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Michael, facilitating Startup Weekend Grand Rapids.


Today we’re very excited for you to get to know our facilitator, Michael Norton. Michael is from Seattle, and travels extensively visiting different communities and helping facilitate Startup Weekends. #SWCR16 will be his 23rd.

We caught up with him to learn more about his love for Kickstarter and his travels.

CR: You’re into songwriting, Anything you’re willing to share with us?

MN: Oh, I love writing songs. Many years ago I even used to finish songs, perform them, record them… Actually I’ve been working on a pile of new songs lately. In the past I’ve only written for myself, but I’d like to write for other artists as well.

CR: Tell us about your first Startup Weekend experience. Did you know what you were getting into? What kept you coming back?

MN: I discovered Startup Weekend from the inside out. I served as technical project manager in Up Global’s Seattle-based office where I became intimately familiar with the program’s infrastructure and design. My day job was to improve the resources we created for the organizers, attendees, etc. During my first Startup Weekend as an attendee, I was just as interested in observing the event’s dynamics as I was engaged in my team’s project.

My first experience as an attendee was actually a little strange. The team I joined was not the kind of strangers-as-cofounders, built-from-scratch type of team which is normal at a Startup Weekend. It quickly became apparent that several of the team members knew each other and had been developing the concept for months. They’d already taken the concept further than basic market research or the survey of competition which one might expect. I didn’t mind it because I was there for education purposes. But I sensed that other team members felt less like equal co-founders than they’d hoped. I’m sensitive to this scenario now and suggest that first time attendees review the FAQ on StartupWeekend.org before Friday night.

I keep coming back (this will be my 23rd Startup Weekend) because I always learn so much. I’m inspired, educated, empowered, and connected to innovative, talented, collaborative people. I enjoy helping them, and I learn how to ask for help when and where I need it. I can’t imagine better reasons to do anything.

I love Startup Weekend because it invites people to work together quickly toward a common goal. It requires us to be creative about how we solve problems, create value, test our assumptions, access resources, and present our ideas to others. The skills we practice at Startup Weekend are some of the most important skills we can acquire and hone. The Startup Weekend experience benefits us in many areas of life, far beyond startup or business applications.

CR: You’re a self-described vagabond experiencing Startup Communities and Startup Weekends across the US & Canada. Tell us about some of your favorite places you been.

MN: With one exception, the cities I’ve explored are filled with compassionate, innovative, intelligent, beautiful people. I was just kidding about the exception. Seriously, the most memorable and meaningful things are all the wonderful friendships.

Hmm… I could say similar things about most cities, but I’ll just pick one — Fargo, North Dakota may surprise you with its thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem. They’re making waves in drone technology, don’t ya know. They have the most active and well attended 1 Million Cups chapter. They champion Startup Weekend with the best of them. Fargo is also fostering some fine artists, musicians, coffee, beer, and food. It’s an all ‘round friendly town. And yes, I touched the real wood chipper, signed by the Coen Brothers — oh for fun!

I’ll toss in some touristy highlights. There’s a coffee shop in Kansas City called Thou Mayest which feels like walking into a Wes Anderson film. In Austin, you have to try Gus’s Fried Chicken, or if that’s not on your menu find G’Raj Mahal on Rainy Street for dinner and then follow the sound of great live music in any direction. Central BBQ in Memphis. The architecture and interior design at St. John’s in St. Cloud are mid-century modern perfection. Don’t neglect the California Burrito at Adalberto’s in San Diego. Boulder, Colorado has seven bus routes which are officially named Hop, Skip, Jump, Stampede, Dash, Bound, and Bolt. Open a day with artisanal toast at Trouble Coffee in Ocean Beach San Francisco (see This American Life, episode 520, Act Three), or close one by watching the sunset just a mile north at the Sutro Bath Ruins. I could go on for days, but you may as well look up TheRedHype on Instagram. I’m not doing any of these things justice with words.

CR: You’re a fan of crowdfunding and consult for Kickstarter campaigns. What’s your favorite Kickstarter that you have backed?

MN: Yes! Crowdfunding and micro or group patronage are powerful tools for developing sustainable creative livelihoods. Platforms like Kickstarter and Patreon have ignited a renaissance amongst independent artists, artisans, and inventors who don’t have the backing of a wealthy benefactor or the resources of a large corporation. And from the other side, the transparency that characterizes marketing efforts in reward-based crowdfunding creates a much needed awareness in the audience of consumers around the nature of product creation and production.

The coolest things I’ve ever backed are Standard Spoon (a premium cocktail spoon), Sentris (a musical performance puzzle video game), and Patrick Norton’s album Easy Come, Easy Go.

CR: What is some practical piece of advice would you give to first-timers at Startup Weekend?

MN: For orientation, read the Attendee FAQ page on StartupWeekend.org. Then, to get a feel for what Sunday night pitches are like, search YouTube for Startup Weekend winning final presentations from around the globe. If you plan to pitch an idea, practice your pitch. Practice to a 60 second timer. Practice your pitch in front of friends and then ask them to explain to you what they think you’re trying to do, and ask you questions. You’ll discover where your presentation may be failing. Finally, come with an open mind, prepared to discover all kinds of interesting things, and I guarantee you’ll have a great time.

CR: Anything else we should know about you before Friday night?

MN: Hmm… not really. Enough about me. Let’s do this!

Startup Weekend returns to Cedar Rapids March 4th – 6th at the Iowa Startup Accelerator in the Geonetric Building. We’re also excited to announce Sunday Demo Day Pitches will take place at Whipple Auditorium in the Cedar Rapids Public Library. Get your tickets today.

Brian Kerr