Startup Weekend Education Pittsburgh: A Dream Event Come True

Startup Weekend Education Pittsburgh (SWeduPGH) is the perfect storm of education and entrepreneurship in the Pittsburgh community. We have only begun our planning of the event, and already we have some very big announcements:

A Platinum Sponsor

Problem Solutions
Our first major sponsor!

We already secured our first platinum sponsor: Problem Solutions! SWPGH#6 attendee Walt Grata reached out to us immediately after the event and put me in touch with company president Mike Hruska, co-author of the soon to be released “Ed Tech Software Developer’s Guide.” Suffice to say, we are very happy to have their support!

A School for an Event Location

Our event will be held at the Environmental Charter Upper School (ECS)! Located just outside of Frick Park, ECS’s relatively central location, parking accessibility, and consolidated layout works extremely well for the needs of a Startup Weekend event. Plus, where better (or more obvious) to conduct an education-themed event than at a school?

A Top-Tier Facilitator

Mandela Schumacher-Hodge will be our event facilitator! For the uninitiated, every Startup Weekend event requires an out-of-town facilitator to help the organization team execute the event. We really lucked out by tapping the Director of Education Entepreneurs for UP Global, the parent organization of Startup Weekend! Mandela is a Pittsburgh native to boot!

An Amazing Organizing Team

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SWeduPGH co-organizers (from left) Shimira Williams, Lee Ngo, and Courtney Francis

We have truly assembled a “Dream Team” for SWeduPGH. Hand-picked for their experience, passion, and reputation in the educational and startup communities, we’re going to knock this event out of the park:

Courtney Francis (@cfrancisrun), Co-Organizer and Marketing Lead
Shimira Williams (@tekstart), Co-Organizer and Operations Lead
Christian Moreno (@cmoreno_13), Sponsorship Coordinator
Cat Tsavalas (@cattsavalas), Social Media Coordinator

As we head into 2015, we hope that you will be a part of this exciting event we’re putting on for the Pittsburgh educational community. We’re actively looking for mentors, judges, a keynote speaker, and game-day volunteers. Tickets are already available here, and for more information, feel free to email us at pittsburghedu@startupweekend.org.

See you in February 2015, and Happy Holidays!
Lee Ngo (@leepngo)
Lead Organizer, Sponsorship Lead
Startup Weekend Education Pittsburgh (@swedupgh)

In promotion of the first Startup Weekend Education Pittsburgh, this blog post is the first of a series by and for the education technology community in Pittsburgh. All inquiries can be directed to pittsburghedu@startupweekend.org.








Whoa. #PHLSW was amazing

PHLSW_form_teams
PHLSW participants form teams on Friday night after voting for the best pitches.
Photo by Laurie Satran from The Art of Breaking Bread

Wow. The PHLSW organizing team is STILL recovering from the whirlwind that was Philadelphia Startup Weekend. After a weekend of customer validation, brainstorming, and business planning (accompanied by delicious tea and food) we were exhausted!

Organizer Matthew Grande and Facilitator Nate Allen hanging out at the registration table. Thanks for the photo Laurie Satran from The Art of Breaking Bread!
Organizer Matthew Grande and Facilitator Nate Allen hanging out at the registration table.
Thanks for the photo Laurie Satran from The Art of Breaking Bread!

Our organizers (most of which were first-time organizers) – Matthew Grande, Alisha Neva (that’s me), Bill Hargenrader, Jon Wagner, Liz Brown, and Tracy Katz came together to rock a successful weekend. And thanks to our facilitator, Nate Allen, the weekend went off without (okay, practically without) a hitch.

On Sunday evening we had 13 (!!!) teams present their amazing businesses after spending the weekend with coaches and mentors – Jon Wagner, Ravi Bala, Matthew Grande, Bill Hargenrader, Daniele Hargenrader, Tracy Welson-Rossman and Chris Baglieri.

Forager, one of our 13 final teams, working on their final presentation.  Thanks for the photo Laurie Satran of The Art of Breaking Bread
Forager, one of our 13 final teams, working on their final presentation.
Thanks for the photo Laurie Satran of The Art of Breaking Bread

Our judges – Chuck Sacco, Mike Krupit, and Dave Clarke – then selected 3 top teams – it was such a hard decision that we ended up with 1 first place team and 2 second place teams.

