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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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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)
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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!


Helena Habdija