Last year, I attended my first Startup Weekend EDU event and I walked away from the experience feeling bolder, empowered and inspired. While I was extremely exhausted and eager to get home to the Super Bowl spread and the amazing game that was awaiting (go ‘Hawks!), I knew that something inside me had shifted, that I’d face new projects and team-based work experiences in a new way as a direct result of what I picked up that Weekend. I felt like a new and improved model, a Laura 2.0. As you consider this year’s NYCEDU, I think that it’s helpful to know what you can expect to get from the Weekend. Here are five of the takeaways that I walked (translate: limped tiredly) away from the Weekend with, as told through gifs:
Persistence is key:
For last year’s event, I was on a team with six incredibly talented people. Together we worked on building Simplifaid, an online financial aid planning platform targeted at high school students to help them understand the financial impact of their college choices. It was a great idea and we were all super excited to jump in but…we had no idea where to start. Figuring out who our target market was, whether it was students, parents, high school guidance counselors or universities was a struggle. Developing a financial model based on what felt like a mountain of uncertainties was painful. It felt like we spent hours talking ourselves in circles even with the guidance of a few intrepid mentors. I can say with 100% certainty that that period was not the most fun I’ve ever had–it would not even make my top ten. I can also say with 100% certainty that what we came up with was worth every bit of the struggle. There were still tons of variables that needed to be considered by Sunday night, but we got to a place where we were proud of our shared vision for what Simplifaid could be.
Resourcefulness will take you far (sometimes literally):
Like this mostly terrifying crow, our team had to figure out how to get what we wanted–a pitch that would impress the judges. In thinking about how we wanted to tell our product’s story while also expressing its usefulness to our target audience (high schoolers/undergraduates), we wanted to think outside of the box. We then decided to think outside the building. There was a Weekend for teen entrepreneurs happening across the bridge in Brooklyn and we thought that popping over would be a great way to get user validation and create an ad to show during our presentation. Racing over the bridge with one of my teammates to talk to the teens before they left for the day was exhilarating, and allowed me to get to know one of my team members more than I would have in the fast-paced environment we’d left. Getting creative was also fun–our video got a litttttle kooky but it was fantastic to meet some of the brilliant teens preparing to be entrepreneurs of the future.
Fearlessness ensures success:
My team chose me to speak for our team when we were asked to send someone to answer the judges’ follow up questions. I was terrified; I considered myself a solid and engaging public speaker in some situations, but in others I let my discomfort get the best of me (see: pitch night). As I stood in line, making up answers to hypothetical questions the judges could pose, the guy who was next to me started chatting. He said something that I’ll never forget: the fear that renders you immobile is pointless. I knew that intellectually, but I’d never really thought about what the mitigation of fear would look like. For me, having fear and thinking about that fear meant that it was highly likely that I would stumble over my thoughts and words. Giving that up meant that I was opening myself up to a better chance for success. Internalizing his words did that, and while I’m not sure how much of a part my answers played into their final decision, the judges ended up awarding our team third place (what, what!).
Feeling included in a community is powerful:
While I enjoyed every minute of the Weekend, the most special moments were the random asides with people I’d met from the NYCEDU community. At one point, I ran into a friend who was grabbing a snack and we chatted about our very different experiences with our projects.I talked about how I was feeling out how to best contribute to the team and he talked about how this team was working through the choice between the two directions their project could take. He also gave me needed advice on how I could approach the work. In being able to have that conversation, I went back to my team energized. His ebullience rubbed off on me, and the many other small interactions I had with members of the community did the same. I was a ball of excitement by Sunday evening and I felt connected to people who I respect, people who share my deep and unrelenting passion to change the education landscape and make a more equitable world for future generations. Having that community and knowing that we were all working together for the same purpose amplified my vision and catalyzed me into thinking about how I could do more.
If you are interested in attending this year’s event, learn more here: bit.ly/swnycedu2015!