First Place

should_i_app_2_screens
Screen shots of the ShouldI? app provided by Katy Lee.

The first place winner – shouldI – is an app to help people make decisions in real-time. Users post a question – such as “Should I eat turkey on Thanksgiving from McDonalds?” and other users get to vote yes or no. It’s that simple. And it’s beautiful. This can help you from deciding where to buy your socks to who to manage your financial portfolio. And the judges saw this beauty in action…and loved it.

The ShouldI? team glowing in their success!  Thanks for the photo Laurie Satran of The Art of Breaking Bread!
The ShouldI? team glowing in their success!
Thanks for the photo Laurie Satran of The Art of Breaking Bread!

The shouldI team received a membership at ic3401, free classes at Girl Develop It Philly, a web design and dev evaluation from WebJunto, the first company profile on started.in Philadelphia, and a bonus prize from Chris Baglieri – who offered to aid in the development in the app.

Runners-up and other teams

Our runners-up were StockJock and metoo.

The other teams are all featured on the f6s website including Food Connect – a startup that helps to donate food from catered events to those in need which they started doing at PHLSW.

Thank You

For such a great weekend filled with inspiration and butt kicking to all of the organizers, sponsors, coaches, judges, and of course participants!

Looking forward to seeing everyone at the next event – stay tuned for details or sign up for our mailing list to get details in your inbox (we promise not to spam you – nobody likes spam…except maybe these people).








Agendafy Wins Startup Weekend Pittsburgh #6

“70% who showed up this weekend didn’t know each other. Now you’re pitching startups.”- Kit Muller, co-organizer of Startup Weekend Pittsburgh.

From strangers to movers and shakers, congratulations to all the teams who pitched their companies at Startup Weekend Pittsburgh #6! We couldn’t have asked for a better group of attendees, mentors, sponsors and volunteers. A special thank you to @AlphaLabGear & @ThrillMillPgh for accommodating the 130+ crazed attendees.

Without further ado, here are your #SWPgh6 winners:

First Place Team: Agendafy
“Meetings suck. Agendafy helps make them suck less. We’re changing the way companies conduct meetings.”
Prize:
Agendafy2

Second Place Team: Jumpit
“JumpIt is the Uber for emergency car assistance, seamlessly connecting those in need with local and available assistance.”

Prize:
Processed with VSCOcam with g3 preset

Third Place Team: 360Showings
“360 showings improves how realtors show properties by taking the blinds off: let buyers look around inside 360 videos.”

Prize:
IMG_2281

Thank you all for joining us on this 54-hour journey. #SWPgh6 participant Will Gibbons said it best: “It’s hectic, challenging, inspiring, exhausting and exhilarating.” For many of us, it was our first experience with Startup Weekend Pittsburgh. Aside from a lot of tweeting and blogging, I did not know what to expect. I embarked on the #swpgh journey with a nice mix of nerves and excitement, and am happy to say I ended up with unforgettable memories. I got to experience first hand, individuals coming together to create something bigger than themselves. Not just potential companies, but a community of entrepreneurs. My biggest takeaway from the weekend is the relationships I forged while working alongside the participants, volunteers and organizers. Competing to win is important, but enjoying the journey takes precedence. Startup Weekend is a sprint. Entrepreneurship is a marathon.

Congrats again to all of the attendees for participating and pitching your ideas. More importantly, pat yourselves on the back for putting yourself in a new setting and stepping out of your comfort zones. You are now graduates of Startup Weekend Pittsburgh!

Welcome to the community that builds Pittsburgh’s tomorrow.

 

 








The Inside Scoop on Startup Weekend Pittsburgh

Our keynote speaker Don Charleton, Founder and CEO of The Resumator, said it best. “You have to be freaking crazy to want to do this.” Day 3 of Startup Weekend Pittsburgh is well on its way and our teams have shown that they are, freaking crazy.

