Have you ever thought a start up weekend was just for aspiring entrepreneurs or people with a business degree or uni students? I did once and I was happy to say I was wrong about that.
It was January at the start of this year.
I was living in Toronto, Canada temporarily and was in the midst of trying to build a network and meet people but it wasn’t so easy. Going to pubs and bars got expensive and you didn’t always meet the right people at them. My roommate was attending the university at the time and told me about this “accelerator weekend” for anyone who want to take an idea from concept to business in only a few days.
At first I had my doubts – I mean it was a *whole* weekend and I had work. I also didn’t know how to make smartphone apps or have a business degree but I had heard of friends who have done them and was always interested in trying one. With only days left until the event I took a leap of faith and managed to get one of the last tickets to the event (after a few agonizing days of being put on the wait-list).
Now the format of every start up weekend is different but essentially you create a group, brainstorm your idea the first night, develop it and build a prototype on Saturday, and finally present on Sunday.
The biggest thing I remember right from the start was the adrenaline rush. In fact I was so buzzed off the excitement from the event that I didn’t have a drop of caffeine that whole weekend even while being sleep deprived (not recommended by the way but desperate times call for innovation!).
Did it all go according to plan? Absolutely not. Here are some of the things that weren’t so optimal:
– On the first night none of my teammates could agree on a project to tackle. By midnight we still weren’t decided on an idea and I tossed and turned in bed thinking of options
– Oh did I mention I had to work at 6 am the next morning? That was lovely
– Literally running through the winter weather to get to my team meeting by noon (so much sliding around)
– Struggling to get everyone agreeing on one idea (but after a little help from our mentor we got through that)
– Totally not giving ourselves enough time to practice our slide deck (our team ran over time in front of the judges)
In the end it came down to the timing on our pitch and we didn’t make the finals but I was okay with that. This was my first Start Up Weekend and I learned a heck of a lot and was proud of myself for getting that far.
But you know what did work out better than I expected?
The feeling of accomplishment of actually *doing* something with my weekend instead of just watching lying around the house. Not to mention finding hidden strengths and actually surprising yourself with what you can come up with as a team! I can honestly say for the cost it was a great investment (I mean the food alone was worth it)!
I got to meet so many incredible people including my friend Kate on the last night who I became great friends with during my time in Toronto (leading to more adventures including a trip to Niagara Falls!)
I also learned of the (somewhat) secret tech and start up community in the city that was so much more than just one event! This single start up weekend for me kicked off months of conferences, meeting inspirational entrepreneurs, tech classes, job offers and many amazing memories.
I would strongly recommend doing a Start Up Weekend at least once, and I know for myself I couldn’t wait to be a part of another one again!
And for all you keeners out there, here is my personal list of lessons learned:
- Think big but practical! Go in for unique solutions to unsolved ideas but think of exactly how you are going to get from A to B.
- Do your research. One person on my team insisted on this “great new idea” which we found out by our mentor already existed. You want to make sure that you can offer something unique to the market. And just because you haven’t heard of it doesn’t mean it doesn’t already exist. (see: Google)
- Quickly establish the strengths and weaknesses in your team. Communication is key! Make sure everyone has a chance to get their ideas out from the start and you make a plan on how to work together. Check in often to see if everyone is on target or could use some help.
- Find out when your deadline is and work backwards from there and give yourselves a time cushion. If it needs to be done for 3pm make sure to plan to finish about an hour or so before just in case something goes wrong.
- Practice your pitch. I know this seems obvious but go through your pitch as much as you can. Out loud. Standing up. Without looking at notes. You can have the best idea in the world but if you don’t sell it correctly you have little chance of going to the finals.
- Most of all have fun and don’t take it too seriously. Some teams hid themselves away for the whole weekend but you get so much more out of it meeting everyone from the contestants to the judges to the volunteers. You don’t have to be starting a business to take away plenty of great skills and experience from an event like this!
All the best!
