Mentors, judges, and Speakers
Mentorship is a key part of the Startup Weekend formula, to provide the most value possible to a participant in just 54 hours.
Time and time again, mentors are described by participants as one of the most valuable aspects of the weekend. Our mentors are industry leaders and experts with diverse backgrounds and experience. The one-on-one advice given to teams can be invaluable and a key factor in their growth as a startup.
Mentors themselves enjoy working with teams. It’s an opportunity to give back to the community by sharing their knowledge and helping aspiring entrepreneurs.
We ask our mentors to spend a minimum of two hours with teams during Saturday to mentor teams. We recommend having one mentor for every eight to ten participants.
Techstars has an extensive mentor network that supports all aspects of the business, including our Accelerator Programs. We'd like to help you build robust mentor pools for your events with members of the existing network. Please contact your Techstars Startup Weekend support contact for information.
Mentor best practices
We support our mentors by setting clear expectations for their mentorship during Startup Weekend from the very beginning, so that mentors can decide if the event is the right fit for them. We ask mentors to:
Guide teams to focus their attention on building a strong foundation to form a solid startup. This includes market validation and business model development.
Direct teams toward becoming experts in the industry of their potential startup.
Help teams design and carry out effective experiments (most often customer interviews) and analyze the data they collect. Gently guide them in the right direction by helping them ask the right questions. Our guidance is to never make decisions or do the work for teams.
Help ensure that teams assume nothing. Identify assumptions being made and force them to tackle those assumptions.
Mentor with empathy and practise inclusivity — give everyone in the team a chance to speak up, and listen with an open mind.
We provide this guidance to mentors in our outreach email and pre-event mentor information email templates. The mentors and judges lead should take care of communication and support for mentors and get a picture and short biography of all mentors for your event website and mentor announcement social posts. You can review an example of mentor announcement social posts here.
Finding the right Mentors
We recommend reaching out to the following types of mentors:
Subject matter experts: Mentors do not necessarily have to be famous entrepreneurs. High-quality subject experts that can provide actionable advice on a specific topic can be just as valuable.
Investor(s): The best way to get in touch with investors (VCs and angel investors) is through a personal introduction. If you don’t have anyone on your organizing team who can make an introduction for you, search any of the online investor directories that allow you to view lists of investors by geographic area.
Startup incubators and accelerators: These groups see the ups and downs of early stage startups and can provide valuable insight at the development stage. They may be looking to invite new startups to apply to their programs, and they make great mentors.
Startup attorneys/solicitors: While Techstars Startup Weekend does not allow mentors to offer specific legal advice to teams, having at least one attorney/solicitor serving as a mentor can be highly valuable to help teams find workarounds for some of the legal implications of their startup.
We provide a mentors section within the Primary Planning Guide to keep track of mentors’ details and outreach.
Our Techstars Startup Weekend judges should add an extra layer of excitement for participants. Judges should be knowledgeable industry experts who will be able to ask pertinent questions and provide valuable feedback to teams.
Judging at a Startup Weekend is a good opportunity to meet new local entrepreneurs and get a feel for what the local entrepreneurial community is excited about.
We ask that judges spend a few hours on Sunday night listening to teams’ final presentations, asking a few follow-up questions about their project, and then deciding on winning teams by deliberating with the other judges on the panel.
Please make sure that each judge is greeted and walked through the evening’s schedule and the judging process. Provide them with a judging form when they arrive. We provide a judging section within the Primary Planning Guide to keep track of judges’ details and outreach. We also provide judges’ outreach and reminder email templates to help with this. The mentors and judges lead should take care of communication and support for judges, and get a picture and short biography of all judges for your event website and judges’ announcement social posts. You can review an example of judge announcement social posts here.
The universal Startup Weekend judging criteria is divided into three sections. Teams should be judged according to the following three criteria, which are weighted equally:
Did the team talk to customers?
Who will be their users, who will be their customers, and are they different?
How many users have they interviewed?
Did they target the correct people to interview?
What did they learn from their customer interviews?
What are the core needs of their users?
Execution and Design
What feedback did they get to inspire their Minimum Viable Product (MVP)?
Did they build a prototype? Any medium is fine, including paper or Google Slides.
How effective is their MVP for the purpose of the weekend?
How functional is their technical demo, if applicable?
How easy is it for the user to navigate and use their product?
Were they able to incorporate customer feedback into the solution?
Is it a unique idea?
What is their key value proposition?
How do they plan on making this a successful business?
Have they thought about competition, how to scale, acquiring customers, and their revenue model?
Have they identified a specific target market?
How will they acquire their first 100 customers?
We recommend that you invite a speaker for Friday night who can inspire and energize participants. Start your speaker outreach at least two months prior to your event to make sure that your first choice of speaker is available. Successful and effective speakers might have their calendars filled up a few months in advance.
Speakers are typically industry experts and successful entrepreneurs who can offer practical guidance. They are someone who participants can relate to.
We suggest a total of 30 minutes to be allocated to this activity, which includes a short Q&A session. The goal of the weekend is to provide experiential education. Try to limit the time speakers, panels, or workshops take out of participants’ time over the weekend to do the actual work.
Please provide enough information about Startup Weekend to the speaker. Let them know that our typical participant experience can range from ‘first time being introduced to the concept of entrepreneurship’ to ‘experienced entrepreneur’. This will help guide your speaker when they are developing the content for their talk. Get a picture and short biography of your speaker for your event website and speaker announcement social posts.