Techstars Startup Weekend is a great opportunity for anyone who has even thought about starting their own business, whether or not they even have a business idea. Over the course of a weekend participants will learn all the things they have to consider with a startup. They’ll get great advice from mentors and if all works well will have a working business prototype by end of the weekend. We’re really happy to have our REV-UP Center for Entrepreneurship, along with our partners, West Chester University and CCEDC bring this event to Penn State Great Valley.
Written by Pattie Diggin/@wcprofpepper
You may be wondering what to expect when you participate in a Techstars Startup Weekend. I felt the same way when I booked my 54 hour experience at Startup Weekend New York, June 26-28, 2017. The venue for the weekend was Galvanize New York and the theme for ideas was Social Impact.
On the morning of June 26th I boarded an Amtrak train out of Exton, Pennsylvania and headed to one of my favorite places, NYC! I arrived at Galvanize around 6pm, registered and enjoyed dinner and networking with a group of about 80 people. Some were there to pitch their ideas, others, like me were there to observe and participate in the process.
After dinner we moved on to “pitches”. About 45 people made a 1 minute pitch on their idea for a possible new product or service. The participants then selected the top 12 ideas that would be developed throughout the weekend. If your idea was not selected or if you did not present you made your way over to one of the ideas that had been selected and joined a team of 4 or 5. Then the real work began!
Teams arrived back on Saturday morning ready to dig in, brainstorm, cooperate and create. Throughout the day an impressive team of coaches and mentors were available to meet with participants. Several workshops relevant to idea creation were also presented.
On Sunday groups worked diligently to put the finishing touches on their presentation. As the afternoon drew to a close teams prepared to wow the 1st class judging panel with their idea. Each team gave a 5 minute pitch followed by Q&A from the judges. The three top ideas were recognized but everyone who attended and participated considered themselves a winner because everyone had the opportunity to participate in the Startup Weekend Process!
By: Clark Stephenson
If you’re going to be a business owner, or be involved in the creation of one, the importance of knowing your market cannot be understated; but that involves a lot more than just your own customer base. Your market is being shifted and shaped 24 hours a day by your local economy, your competition, your suppliers, their competition, etc. and certainly by your local lawmakers. And if you’re in tech, that’s all happening aboard a bullet train that’s about to be upgraded to a Hyperloop. If you’re going to be a vigilant citizen, much less a successful business owner in this uncertain economy, it is paramount that you stay up to date on how your industry is being regulated, and how it affects everything you do. For the current tech boom in PA, Harrisburg is looking for new ways to lower the boom.
Earlier this year, Governor Wolf proposed a new “tech tax” as part of his 2017-2018 budget that would have imposed severe sales and use taxes across a wide array of computer service providers, and by severe, I mean the worst in the country:
The measure would constitute a 330 million dollar kick to the stomach of the technology industry in PA, and would hurt smaller independent contractors & startups the worst; all to help cover up for budget craters in Harrisburg, because companies who are good at their jobs are always punished by bureaucrats who aren’t. However, thanks to stern opposition by the Pittsburgh Technology Council, their counterparts in Philadelphia, PA House Speaker Mike Turzai, and at least 1500 companies across the state just to name a few, the proposal was thankfully scrapped, and indeed not part of the budget the PA Senate approved at the end of July, according to Governor Wolf, who said it’s “not an issue anymore.”
So that’s good news, for now, but that’s not the only prey Harrisburg is on the hunt for. As if the tech tax wasn’t bad enough, some lawmakers are pushing for a re-work of the “Amazon tax”, just in time for Pittsburgh to submit its proposal for the online retail giant to build its second headquarters here, because there’s nothing like kicking a gift horse in the mouth, especially when you’re regarded as the top contender for said gift. And despite receiving the same fervent opposition as the tech tax, the measure is “still on the table” according to the Tribune article. Let’s hope it doesn’t spoil our chances of landing Amazon’s new playground.