We’re not saying that we have the formula for Startup Weekend perfected, but if you want to get pretty close, it starts with: 135 attendees, 30+ pitches, 16 involved sponsors, 13 teams competing,  three food trucks, an amazing volunteer team, a magician, a 3D printer and the Pittsburgh community. The result: an unforgettable Startup Weekend.

Let’s recap this weekend’s highlights:

Friday night networking

Friday night networking between our 100+ attendees. The “calm” before the storm.

First pitch of the night

The first pitch of the night led by Jim and Ilana from @AlphaLabGear @alphalab #SWPgh6 had over 30 pitches, which ended up forming into 13 teams.

Zeke's coffee

 

Zeke’s in the Burgh kept the entire crowd caffeinated all weekend long. Not to mention their awesome apple cheddar scones.

The big board of team needs. Teams helping each other out

After our Saturday pow-pow teams shared their progress and their company needs. It resulted into teams working as a community, lending a helping hand wherever they could. Startup Weekend Pittsburgh is more than a 54 hour competition, it’s about building a community.

Magician Lee Terbosic
Magician Lee Terbosic

Work hard, play hard. #SWPgh brought in professional magician @LeeTerbosic for a much deserved mental break.

 

Street Foods #foodtruck heaven

If you needed another reason to join the #SWPgh movement, the abundance of gourmet grub should be it. We had food catered from @streetfoodspgh, @PghTacoTruck, @LomitoTruck and @jimmyjohns.

Mentoring

We had 10+ mentors, representing various industries, giving advice to our teams as they progressed throughout the weekend. @BrazenKitchen giving food industry advice to one of our teams.

.@Tech_shop 3D printing our attendees

@TechShopPGH made an appearance on Sunday, 3D printing our attendees. Plastic never looked so good.

We are minutes away from Sunday’s final pitches! Our panel of judges are:

Jose Amayo – Mind Over Media
Denise Desimone – C-Leveled
Debra Lam – City of Pittsburgh
Tara Ronel – SnapRetail
Eric Silver – WebKite

Follow our twitter feed for live updates @startupwkndpgh!

 

 

 








The Big Board of #SWPgh6 Needs

At our 2 p.m. pow-wow each team updated the #SWPgh crowd on their company’s status and needs. What’s a Startup Weekend without a couple roadblocks, right?
Screen Shot 2014-11-22 at 12.29.31 PM
Get the inside scoop on how our teams are progressing and what you can do to help them get ready for Sunday pitches. Tweet @startupwkndpgh if you can help any of our teams out. Much appreciated!
Team @harmonicsapp is working on app that helps auditory learners. Pretty rad. They need help getting their survey taken by the masses!
Got Crohns disease? Team @giculprit is working on using data analytics to identify culprit or trigger foods for IBS and Crohns Disease. They need to get in contact with a GI doctor or anyone with Crohns Disease.
Have you prepared your will? Yea, me neither. @LoDoMoLife is helping people find a simple way to prepare for wills and assets. They are looking to connect with HR/EAP contacts, professionals with sales experience and their survey!
Last, but not least, @Chefmeclasses needs help with….yup, their survey.
Halfway through #SWPgh6 and our teams are making moves. Thanks to all our mentors and sponsors making this event possible. Stay tuned for more updates!







Startup Weekend Pittsburgh 6 Teams are on the Grid

Companies in the Making: Startup Weekend Pittsburgh Teams Have Formed

Networking

Over 30 pitches were delivered Friday night and 13 teams have formed to represent #SWPgh6. Meet the teams:

opening pitches

Team LODOMO

“We are creating a web/app for Money, Life, & Death Organizer. Helping people find a simple way to prepare for wills and assets.”

Members: Heather Broman, Paige Sabedra, Jonathan Shaffer, Kyle Szives, Nina Patel, Garrett Buyan

@LODOMOlife #finance #legal

Team GI Culprit

“We are the next version of food journals using data analytics to identify culprit or trigger foods for IBS and Crohns Disease.”

Members: Bridget Deasy, Alani Grant, Tom Kierzkowski, Walt Grata, Phil Goetz, William Lutz, Tess Bailie, Bill Holmes, William Hardy, Nicole Flasco

@GICulprit #health

Team Harmonics

“Harmonic is an app that lets any student take their boring educational notes that they are studying and convert them into a unique song.”

