By Joey Aquino, Startup Weekend Global Facilitator
I just got back from an amazing trip to New York City and let me say first off, “GO GIANTS!” Being in the city of a team that wins the Super Bowl is quite amazing let alone when that city is a place like New York the amount of chaos automatically triples! Instead of the normal 54hr time frame we give our attendees at regular Startup Weekends we decided it was best to make it a < 48hr event to get everyone out by kick-off. I mean in a 54hr event in hopes to launch a startup what’s 6 extra hours anyways? Good thing we did because this was the scene in the middle of Times Square right after the game got out. I literally got swept up into the celebration and joined the hundreds of New Yorkers as they flooded the streets.
Winning the Super Bowl exactly aligns with symbolically what it means for the people who grow up in New York. “New York is the city that never sleeps… the financial capital of the World… New York is the center of the Universe!” The people who live and grow up in New York all have this big dream that they all will become someone in this world. That with relentless hard work (and I mean relentless, I wrote apost that incorporated the negative effects of that culture from a friend who moved to NY. Read the Ahonui section), they will win their version of a Super Bowl and conquer the world. This element is such a part of the New York culture that people flock there just because of it.
Knowing this, what better place to have a Startup Weekend? I helped facilitate a Startup Weekend EDU event which is a vertical within Startup Weekend lead by the incredibly passionate Khalid Smith, which is all about creating startups that disrupt the education space.
We had an amazing event with a packed house at the beautiful Mandell Schoolwhich hosted over 120 attendees. People all over the east coast traveled to be a part of this event and there was a huge turnout from some amazing people in the New Orleans area.
What I saw at this event that I hadn’t seen at any other event was the immense amount of passion and purpose people had for attending. These were people who not only had a passion to do something in this world but they all wanted to solve a huge problem. The difference behind regular Startup Weekends and this passion showed in its results. This was the first time I remember thinking to myself that there were some pretty high quality ideas here that I feel could really go forward and make some impact, but more importantly there were some high quality TEAMS that could actually execute the idea and become successful. The reason is simple, the people in attendance were driven by passion. They weren’t there to just see what Startup Weekends were all about but they were people who lived with major problems in the education space and were looking to solve these big problems.
What Startup Weekend has taught me is that ideas are dime a dozen (I almost see the same ideas every week just in different states/countries) but what makes an idea successful is the execution by the high quality team. My biggest takeaway from #NYCEDU was simple but life-focusing, passion supersedes all. If you want to be an entrepreneur, the ones with passion are the ones that will show the best results.
Here are a few clear examples of how I saw passion at work in New York:
1. Passion inspires actions
There are people who have ideas and then there are people who have passion. There are people who can sit at their office thinking of the next big idea and there were the 120+ attendees and over 25 mentors who came out to Startup Weekend NYC EDU eager to take action.
My best friend said this quote at our graduation back in High School, “…I encourage you all to NOT be dreamers. The problem with dreamers is that they are sleeping. I encourage you all to be the movers and shakers of the world…” Passion doesn’t allow you to just dream but it gives you the confidence to take a leap of faith which is what is needed to be a mover and shaker. Following your passion inspires you to take action.
2. Passion helps to fight through road blocks
There were two young men who came to New York from the Baltimore area because they had this idea that they knew could not only save teachers time but it would stop wasting days of students lives in the classroom (they even calculated it out as part of their pitch). They came to NY in hopes to find a technical team to help build out their idea but unfortunately they were one of the teams that got caught in the battle for the few developers in attendance. At a time where most people would be discouraged at hitting their first big road block of not finding any developers to join their team, I saw them handle this situation like not many others would. I saw them plow right through this problem. It wasn’t a matter of “I can’t do this” simply because they didn’t find anyone to join their team at the event, it was ” I will do this with or without you.”
Road blocks will always be there when you are doing a startup but passion is what helps you easily break them down.
3. Passion gives you confidence
When you are passionate about something it drives you to know the in’s and out’s of that space. It motivates you to understand things on a complete higher level than the average would and gives you confidence that you are an expert that can navigate successfully through that space. I saw a team at #NYCEDU that was lead by a group of Teach for America alums from New Orleans. You could easily see the confidence this team had and it beamed off of the team leader with every interaction she had with others. She had a vision of what she knew would exactly work and was at Startup Weekend solely to execute her vision. No indecisiveness, no flip-flopping, no wasting time, all executing.
Passion allows you to understand the space you are wanting to get into on a completely different level that drives a higher likely of success. Passion will be the reason others have confidence in you.
4. Passion helps connect
Networking events usually suck. They suck because they are awkward, filled with established cliques and they just lack numerous meaningful conversations. #NYCEDU was a little different because everyone there was connected by this idea that they wanted to help change this space. It seemed to make conversations easier amongst the people but it also gave them a bigger purpose of why people were interacting with each other. A high school assistant principal who had taught years in the heart of inner city Baltimore connecting with a leader of an ed-tech incubator that is revolutionizing the New Orleans community seemed to happen a lot throughout the event. The director of Teach for America’s social entrepreneurship initiative could share stories with a young mother who tutors autistic and handicapped children.
The stories and passions people share make the connections at this type of event that much easier to happen but that much more meaningful as well. Passion gives you meaning and passion gives you a voice.
5. Passion gives you hope.
Whether it is hope to change the education system or hope to win the Super Bowl, passion gives you this belief and hope that their is more out there for yourself. Like I said in the beginning, this hope is what is flooded throughout the New York culture. From all the immigrants who entered America through Ellis Island in hopes to create a better life for themselves to the relentless brokers on Wall St, their passion to become something gives them the hope and vision that they can achieve it. Find what you are passionate about and define what that Super Bowl victory would be for yourself. Then, the rest is history.