Whether you’re a small, independent computer services provider, or a giant in the industry, the forces shaping your market that emanate from your State Capitol are something you can’t afford to ignore, especially if you’re just starting up. Stay informed, get involved with local organizations & councils, and contact your local representatives to voice your support or opposition whenever possible. At the very least, you’ll be more prepared to deal with the aftermath of a new law if you’ve done the math ahead of time, and at the very best, you’ll help to keep the State predators at bay.
By: Clark Stephenson
It is no secret that everybody, and their grandmother thrice removed, has a “startup” these days, many in tech but other industries as well. They’re more common than casual Fridays. But with only a 10% success rate, 1) How can you avoid becoming another “fail fast” statistic, and 2) Why even bother?
Let’s get the latter out of the way first. We bother because we’re driven to do great things – the odds of failure be damned. We bother because a fire burns inside us that pushes us over the obstacles; because we see opportunities missed by the current market, and we want our products filling that cavity. This is the way of the successful entrepreneur – the renegade, daring, no-guts-no-glory way.
That said, be sure to not let your passion for ultimate glory cloud your vision, or you will indeed fail fast. You might have your head in the clouds imagining swank offices and feature stories in Fortune & Time after you turn the industry on its head, but focus on fundamentals first. You’d be surprised how many startups don’t. That article cited a report released in 2014 (and added to since) by CB Insights, a tech market analytics firm, that revealed a staggering 42% of failed startups profiled cited a lack of market demand for their products. That is an astonishing figure. And it’s likely higher than that when you consider that “running out of cash” was the 2nd-most reason cited, at 29%, because as Steve Hogan from Tech-Rx is quoted in the Fortune article:
“Running out of cash does not cause a startup’s failure, Hogan says—it’s merely a symptom of another issue. Excluding instances of “stupid spending” or the inability to raise capital in the first place, startups tend to run out of cash when a CEO has overlooked all other indicators of failure. “Unfortunately, sometimes it’s the only ‘symptom’ that the leadership sees,” he says.”
Unless you’ve successfully ran a business before, you’ll want to learn the physical operations of one before you create one. Take an intro to business class at your local community college, and then take others in accounting, finance, operations, marketing, and other areas, or seek out one of the many free resources available online. You’ll be able to apply your classwork to your own startup operations, and vice versa.
Focus on the fundamentals first, like making a product people want to buy. You’d think that would be chapter 1, page 1, of Business 101, but sadly it often gets lost in delusions of tech-grandeur. In the Fortune article, Erin Griffith rightly points out:
“That should be self-evident. If no one wants your product, your company isn’t going to succeed. But many startups build things people don’t want with the irrational hope that they’ll convince them otherwise.
The most prominent modern example of this phenomenon is the mobile phone. People dismissed it as a novelty in its early days. Obviously, cell phones are no longer a novelty. The late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs famously said, “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” The problem is that entrepreneurs have taken that to heart. For every $19 billion company like Uber, the private transportation service, there are countless frivolous products that never catch on.”
So, keep it simple, and learn from those who didn’t. Find the hole in the market that consumers want filled, and learn how to manage basic debits & credits; and instead of joining the strange cult that has become the failure post-mortem pity party, they’ll be taking their cues from you.
We love hearing about startup stories from attendees of Philadelphia Startup Weekend. Check out Cassie Aran’s PHLSW 2012 experience and how it inspired her to start her own business:
PHLSW: Tell us a little about yourself and how you got into the startup scene.
CA: I became interested in entrepreneurship Freshman year of college when my school encouraged me to attend Startup Weekend events. It opened my eyes to all the different components and people a business needs to work. I graduated college a few months ago and used this knowledge to start Cookie Munchers, a late night cookie delivery service for Rowan students and homes in Glassboro, NJ.
