In 2013, Dennis attended the first Northwest Arkansas Startup Weekend on a whim. Thinking it was a networking event (it’s so much more), he went in Friday evening with the intent to hand out business cards and leave, but his friend Josh encouraged him to stay and pitch an idea. Not only did the idea end up winning the weekend, but it launched him in into the Northwest Arkansas startup community. Dennis recalls, “it’s where I got my jumpstart into everything entrepreneurship. It segued into an internship, a job, and now working at Supply Pike.”
Dennis’s pitch for Startup Weekend 2013 was called Getsposure. The idea was a platform that connects agencies with professional photographers around the world. For example, instead of traveling to San Francisco for a photo shoot, the platform would connect to a local photographer that was in San Francisco. During the weekend, Dennis credits mentors like Kenny and Chuong of Datarank that helped him refine the idea and prepare for a winning presentation on Sunday.
In 2015, Dennis returned to Startup Weekend as a coach. “It was cool getting to facilitate, not only did I get to help Corey with RaftUp, but I got connected with Stone Ward, which led to an internship.” As Dennis embarks on helping with his third Startup Weekend, he excited to keep using his experience to help others. When Amy Pedid reached out to Dennis, he encouraged her to do a Startup Weekend, and she ended up winning the Maker Edition last fall. Dennis doesn’t just see his role in the community as being a UX designer, but also to be a facilitator: “to help the Amys and the Coreys of this world, that’s where I get the most fulfillment.”
Dennis encourages the teams this year to go out and talk to people after coming up with an idea. “The teams that have gone out and asked people and gotten user data… user valuation, rather than self-validation, those teams always end up doing the best.” Teams should be willing to reconsider if people say no, but if a bunch of people say yes, then they’re on the right track. “If you could get people to pre order, the judges would eat that up! The goal is to win, but your network explodes either way. It’s a perfect networking opportunity.”
As a veteran of corporate America, I considered myself well versed in stressful situations, tight deadlines, and ambitious milestones, that is, until I experienced Startup Weekend. I had the opportunity to participate in this amazing event 10 months ago and served as the bridge to go from a corporate employee to being a full-time entrepreneur. Here is how it works.
The 54-hour, bootcamp-like event is an exhilarating experience where developers, creatives, and business people meet with the common goal of building a business over the weekend. It all starts with the pitch where you get a minute to share your idea and get other people attracted to it. The most popular ideas get selected, and people are free to join any of the prospective startups.
While the stakes are seemingly low, the drive to solve problems impregnates the air and keeps people going, although there are plenty of caffeinated drinks readily available for those needing the extra boost. The hours fly by as teams strive to come up with a Lean Canvas based plan, meet with experienced entrepreneurs, and most importantly, test and iterate based on their customers’ feedback.
The last day of the event, the sleep-deprived teams make their way to the stage to pitch their newly built company. While the teams that place get some great prizes, you can tell by the smiles in everyone’s faces that they have all won. They have conquered the biggest fear of every aspiring entrepreneur; the fear to start.
That dream of creating something bigger than ourselves seems to be universal. If you agree with that statement and are thinking about starting a business or solving a big problem, Startup Weekend by Techstars is one of the best ways to get started.
With Startup Weekend just days away, it’s time to get psyched! If you missed the chance to purchase a full event ticket, don’t worry, you can still join us at the pitch event on Sunday! You’ll be able to see the progress that each team has made over the weekend as well as mingle with the participants and mentors at the Give a Damn after-party. Listening to the participating teams pitch their ideas is exciting, and many of the ideas presented go on to become full-fledged products and companies.
One of our successful participants, Jeston George, spoke with us about the impact of Startup Weekend on his idea. Jeston is the CEO and founder of Apptegy, a company providing a platform that allows schools to sync all marketing and communication efforts together seamlessly into a single mobile app. Jeston pitched in the 2014 Startup Weekend in Little Rock, and although his team didn’t place, he’s expanded on his pitch to create Apptegy. Jeston met several of his core employees during Startup Weekend and he still consults with several other Startup Weekenders. Jeston wholeheartedly recommends Startup Weekend and says that it’s a great way to meet like-minded people. Startup Weekend provides a platform, as well as resources, for budding entrepreneurs to flesh out their ideas and receive valuable feedback from seasoned pros.
Speaking of pros, one of our Startup Weekend mentors, Corey Boelkens, CEO and founder of RaftUp, will be speaking at Sunday’s pitch event. Corey was a participant in the 2015 Startup Weekend, where his team placed second. According to Corey, Startup Weekend was an integral part in launching his company. With mentors there to help facilitate a buildable and pitchable idea, the process helps validate and lend confidence to the participants. This year, Corey plans on helping participants focus quickly and effectively on their ideas so they will be prepared to pitch on Sunday.