Members: Brooke Bango, Jacob Howell, Zach Shefska, Ajay Krishna, Teja Kavuri, Josh Brown

@HarmonicsApp #education

Team KidBizTools

“We help kids learn how to run their business and track their business so they can kill it in their neighborhood while they rake leaves, shovel snow, babysit, etc.”

Members: Dan Delanis, Allison Howard, Rob Simpson, Phil Ciarrocchi, Evan McIntyre, Stone Swiess

@kidbiztools #businessdev

Team Tap Yapa

“We are rethinking the way you gift. Gifting made fun.”

Members: Tom Jones, Arash Danaie, Bruce McElroy, Katherine Marino

@TapYapa #retail

Team Vurika

“We provide educators a platform for adding multimedia content to traditional instruction using augmented reality and hypermedia.”

Members: Anna Belak,  Juan Corzo, John DeGore, Jason Azares, Thidanun Saensuksopa, Saba Kazi, Elizabeth Wagstaff, Michael Richardson, Landon Paik

@Vurika_App #techmed

Team NexGenDoc

“We minimize the amount of time to deliver proven medical research to bedside practice through educational application.”

Members: Andrew Mortimer, Dennis Paskorz, Anastasia Lanz, Haohan Wang

@nexgendocapp #techmed

Team Metal Sense

“Fast, accurate, and inexpensive field portable heavy metal testing for water, soil, food, and human health.”

Members: Nicholas Nuar, Stephen House,Emma Casehart, Ashok Chandrasekaran

@Metal_Sense #environmental

Team Agendafy

“Meetings That [Actually] Work – “AGENDAFY” It!”

Members: Robb Myer, Courtney Francis, Karen Tang, Ryan Richardson, Ben Alderoty, Corey Keller, Tyler Matteo, Savannah Butler, Michele Petruccell, Bob LaVella

@agendafyit #productivity

Team 360showings
“360 showings improves how realtors show properties by taking the blinds off: let buyers look around inside 360 videos.”
Members: Brian Woodard, Will Gibbons, Mike Hill, Jeff Bennett, Vanessa Li, Hongqiao Lu, Troy Demmer
@360showings #production
Team ChefMe
“We are a “restaurant in a home” dining experience.  We are looking to help facilitate mini businesses for those cooks who love to cook and love to teach.”

Members: Meera, Ebby, Mario.

@ChefMe #entertainment

Team Stepladder
“Scaling the “Can you meet for coffee?” portion of the job search/recruiting pipeline.”
Members: Cassandra Buncie, Dillan DiNardo, Mohamad Koueifi, Cheng Peng, Sergey Tulyakov
@StepladderTech #networking
Team JumpIt!
“JumpIt is the Uber for emergency car assistance. By seamlessly connecting those in need with local and available assistance, JumpIt will eliminate long phone calls, reduces waiting time for help to arrive, accurately pinpoints when they will get there, and is cheaper than an annual subscription to an auto club.”
Members: Tim Delaney, Matthew DeSantis, Yiru Yao, Hans Neilsen, Mario Brown, Bill Moran
@JumpitApp #service
Winning teams
The weekend is still young and teams are diligently working to get their companies ready for Sunday night pitches. Stay tuned for more updates from #SWPgh6.







SWPgh Stories: Follow Your Fear, Find Your Adventure

This is the final in a series of guest posts between now and SWPgh#6 by past participants and supporters here to share their experiences and insights about what it really means to participate in Startup Weekend Pittsburgh.

Andrea Wetherald: “Startup Weekend is an invitation to be your bravest self”

matters

A year and a half ago, my team won Startup Weekend. My company, Share Closet, was brought to life by a group of people who were strangers to me the week before. Before we get too far into this, I should warn you: This is not a blog post about how to win Startup Weekend. That will cost you a mojito! (Just kidding. The trick to winning is extensive market research and having a team made up of the greatest people on Earth.) This is a blog post about doing something you’re afraid of, being vulnerable, finding your tribe, and starting an adventure.

unnamed.jpg

Out of the Comfort Zone

I was terrified of Startup Weekend — I hate public speaking and felt nervous about sharing something I cared so much about, with people I barely knew. What if they don’t like my idea? What if I tell them about the research I’ve done so far and I sound stupid? What if I break out in hives on stage and forget everything I was going to say and pass out in front of everyone?