I started a cookie delivery service because I thought it was something I could really have fun with. Since opening five weeks ago, we have sold over 900 boxes of cookies and made four behind the scenes video blogs for my YouTube channel “KICKINwithCASSIE” The videos show the real life struggles and triumphs I’ve faced while launching my first startup. You can also find us on Facebook and our website:
PHLSW: What inspired you to go to Philadelphia Startup Weekend? (How did you find out about it?)
CA: Rowan University has a great entrepreneurship program and they email you about all entrepreneurship events in the surrounding area. I was taking a class in entrepreneurship that encourages students to go out and attend events around startups. The class offered to pay for any students that wanted to attend for the first time. I took them up on the offer and since then have attended two more startup weekends. These weekends connected me with friends from various backgrounds who all wanted to start businesses.
PHLSW: Do you remember how you felt the first day of Philadelphia Startup Weekend?
CA: As an 18 year old freshman, I was definitely nervous when I saw how many people were there and all were older than me. Originally I was way too scared to pitch an idea. However, last minute I decided that it would be a cool experience, so I tried it. It was nerve racking and my idea didn’t make it through, but I joined another team that ended up being perfect for me.
PHLSW: What was your role and responsibilities on your team at the PHLSW event?
CA: Although I am a business major, I have a background in design, so I did all the graphic design needed behind the idea. Being a freshman in college, my business knowledge wasn’t fully established yet.
PHLSW: What was the most important lesson that you learned from your Startup Weekend experience?
CA: I learned to just take a chance and try new things. Although my idea wasn’t chosen, I met some amazing people and learned about all the components needed to put a successful business together. I learned just taking a chance can really change your input on life and entrepreneurship.
PHLSW: Can you share your top 3 tips to attendees going to Philadelphia Startup Weekend this year?
- Try pitching an idea. Even if it doesn’t get through, it will take you out of your comfort zone and help you become more comfortable in front of a crowd.
- Get names and numbers of the people you work with and stay in touch. You are all from different backgrounds and will be able to help each other in the future, its guaranteed!
- Even if the idea doesn’t end up being executed, put all your effort into it so you can get the full experience of putting the business together. And don’t be afraid to ask questions if you don’t understand what everyone is doing. Everyone is there to help and learn!
Thanks for sharing with us Cassie! We hope you find Cassie’s story inspiring like we did.
If you still haven’t signed up for Philadelphia Startup Weekend yet, you can do so here and save 25% on your ticket if you use promo code ‘PHLSWLASTCALL’ at ticket selection.
Expires October 31st. Get your ticket here: Philadelphia Startup Weekend Event
When you sign up for Startup Weekend, you start to dream. When you’re in the thick of building a business in a weekend, you start to believe the dream could become a reality. If you keep at it years later, the dream will become a reality.
It all starts during Friday night pitches. The days and months leading up to Startup Weekend are exciting and a bit nerve-racking. What if… is a question that comes to mind often. What if no one likes my idea? What if I don’t get along with my team? What if we lose?
Here are a few more possibilities: What if we win? What if I love my team? What if this event changes everything for me?
These are extreme examples, and the team of Startup Weekend Pittsburgh: Women’s Edition organizers have experienced the highs and lows of Startup Weekend. It’s an all-encompassing event built on teamwork, competition, and dreams. If you’ve ever wanted to take the leap to start a company, we’re here to dream with you. It starts with a pitch.
Very special thank you to sponsor Viewpoint Production Services for helping us create the pitch video!
I’ve participated in many hackathons — both as a marketer and as a developer. I’ve found that every person who participates in Startup Weekend (SUW) is wanted but the most difficult segment to recruit are developers.
A little about myself: I learned to code in 2013 and made the career switch from marketer to developer. It is incredibly empowering to think up an idea and to be able to build it yourself. Developers at Startup Weekend often make a big impact because when they pitch an idea, it is implied that it is technically feasible and it is open for collaboration with non-technical/designer participants.
