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.