In improv comedy, there’s a saying: “Follow the Fear.” Although I didn’t know it yet, that’s exactly what I was doing at Startup Weekend. I was pushed out of my comfort zone and into a second family. I couldn’t be more thankful for the friends and mentors I met that weekend, and the wonderful adventure that was launched because of it.

improv.jpg

Be Your Bravest Self

I’m not working on Share Closet anymore. (That story will cost you a mojito.) I’m at peace with it: I’m currently working at a job I love, another Pittsburgh startup called LoyalTree, with some pretty wonderful people. And I spend almost every night with a group of lunatics from Steel City Improv Theater. I wouldn’t have been led to either of those things without Startup Weekend. If you’re reading this and thinking “I could never be brave enough to pitch my idea in front of a room full of strangers,” follow your fear! Startup Weekend is an invitation to be your bravest self, and to find a group of people who will support your adventure (and to get barely any sleep, and to probably get a cold).

It’s worth it! You can do it! Find your adventure!

Andrea Wetherald won Startup Weekend #3 with her company Share Closet. She is also an account Manager for local startup LoyalTree and an avid member of Steel City Improv Theater.








Prize List Announced: Motivated Yet?

It’s official folks.  The prizes for this year’s Lehigh Valley Startup Weekend have been finalized and we wanted to give you all some motivation heading into the weekend. The prizes being offered are exceptional and, if effectively leveraged by the winners, could substantially advance their endeavor and prepare their for taking the next steps in their startup’s journey.

Here’s the breakdown:

Baker Institute for Entrepreneurship, Creativity & Innovation – Entrepreneurial Education

11 E. Packer Avenue, Bethlehem, PA 18015
Lisa Getzler-Linn  |  lig4@lehigh.edu  |  (610) 758-4620

1st, 2nd, 3rd Place

  • Three (3) seats in the Venture Series Program to be split up as team sees fit (3 in one class / 1 in three classes). (visit their website HERE)

  • Work with a designated senior capstone team of 7 students from Lehigh’s Integrated Business & Engineering Honors Program. The program runs from January 2015 through December 2015.  There is no charge to participate and all the work product is owned by the start-up finalist, not the students or Lehigh University.

  • Value: $2700

Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeast Pennsylvania – Venture Idol

116 Research Drive, Bethlehem, PA 18015
Wayne Barz  | wbarz@nep.benfranklin.org  |  (610) 758-5421

1st Place

  • Two team representatives will attend Ben Franklin Venture Idol on Thursday, Nov 21st for the chance to present. (visit their website HERE)

  • Affiliate Membership at Ben Franklin TechVentures business incubator (visit their website HERE)

  • Value: $1,025

RLB Certified Public Accountants

702 Hamilton Street, Suite 200, Allentown, PA 18101
Jeff Berdhal  |  jberdahl@rlbaccountants.com  |  (610) 434-7700

1st Place

  • Four (4) hours tax and accounting consulting relating to startup of your enterprise.

  • Value: $1,000

2nd Place

  • Three (3) hours tax and accounting consulting relating to startup of your enterprise.

  • Value: $900

3rd Place

  • Two (2) hours tax and accounting consulting relating to startup of your enterprise.

  • Value: $700

Fitzpatrick Lentz & Bubba Attorneys at Law

4001 Schoolhouse Lane, Center Valley, PA 18034
Megan Beste  | mbeste@flblaw.com  |  (610) 797-9000 ext 252

1st Place

  • Three (3) one-hour consultations to discuss intellectual property issues related to the business.

  • Non-Disclosure Agreement and Intellectual Property Assignment forms tailored to the business.

  • Value: $1,170

2nd Place

  • One (1) hour consultation to discuss intellectual property issues related to the business.

  • Non-Disclosure Agreement and Intellectual Property Assignment forms tailored to the business.

  • Value: $665

3rd Place

  • One (1) hour consultation to discuss intellectual property issues related to the business.