Developers considering signing up for Startup Weekend should consider all of the great benefits and opportunities that it presents:
- Found a new API you’ve been meaning to tinker with? Pitch it!
- Been dabbling in a new language that you’d love to try out? This is a great opportunity to build a real app with it (For me: this is Elm and Haskell).
- Know a ton of developers but not the rest of the startup community? Now’s your chance.
- Looking for a new job and want to meet people who can connect you with one? This is especially important for junior developers.
- Need to round out your portfolio and prove that you have management skills? Leading a team at SUW is great experience.
- Love delicious food and prizes? The price of the ticket pales to all of the great swag and local food and coffee you get to enjoy all weekend.
- Been curious about learning about the business and design side of things? The knowledge transfer at Startup Weekend is one the best parts of the weekend. I often encourage developers to not get boxed into coding only.
- For my event specifically (Startup Weekend Pittsburgh: Women’s Edition), want to meet other kickass women in our community? Find a mentor or a co-founder? SUW is the place.
Participating as a developer is not a ploy to get free work from talented programmers. Rather, it is a way for you to assist another entrepreneur in bringing her idea to fruition or find the amazing team that will turn your venture into reality.
We’re recruiting developers, designers and business folk to join us on March 18th – 20th, 2016 at Alphalab for Startup Weekend Pittsburgh: Women’s Edition. Sign up here and I will see you there!
I always wanted to start a company. And once I saw the power of the internet, I wanted to start an internet company. But I didn’t know if it was possible.
When I was in school, there weren’t any entrepreneurship classes or programs. Even in college, I don’t remember anyone talking about starting companies. I graduated from college in 2006, so Facebook was a platform that we used on campus. But the idea that we could start an internet company that could impact the world wasn’t talked about. Everyone was downloading music for free, and I think we all somehow thought that one day the endless supply of free music would go away. The authorities would take over. Just like we weren’t allowed to cite Wikipedia as a legitimate source in a school paper, nothing on the internet was legitimized yet.
After I graduated, I was completely lost. I spent all of my time and energy trying to graduate on time to avoid more school loans that I never thought about a career. Originally I went to college thinking I would go to law school immediately after graduating, but I already felt the overwhelming debt burden before graduating, and I read about the increasing number of law school grads without job opportunities. I also didn’t want to decide my professional fate at the age of twenty-two. I wanted to try my hand at starting a company. But I didn’t know if it was possible.
So I searched in bookstores for answers. Almost every day. One day I came across a book called “Founders at Work” by Jessica Livingston. I didn’t have much money, so I think I just read the book in the bookstore. I remember that she interviewed a lot of men about starting internet companies. I thought to myself, “that sounds like the exact thing I want to do with my life.” And I remember something in the book about starting a class or program in Boston for people that want to start internet companies. And I thought, “probably for MIT or Stanford grads.” Not for a girl from Pittsburgh. I put the book back on the shelf.
I went to networking events – every networking event I could find. Men in suits hit on me occasionally. I thought to myself, “I want to start a company, not find a date.” Again, I felt lost.
I spent so much time in bookstores that I ended up working for a bookstore chain for four years. During that time, I heard about a local accelerator program for internet companies called AlphaLab run by Innovation Works. That sounded really interesting. But I reminded myself that I had a Political Science degree and worked at a bookstore. I put the idea out of my head.
Around the time Borders books closed, I realized working for a bookstore chain was not a longterm solution to my aimless professional existence. I quit and started blogging about the power of the internet and social media. I applied to a few local startups, not knowing how to frame my “expertise” in the job interview. Some companies did not respond. Some companies interviewed me for customer service type roles. I cringe when I think about those interviews. I was so nervous, and I didn’t get the job, anywhere.
