From a Community Perspective – My View on UP Global and Its Acquisition by Techstars





After the announcement of the UP Global acquisition by Techstars I was asked to write about it from a community perspective. Eventually, it took me four weeks to come up with this post as it wasn’t easy to put all my thoughts into one text.

I recently had the chance to spend a few days with a bunch of amazing Startup Weekend facilitators and very good friends in Norway. It was like a big family reunion, old friends coming together with the certainty that all of us share a common story and vision.

I feel a special bond with these people, it’s my tribe. We are united by our vision to change the world through education and entrepreneurship and to help our local communities to grow and thrive. It feels very special to me to be part of this global movement of highly motivated entrepreneurs who want to give back to their communities.

We often have a similar story how we got involved with Startup Weekend in the first place. We attended our first event by chance, maybe because one of our friends told us to definitely attend this unusual event. We often had unsatisfying professional careers at that point and our first Startup Weekend was a complete game changer for our life plans. For my part, I turned away from a boring and safe corporate career to get involved with startups and to co-found a startup community initiative that later led to the creation of my current company.

Nevertheless, over the years I’ve also struggled with the organization behind the movement. I went through a few periods of doubt if this is the path I want to follow, volunteering for a global initiative with some serious problems on the organizational level. However, throughout my own struggles in life and business, I’ve always come back to Startup Weekend (or UP Global for a while) to find purpose and strength to continue what I truly love and believe in: inspiring other people and showing them opportunities beyond their predetermined career and outside their (and my) comfort zone.

At the time of the announcement of the acquisition, our Startup Weekend organizer and facilitator community went through big discussions, especially concerning the volunteering part for a now for-profit company. Many volunteers doubted and doubt their future commitment and involvement with the movement. I was honoured to be involved in part of the process leading up to the announcement, so I might be a bit biased. Nevertheless, I believe that it is a big opportunity for the whole community! Two tribes are joining forces with a common vision to change people’s lives through entrepreneurship. Techstars’ and Startup Weekend’s history are tied together from the beginnings. It all began with one event in Boulder in 2007, now we are at more than 7000 events in over 120 countries. It is a powerful movement with such a huge global impact over the years. I truly hope that Techstars will continue to follow the path Startup Weekend and UP Global paved!

I genuinely believe in the power of this tribe, my tribe! I always felt I was different – thank you to the Startup Weekend and UP Global family for giving me a home and connecting me to the crazy ones!


Bulgarian Startups Are Conquering The World!

The Bulgarian startup scene is hustling and buzzing these days. Only recently, Magin, the winner of the last Startup Weekend Varna in May 2013, announced that they got accepted to the next batch of Y Combinator! As the first Bulgarian startup ever! Wow, what a great success for the freshly started Bulgarian company by Martin Stoyanov and Theodosius Teodosiev.

Magin develops an application which organizes your mails better. You can also use it on your mobile device so that you can organize your mails while on the road. Labels solve endless searches through your mails for what is important and what not. Your productivity will rise immediately.

While Magin is heading to Silicon Valley, Stepsss as winner of Startup Weekend Sofia at the end of November, make their first steps as a startup by being accepted at the next Eleven accelerator batch, only three weeks after finishing first at Startup Weekend Sofia! Stepsss develops a smart insole that monitors the pressure in different areas of your foot when you stand or walk. It then sends the information to your mobile device or the one of your orthopedist who can tailor your treatment accordingly after a foot injury. The information helps you to do appropriate exercises, track your performance and get fit quicker.

Stepsss_SW Sofia

The team of Stepsss consists of Stefan Ivanov (team leader & UX designer), Nevena Ganeva (marketing and social media), Ivan Atansov (business analyst) and the three developers Kris Parmakov, Nikola Donchev and Atanas Bahchevanov.

Asked about what the team achieved during the weekend, Stefan answers: “We did a lot but our idea ended up far from what it hopefully will look like one day. We managed to get an insole with a few embedded sensors that we engineered on our own, stream raw data through the web and show a heatmap of your foot from the data. It seems a lot but it actually is not that much when you know what you are doing, just what an MVP is. We also developed a good revenue strategy and targeted our market really well into three groups: patients that recover from foot trauma, professional athletes and hobbyst sportlers of course.”

The positive feedback from the coaches and some of the participants really helped the team to push their idea further. Even if the Sunday night pitch went very well and the judges seemed to understand the product, Stepsss weren’t expecting to win as “there were some really awesome ideas amongst the other teams”, says Stefan.

pitches sofia

After the weekend, the fun really started. Here is what happened to Stepsss after the win of Startup Weekend Sofia, described by Stefan: “Everything happened so quickly that I am still pinching myself to make sure I am not dreaming. We recorded a video for the Global Startup Battle and await the final results every moment as doing well there will definitely be a huge boost for Stepsss. The big news is that we got funding from Eleven (one of the startup accelerators in Bulgaria) which means that Stepsss is one step closer to our ultimate goal: to make the world a bit better for everyone. I actually believe that if your idea validates this slogan and your motivation comes from these words, you are definitely making it amongst the top three in any Startup Weekend worldwide. However, we stay on the ground and realize that the coming months will be really challenging and we have to be fully dedicated if we want our idea to succeed.”