  • Non-Disclosure Agreement or Intellectual Property Assignment forms tailored to the business.

  • Value: $405

AEDC – Coworking space provided at the Bridgeworks Enterprise Center

905 Harrison Street, Allentown, PA 18103
Anthony Durante  |  adurante@allentownedc.com  |  (610) 435-8890

1st, 2nd, 3rd Place

  • Shared desk space membership for up to two (2) team members for one (1) year.

  • Value: $600

MTS Ventures – Design Consulting & Prototyping

905 Harrison Street, Suite 136, Allentown, PA 18103
Matthew Sommerfield  |  Matt@mtsventures.com  |  (610) 351-3483

1st Place

  • Four (4) hours of consulting/machine time (materials not included)

  • Value: $580

2nd, 3rd Place

  • Two (2) hours of consulting/machine time (materials not included)

  • Value: $290

A Quick Note Concerning Prize Allocation: It is up to the winning teams to divvy up the prizes as they see fit and it is also up to the individual to follow up with the sponsors. Prizes may be claimed within one (1) year of the event at the discretion of the prize provider.








Startup Weekend Final Presentations: How to Impress the Judges

Winning at Startup Weekend means lots of things. It means learning more than you ever thought you could learn in a weekend. It means meeting more interesting people than you ever thought you’d meet in your lifetime. It means starting something and changing your life.

It also means ranking as the best team as voted on by the judges.

Here is a rundown of what the judges consider. Bear in mind that there is no rubric for judging, and your best bet is to make as much progress in each of these areas as possible. Be careful not to put all of your eggs into one basket: don’t make beautiful mockups without validating your idea and don’t build features before you’ve built your core functionality.

Here’s what the judges are looking for:

Have you validated your idea and core value proposition with your target customer or market?

You came in with a smashing pitch, rallied a great team, and built some cool stuff. But does anyone care? Have you surveyed your Startup Weekend attendees and all of your Facebook friends? Have you interviewed anyone and found anyone who will use your product? If you have, you’ve validated your idea and will win bonus points in the eyes of your judges.

Have you figured out the revenue streams that turn the product into a business? 

If the judges were investors, they’d want to know how their investment will turn into cold hard cash. If you can have cash in hand at the end of the weekend from a paying customer, even better.

Does it work? 

Focus your efforts over the weekend on building a functional minimum viable product. Once you’ve validated your idea with customers and built the first iteration of your product, it’s time to begin the cycle again by getting real feedback from real customers on the functionality and usability. Judges are looking for a baseline level of core functionality that can be used to get customer feedback for the next iteration.

How does it look?

Don’t go for pretty, go for usability. Design an interface that encourages people to sign up, pay for, and use your product. But don’t spend too much time on the details. Minimum viable product applies to functionality and design. You’re going to test everything and continue to improve the usability later on.

How do you and your team work together?

Remember: startups get funded when investors believe in the capability and perseverance of the founding team. Demonstrate that you’ve done your homework, that you can execute, and that you know what you’re doing.

 

A few basics on the final presentations for Startup Weekend:

How much time do I have to pitch?

You are allowed to pitch for a maximum of 5 minutes. There is no extra time for showing a demo, if you want to do that, fit it within the 5 minutes of your presentation.

Can I use my own laptop?

You must! Additionally, it’s mandatory that you attend the pitch practice (3PM) to check that your device works properly.

How much time will there be for the judges’ to ask their questions and for you to answer them?

Three minutes.

 

It’s also worth reading this great piece from the winner of Startup Weekend San Jose. Teaser:

1) We were the only team without any working product that presented to the judges.
2) We won first place.
3) Six months after the pitch, our service launched at one of most well known retail hardware store chains in San Francisco and is now used for 100% of their rentals.








From Lean Startup to Minimum Viable Product to Traction: A Rundown of Startup Weekend Concepts and Lingo

Startup Weekends attract a wide range of participants, including innovators and inventors who may be unfamiliar with the “lean startup” approach to creating a business that SW advocates. Boston EDU Startup Weekend shared this great primer that will give you a grounding in the concepts and language you’ll see at Startup Weekend Lehigh Valley. We’ll also be sharing some definitive readings as the Weekend approaches.