Next thing I knew, I was offered a job at an education company. I needed the money. The people seemed nice. I took the job. Many days I sat in my car at lunchtime reading tweets. I followed people in the startup world. I didn’t really talk to them, but I followed them. And one day I came across something called “Startup Weekend Pittsburgh.” I signed up immediately. I didn’t even have to think about it. Someone was putting on an event where you start companies, and I could sign up. HOLY S#&%, I thought to myself.
Since then, I’ve participated in four Startup Weekend Pittsburgh events. I was on the first place team at two events. I was on the second place team at one event. And I’m a proud AlphaLab alum.
I don’t know how to explain what Startup Weekend means to me. This is the first time I’m really sharing my experience on the internet, and obviously I’m simplifying it for the sake of brevity. But this post is to say that I don’t feel lost anymore. Startup Weekend showed me a way. It showed me that a girl from Pittsburgh with a Political Science degree and a confusing work history can start an internet company – several, actually.
It’s not to say that it’s easy, because it’s not. There are new challenges every day. But it’s possible. I want you to know that it’s possible.
If you buy a ticket to participate at Startup Weekend Pittsburgh Women, I will do everything in my power to instill in you the idea that anything is possible, and the Startup Weekend Pittsburgh community is here to help you make it happen. Please join us if you have a dream of starting a company.
Just under one month to go until StartupWeekend Civic! Over at Idea Foundry we’re always excited to meet new ideas and the people behind them. So when we heard that Startup Weekend Pittsburgh was holding a special edition focused solely on Civic Innovation, we got psyched!
Why are we so thrilled to be part of Startup Weekend Civic? Here at Idea Foundry through our Social Enterprise sector, we have an explicit focus on supporting businesses innovating to benefit the common good, for people, planet, and profit. We’re energized seeing so many Pittsburghers who are passionate about solving the big, systemic problems that real people in our region face. Because for us, that is what social enterprise is all about.
So what is civic innovation to us? How is it linked to social enterprise, and why is that link significant?
To us, civic innovation means enabling citizens to examine the core public sector issues we all experience everyday. It could be a lack of convenient public transportation that moves us quickly from home to job or school and back; rising rates of obesity and other life-style related illnesses; or the non-level playing field that exists for free access to information and knowledge resources: Civic Innovation is coming up with disruptive, game-changing solutions to those problems. This could mean developing more expansive and effective public transportation systems that include mass transit as well as bike and ride share infrastructure; creating new land use policies that lead to more green space where people can relax, work, and play; or introducing technology that promotes universal public wifi, which could lead to more engaged, empowered citizens.
Meanwhile, social enterprise as we define it at Idea Foundry is a completely new business model that drives social change and supports a healthy planet and healthy communities while generating profit and financial sustainability. These for-profit enterprises are developing and applying innovative, disruptive solutions that address huge social or environmental problems while creating profit and scalable economic opportunity. Whether addressing poor air or water quality, low access to fresh, healthy foods, or our ability to develop sustainable and renewable fuels, our social entrepreneurs are reinventing the principles of for-profit business to solve and prevent environmental and social problems in market-driven ways, while adding economic value to all involved stakeholders.
As a society, our ability to address these huge, systemic social and environmental challenges matters, because these issues affect the way we live with one another, interact with the environment around us, as well as our overall quality of life. A healthy, functioning city cares for people and empowers them to make changes. This can make everyone happier, healthier, and more prosperous as a whole. An unhealthy civic environment benefits only a small percentage disproportionately at the expense of many, creates unequal opportunity and wellbeing only for the few, and brings us all down as a result. This leads to a split society, and leaves people powerless to make meaningful changes.
The relative strength or weakness of our civic structure also affects much more than our individual livelihoods, it impacts the big picture. It affects the way we perform as a holistic society, and measures our relative strength and resilience as a city, region, individual community, or neighborhood. It determines our collective wellbeing, our global competiveness as an equitable, livable city, as well as our ability to attract new people to the region who can help propel our ever-evolving city forward.
