makes an impact on how judges and coaches formed their expectations. We used language like “All Are Welcome” in event promotions, and emphasized our goals to all people involved in the event. However, this is an area we want to improve upon for next year.

Meals and Catering

We committed to partnering with local Latino restaurants for all our meals. This resulted in amazing meals throughout the entire weekend, but it was actually quite difficult to find smaller businesses that had the capacity and experience to cater for a Startup Weekend event. Moreover, we should have realized that having an event so close to Cinco de Mayo would limit our selection of available restaurants.

Engaging Existing Latino Groups

There are plenty of Latino organizations around Seattle, but we didn’t know who they were when we were planning and marketing our event. Frankly, this is just a symptom of this being a nascent effort. We expect we’ll build on this momentum to build a more cohesive network of communities within our city.

Plans for the Future

As most Startup Weekend events do, this was a great starting point upon which we can continue to build. We intend to build more connections to other groups and create more opportunities to engage as a community. With the small cohort of attendees from our event, we can create more connections and strengthen our ties.

The best part is that we’re not alone in this. Portland will host its own Startup Weekend Latino event in June, and we have been interacting and supporting each other as organizing teams.

Hopefully, by this time next year, we will have a groundswell of momentum that we can showcase in another Startup Weekend Latino event. In the meantime, you can follow along and get involved in the following places:

 


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David Pierce