When is the last time when something ‘itched’ you and how did you react to it? Blame somebody or something, be cynical and decided to move on OR did you feel ‘enough is enough’? If you belong to the group of people with the latter reaction, you have that trait that is widely spoken of but seldom practiced called Innovation. Innovation, defined simply, is the cycle of ‘encountering a problem’ deciding not to live with it designing an alternative which either alleviates or eliminates the situation. Differentiated innovations in terms of benefit or cost are called Disruptions and hence I-Phones disrupted phones with complicated interface and AirBnB did the same to the expensive hotel industry.
The science of innovation fundamentally hasn’t changed over the years. The big companies of today started at one point in time as ‘start-ups’; developed product or service through standard process of iteration with consumers; once ready, launched it in a limited geography; expanded distribution through physical expansion and awareness through standard media of TV, radio and Billboards. Each process was painfully physical, slow and expensive. As business grew, so did the need for resources to fuel the business. Evolutionary development (almost like nature) followed where every next generation solution of the same product or service would be marginally better. Thus the two necessary conditions for innovations were time and resources only possible through institutions rather than individuals.
So what’s changed to fuel this sudden wave of innovations led by individual start-ups? The answer lies in the phenomena of Compression of Time!! Massively enabled by technology, most activities which took years are down to real-time (real-time feedback from consumers, unlimited reach through online, accessibility to global expertise). This means suddenly, given the right level of resource support, a sizeable business which used to take decades can be built in years. What this means is now suddenly innovation is possible at individual level and given that there are more individuals than institutions in this world, what we see is proliferation of Innovations and Disruptions!!!!
So while one pre-condition of innovation has been solved, it still needs significant understanding of business and financial resources to scale up any start-up and in my view, that what makes the connection of Start-ups with big established companies very interesting. Give way to super-acceleration of ideas!!!
Vivek Sirohi- “ Deodorants R&D VP “
Many people think that Startup weekends are just for those looking to develop apps or software. This is far from the truth, your idea could just as easily be a service or a tangible product, but is this possible in 54 hours?
Tangible product I hear you say, can you actually develop a piece of working hardware within a weekend? Well it all depends on what it is, maybe a simple device might be created as a proof of principle (POP) model. As the name suggests this wouldn’t be the final product but, a model that will provides confidence that the idea is viable.
So how can you make this model? 3D printing springs to mind. This will require a 3D model to be created and then be printed. In most cases this is a sensible route to take but, if you have only 54 hours it could be a lot of time spent to find the model doesn’t perform as you expected.
A better approach is to think laterally. What about the materials you have close at hand in an office, paper, glue, cardboard, sticky tape (Think Blue Peter)?
Maybe you can hack an existing bought product? Fortunately Futurelabs is in Leeds city centre with loads of shops that might just have the thing you need to adapt, to make your POP model. The other big advantage of this approach is you learn as you create, you might need to pivot on the design while making your model.
Best not to lose site of the whole product offering. Marketing, business model and validation are just as important as the design and execution for the Startup weekend judges. However the most important thing is to have fun creating stuff with a fab team.
Peter Roll, Design and Development Engineer for Roll Design. @peteroll
Vimla Appadoo – Programme Director at Dotforge Impact, Service Designer and Community Manager at FutureEverything
I’ve worked with tech startups for the past three years, helping them to figure out the steps they need to make on their startup journey, and using Human Centered Design to do so.
1. Sharing is caring
Mentoring isn’t just a one way conversation. When you mentor, you gain as much insight as you’re able to give and for me mentoring is another channel to expand my horizons, learn from people and give and take some great advice at the same time. Mentoring is a great way to share your knowledge, but equally any startups at Startup Weekend should question any advice they’re given! It’s a great way to learn collaboratively and make the best decisions for your startup over the weekend.
2. It’s fun
Startup weekends are so. Much. Fun.
They really are. There’s a great buzz, so much excitement and it’s great way to spend a weekend. You get to meet so many incredible people, build innovative startups and you could find your way on a team that builds something great. As a mentor, it’s exciting being able to be a part of the journey, to be able to give a little bit of help and support. It really is just so much fun.
3. You never know who you’ll meet
I’m driven by helping people and there’s no better place to meet and talk to exciting and interesting people than at a Startup Weekend. It’s a melting pot of creativity, innovation and inspiration. You might meet the next founder of an amazing startup, new friends or even your new business partners. The options are limitless and you get to make so many great connections.