Bulgaria’s startup scene is waking up. There is a lot more to come from the country at the Black Sea and all the other Central and Eastern European (CEE) countries. Accelerators as Eleven or LAUNCHub with its seed fund help those young companies to get started. Stay tuned, it will be awesome!

Photo courtesy by Startup Weekend Sofia & Margarit Ralev.

Startup Weekend Stuttgart – 5 Innovative Companies Started!

Last weekend during Global Startup Battle, the University of Media in Stuttgart, Southwest Germany, turned into an epicenter of hackers, hustlers and designers.

During the fourth Startup Weekend Stuttgart, 130 highly motivated entrepreneurs worked on their business ideas in a festive atmosphere. Friday evening, Uwe Horstmann, co-founder of Project A Ventures, told a very inspiring keynote about his experience as a founder. Afterwards, 55 participants presented their ideas, 22 of which were eventually developed during the weekend. With the special Business to Business (B2B)  focus of this year’s event, half of the ideas were B2B targeted. In addition to SAP as the main sponsor, the event was supported by car2go and Robert Bosch Ventures amongst others.

Friday SWS13

Sunday night pitches were fast approaching after hours of intense team work and mentoring sessions. The teams pitched their ideas in front of an 240-person audience. After waiting impatiently for the judges’ decision, this year’s winner was announced:

VirtualQ – an app which virtualizes the queue in front of clubs and at events. VirtualQ also won the best design prize.

Intercult –  won the best pitch award. They developed an online training service which prepares future expats for their stay abroad.

As best online idea, Yachtcon provides a private yacht renting service using the AirBnB principle.

The B2B special prize of SAP was won by – kvitto – an app which archives receipts and warranty services for all kinds of devices.

An extraordinary honor also went to – Lunch Roulette – who will get the opportunity to pitch and test their idea at SAP’s German headquarter in Walldorf. Lunch Roulette provides a service to find new people to lunch with in your company.

Finals SWS13

This Startup Weekend was the biggest one in Stuttgart so far – with inspiring people and an energetic atmosphere! Thanks for all the support and good luck to all the teams out there!

More photos of this event can be found on Facebook.

Photo courtesy by Michael M. Roth.

First Startup Weekend Bolzano – South Tyrol in Northern Italy rocks!

The following is an article was originally published here: Startup Weekend Europe.

A few weeks ago, I facilitated the first Startup Weekend in Bolzano, South Tyrol. For those who never heard about this little piece of paradise, it’s located in the North of Italy in the mountains and used to belong to Austria 100 years ago. That’s also why the majority of the inhabitants of Bolzano (in German: Bozen) still speak German as their first language. To integrate everyone, the event was held in English.




With around 45 participants, it was one of the smaller events but a lot of fun nevertheless. The atmosphere was amazing, attendees were very motivated and the organizers Hannes, Corrado and Paolo well prepared to host the first Startup Weekend in Bolzano.

Friday night, we had a great keynote by Pekka Abrahamsson, lean startup addict and professor at the Free University of Bolzano who also sponsored the venue for the event. He spoke about the challenges you face with a startup and that a pivot is not a shame. After the warm-up, 17 ideas were pitched, voted on and teams were formed. After all, eight teams emerged from this process:

  • KidBoard: Educational software-based tools for teachers and students
  • SpeakersRank: App to directly evaluate speakers at conferences and other events
  • Tellm3: Market research app for businesses to get customer feedback on the spot
  • Wingman: Find the right people with the matching competences for your startup
  • Shax!: Social platform to watch films together with your friends around the world
  • JoinEat: Peer2peer platform for home-cooked meals
  • SpeakMap: App to communicate with others in foreign countries and languages you don’t speak (yet)
  • WizArt: Platform for curated art work for artists, galleries and customers

Teams directly began to work on Friday night and then got valuable input from mentors during Saturday and Sunday. On Saturday, there was another great keynote by Alessandro Colombi, professor of pedagogy and entrepreneur himself, whose advice for the audience was to “Stay humble and do good things for others.”

Sunday night’s pitches were much anticipated after an afternoon of turbo-work and test pitches. Everyone did a great job and judges had a few discussions about who would go home with the first, second and third prize. But before announcing the winners, I shared three personal learnings from my past years in the startup business:

  • What is your biggest pain point? Taking the risk to start your own business or having to work for someone else and not being your own boss? – If it’s the latter one, then you’re clearly born to be an entrepreneur.
  • Choose well your partners, in private and business life. They need to support and motivate you as much as possible and not standing in your way.
  • Do it. Step by step. – Starting your own business is scary. If you go forward step by step then you have a good chance to overcome your fear and to be successful.

Finally, the prizes were announced: WizArt won the first place, JoinEat the second and Shax! went third. Congratulations to all three winning teams and heads up to all the others! You were awesome!

Most of all, I’d like to thank the organizers of this event for their great job: Hannes Pardeller, Corrado Roccazella and Paolo Lombardi! I hope that more Startup Weekends will follow in Bolzano.

More photos of this event can be found on Facebook.