The first person who comes to my mind when I think of a true maker is my dad. Before he had computer software readily available to generate 3D drawings, I watched him measure and create sculptures from poster board. Fast forward 30 years, he now owns a welding and fabrication job shop capable of making just about anything out of metal.
What does this have to do with the upcoming NWA Startup Weekend? We know that not everyone’s ideas will be software solutions or apps. Some innovators may be interested in making physical products, and still want to have a minimum viable product (MVP) by the pitch event on Sunday. For this subset of aspiring entrepreneurs, the NWA Fab Lab will have extended hours to open specifically for Startup Weekenders.
The NWA Fab Lab is an official makerspace that hosts equipment such as laser cutters, 3D printers, woodworking tools, and a 3D body scanner. They use open-source software that is available to the public and host trainings led by community volunteers. Both individuals and groups are invited to utilize this community resource, located just right off of the Fayetteville square. Under the direction of the Fayetteville Chamber, their vision is to encourage entrepreneurship, advance science and technology careers, contribute to the resurgence of American innovation and create a new generation of entrepreneurs, inventors, and artisans.
Whitney Green, Director of the NWA Fab Lab, told us a bit about products community members have prototyped using the Fab Lab’s equipment. One example she shared was a new drinking utensil. Their 3D printers are the same type Startup Junkie‘s Michael Iseman used to print over 25,000 board game pieces for his Kickstarter launch.
Not only will the Fab Lab be available for Startup Weekend participants to work from during the event, they have also donated a 6-month membership to the team that places first in the “Best Maker” category. At the last NWA Startup Weekend, we had engineers modifying drones. What will our participants come up with this year? Attend the pitch event Sunday afternoon to find out!
Dennis attended Startup Weekend 2013 on a whim, and now he is an organizer bringing the event back to Northwest Arkansas. If that doesn’t tell you how valuable he believes this event is, check out the video created by Give a Damn, below.
Click the link here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/techstars-startup-weekend-nwa-0309-tickets-41320862813?aff=blog
Thoughts from facilitator, Chad Williamson:
I remember it very vividly because I wasn’t supposed to be there. My wife and I were visiting good friends for the weekend and I told her I would only go for the initial pitches. I was just there to observe and learn (that’s it) so I could understand what Startup Weekend was all about. We were still in the listening and learning phase of building Noble Impact and hadn’t even launched yet. So there I was on a Friday evening, in the back of the room, listening to people pitch different ideas for businesses. Next thing I knew, I was on stage doing the same and had 60 seconds to pitch my idea. Not sure what came over me but I had to get my idea out there and evidently, some other people liked it. It was an idea that made it through to the final group of teams, which would be worked on for the entire weekend by myself and the other six people that believed in it. However, my wife was expecting me back for dinner as I told her I was only going to watch the initial pitches. Needless to say, our weekend plans took a pivot.
That was April of 2013, the first ever Arkansas Startup Weekend, which happened at the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service and it changed my life.
Startup Weekend is an event that has the ability to change lives because the atmosphere is supportive, inclusive, and positive.
It’s what Nick Sequin (Startup Weekend Board Member) calls the tip of the spear for entrepreneurship. That Friday in April of 2013, my voice was heard and other people believed in my idea. It was empowering and rewarding…the next two days were crazy and energizing. As we prepared for our final pitch that Sunday, you could feel the urgency, the energy, and the butterflies…and it all felt great. We ended up winning. That’s when I knew that Startup Weekend would play a big role in the development of Noble Impact.
Soon after that, I contacted the CEO of Startup Weekend, Marc Nager and went to meet with him in Seattle, where Startup Weekend was headquartered at the time. He and other members of his team confirmed my thought that Startup Weekend could be beneficial for high school students as well. Therefore, in the spring of 2014, we hosted the first ever High School Startup Weekend, which was a great success.
It’s not just one and done. It’s not just a religious experience. If you allow it, Startup Weekend is a place to form relationships while expanding your mind to new ideas and possibilities.
For me, many of the relationships I started at that first one in 2013 continue to this day on a very deep level. My current roommate in Little Rock, Jordan Carlisle, was one of the facilitators for that initial event and it’s where we first met. It’s where I first met Jeston George, CEO of Apptegy as he was in the initial stages of even thinking about Apptegy…now one of the fastest growing startups in Arkansas.
When the people from Startup Junkie asked me if I was interested to facilitate Startup Weekend NWA, it was an easy answer in my mind…”Hell yeah!”
So, this blog post is a selfish plea for any Arkansan that has an itch to be scratched, that wants to pursue more, to imagine more, and to meet other people that feel the same way. At least come to the pitches, you never know what will happen. Who knows, maybe you’ll pitch…maybe other people will like your idea…and maybe you’ll win. But you’ll never know unless you put yourself out there. Startup Weekend is coming to Northwest Arkansas on March 9th and tickets are available on Eventbrite. If you have any hesitation, call me, 813.293.8969…I’ll talk you into coming and trust me, it’ll change your life.