For us at Idea Foundry, this links to the work we do to support for-profit social entrepreneurs, because social enterprise is all about making life better for the people who really need it. It’s about dreaming up scalable, impactful, and market-based solutions to the world’s biggest problems. It’s about opening up new markets by delivering products and services to people who have been left behind and introducing solutions where they’ve never been available. It’s tackling problems that don’t seem to have answers, at least ones that are adequate, and asking, how can I approach this differently, in a new and meaningful way? How can I create a business that is responsible and responsive to all stakeholders, from employees and shareholders, to suppliers, customers, and the natural environment, in a way that is financially viable and economically sustainable?
In our 13-year history, Idea Foundry has been dedicated to helping entrepreneurs solve problems that matter. From life-saving medical devices, to ground-breaking classroom technologies; from devices that protect and improve our environment, to commercializable advances in energy efficiency and renewables: we’re focused on helping entrepreneurs bring their innovative solutions to market.
InterSector, Idea Foundry’s social enterprise accelerator, funds and guides the creation of early stage social enterprise companies that develop scalable, efficient, and innovative solutions to the world’s most pressing social and environmental problems. Our companies are using big data to help law enforcement officers combat human trafficking; developing technologies to enable the blind and sight-impaired live better, more independent lives; turning trash into dignified jobs and products people love; engineering systems that run on biofuels and other renewable energy sources; promoting health and wellness for Pittsburghers; and designing software solutions to increase government efficiency and increase budgets while saving taxpayers money.
We are helping to generate the next wave of triple bottom line companies creating sustainable economic opportunity in Western Pennsylvania and measurable social change locally and globally, by helping social entrepreneurs evaluate market opportunities and assess their ability to innovate in the marketplace. We do this because we believe business for good is the future.
By providing support to entrepreneurs who have big ideas to change the world through business, we’re helping solve those critical social and environmental challenges that will define our success for the generations that come after us. And we know that as civic innovators, that is your goal too.
If you think you have a great solution to increase the common good, we can’t wait to see what you come up with in this year’s Startup Weekend Civic Pittsburgh, and to support you through the process after the weekend is over. Sign up today. We wish you the best of luck, and happy innovating!
By Nicole Muise-Kielkucki
Director, Social Enterprise
As one of the proud community leaders of Startup Weekend Pittsburgh, I believe that our events bring out the best in our community. We’re the ones who teach others to stand at the edge and leap head-on into the unknown. We encourage people to listen to our city’s problems, create solutions, and iterate them if they don’t work out.
However, I think we sometimes get a little caught up in the glory of the startup world and forget about the pressing needs that are surround us at all times. Pittsburgh’s certainly a city on the rise, but it’s a city with a lot of work to do as well.
All proceeds go entirely to 412 Food Rescue, a non-profit initiative to reuse unsellable food and convert them into healthy, delicious meals for our community’s hungry. The event will take place at The Livermore in East Liberty on July 25th from 7pm to midnight.
Here are 7 figures that motivate our entrepreneurial efforts to curb this very serious problem (facts and figures mostly extracted from Feeding America):
That’s the percent of people who live in Allegheny County who are “food insecure,” or are unable to feed themselves adequately. That seems small, but here’s another number.
The number of people who are food insecure in Allegheny County. You could almost fill Heinz Stadium three times over with that many people.
How many children are food insecure in Allegheny County. That’s greater than the capacity of PNC Park.
How much an average healthy meal costs in our region.
How much it would cost to eradicate hunger in Allegheny County every year.
The price of a ticket to the Summer Harvest. Using 412 Food Rescue’s efficient, ecological approach, each person who attends this will be able to feed a family of suffering from hunger for an entire week.
The number of people it takes to make a difference.
As an entrepreneur and a community organizer, I am convinced of the power of a single individual to make a huge difference in their community. This is not idealism – such impacts happen all the time. After all…
If you’d also like to sponsor or donate, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for reading!
Lee Ngo is a community leader based in Pittsburgh, PA.