So, they’re all of the main reasons why I mentor. I’ll be sharing some Design Thinking skills, and Human Centered Design to help you figure out your market fit.
I hope to see you there next weekend!
Name: Owen Williams
Company: Invent Me
Tell us what your business does…
Invent Me is a collaborative invention platform that takes the ideas of everyday people to market using the power of crowd sourcing.Where did the idea for your business come from?
You can call us dreamers, or even super product nerds if you’d like. The fact is, we believe that by collaborating with talented individuals, funding bodies and other companies, we can make sure that best, most exceptional products will be developed without unnecessary barriers getting in the way.
We’ve managed to do this while also ensuring that these products have an even better chance of succeeding. We don’t just have a passion for superb inventions and original ideas. We’re also driven by our enthusiasm for harnessing the power of the crowd so that everyone can contribute to the products they believe in.
With a dedicated community behind us that pitches in time, specialist skills, and resources, we have the ability to create innovations that really have an impact.
What were you doing before starting up?
Myself and Ollie were running a product and graphic design consultancy. The idea for Invent Me actually developed after frustrations we found with the traditional product development process. Having run a small product design consultancy for couple of years, we noticed that people would repeatedly come to us with great product ideas, but often had no budget or time to fulfill their product’s full potential.
Our agency could only do so much to help them materialize their ideas on limited budgets, before having to turn them away.
Have you always wanted to run your own business?
Hell yeah! But not for the profit margins. We’re in it for journey and the freedom of being self-employed. We want to shape the way the UK portrays ‘invention’ and creating a company to deliver that message just made sense.
How did you raise funding and what challenges have you overcome?
A combination of savings, borrowing and income from the agency. We’ve managed to self-fund the platform up until now, but we’re now seeking funding from various angles. We’ve recently paid off all of our initial legal fees, which was a huge milestone for us.
What was your first big breakthrough?
Receiving over 20+ invention submissions two weeks after launch, signing up over 30 community members and adding two full time members to the team.
Why should you check out the Leeds Startup Weekend?
Having a team of like-minded individuals by your side when you’re starting up is invaluable. These sort of events attract top talent in tech. Who knows, you might even meet your co-founder! Also, the Leeds tech community is genuinely unrivaled.
If you had one piece of advice?
Life is like a theme park, no-one really cares about how much money you make, as long as you fill it with colorful rides.
I heard about Startup Weekend back in 2012 when my friend Tina invited me to be a mentor on first Startup Weekend in Zagreb, Croatia. Before i got involved I liked the concept but was not prepared for how impactful and exciting the weekend really was To cut a long story short, I came to see the pitches on Friday and was due to come for couple of hours to mentor on Saturday, but I ended up staying for the whole 54 hours. And this is where my love for Startup Weekend started.
What struck me the most is the positive entrepreneurial energy the events capture, it’s that energy that gets you so motivated and gives you the push and persistence you need as an entrepreneur. The kind of energy that you are able to live on for the next couple of months and that inspires you not to give up and to start again if you fail.
Most of us need just that to start our own business.
The event was held in Zagreb School of Economics and Management and it was the first event of its kind in Croatia. People that came were all really diverse. There was a good mix of different ages and backgrounds, youngest entrepreneur was 10 years old and ⅓ of the participants were women.
The idea that won the 1st prize is now a successful business. The co-founders met during Startup Weekend and took the idea forward. One of them left his successful career to start this business. The event helped not just participants but the whole tech and startup community in Zagreb. It helped built the entrepreneurial ecosystem, showed the public that investing in entrepreneurship and supporting startups was crucial and at a time when finding job is not easy provided some business basic knowledge and an opportunity for people to build their own business.
Since my first Startup Weekend I helped organise and was a mentor on three more Startup Weekends in Croatia and yes I stayed for the whole 54 hours for each event. When I came to the UK I attended my first startup weekend as a participant in Sheffield. Which was also amazing experience and would recommend it to anyone.
Weather you have an idea or not, want to be an entrepreneur or you are still not sure is this the road you want to take or don’t have the confidence to start, this is a place to be.
Helena, Community and Portfolio Manager @ Dotforge