Lean startup modelEric Reis turned his blog  into a recently published book, The Lean Startup, which was #2 on the New York Times Bestsellers list. (Inc. Magazine featured a condensed version of Reis’s book  if you want further reading. Essentially, Reis developed a business model that encourages startups to find out as quickly as possible whether or not the business idea/product/service is viable. The path to achieving this learning is to create a rough version of your product that goes into a cycle of testing, iterating, testing, iterating, testing, and iterating until the product is viable. An important part of this process is early and frequentcustomer validation.  The lean startup model came out of a concept in manufacturing where small batches are created so that there is minimal loss of time and money if the market isn’t interested in that version of the product. The same lean process works well applied to technology too. When creating a web-based tool or an app, you can create a mockup to garner feedback without building the actual product or feature, for example.  (I love Balsamiq for this!)

Minimally viable product or MVP: This is not the same as a prototype! In the Lean Startup model, the goal is to create and test the smallest piece of a business to see if there’s a market for it. Reis defines the MVP as “that version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort.”  Essentially, you’re looking for the minimum set of features needed to learn from your early adopters because you want to learn early what users want and don’t want. It limits spending time and energy on products that no one really wants. Most teams try to develop a minimally viable product during a startup weekend, not the whole business. It looks great to judges if you’re able to validate your idea/product during the weekend.   You may be asking, but how do I do that?

Customer validation or validated learning: There are a number of ways to learn about your customers and what they like and don’t like about your product/service. There’s also a big difference between what someone might say they like and what they’re willing to buy or do. The best validation is showing that customers/users will in fact want your product/service and be willing to pay for it.

You first want to see if there’s any interest. For example, if you already have a free product but are curious if people would pay for some additional features, you could add a button to your site that advertises the new version (which you haven’t built yet!). If a number of users click the button, then you have begun validating that customers are interested. If no one clicks, then all you’ve wasted is the time to develop the concept—you haven’t spent excessive money and time on something no one wants.

During a Startup Weekend, you’re likely to focus on establishing general interest in your product or service, and if you’re lucky, getting some users to act. There’s not a lot of time to build significant traction. One way to establish initial interest is to create a landing page.

Landing page: To test the viability of an idea, a single webpage is sometimes created to see if anyone will sign up for the product/service.  There are several pre-built free pages out there. I’ve used and liked KickoffLabs and LaunchRockOoomf creates landing pages for mobile devices. What’s great about these programs is that they provide data: how many times the page was visited, how many visitors were unique, how many actually signed up. (There are some great programs with more bells and whistles for when your business grows and you need to track more complex user actions. At LessonCast (www.lessoncast.org), we use MailChimp (mailchimp.com)).

Here’s an example: I joined the team TeenStarter (TeenStarter.com) at Startup Weekend EDU in Seattle . The concept for this youth-only site was to provide both advice on creating a business (how to pitch, how to develop an idea, how to market) and to provide a platform for students to pitch their ideas to get seed funding (micro-financing for teens). Our hypothesis was that a student would post a video pitch and then use social media to send it out to his or her network. Friends of friends might also contribute, until the student received the money he or she needed to launch a business or community project.

Here are the steps we took to validate the concept that weekend:

  1. We created a landing page and used social media to blast to contacts of everyone on the team. (KickoffLabs showed 73 unique views and 17 users signed up.)
  2. Again using social media, our team sent out a request for any teenagers who had an idea to pitch. (One 13-year-old relative of a team member uploaded a video late Saturday night!)
  3. Once we had the site minimally functional, we posted the teenager’s video pitch and at uploaded a PayPal donate button. (Our featured teenager needed $60; $40 was raised before final pitches on Sunday night. She had the rest the next day!)

For a Startup Weekend, this exercise demonstrated a good conversion rate, and was a fairly solid proof of concept!

Conversion rate: It’s one thing to get users to your site; it’s quite another thing altogether to get them to act/buy/participate. For example, if you send out an email directing folks to a landing page, the first conversion rate will be how many viewers actually click on the link to that landing page. Then the next level of concept validation is how many of these users actually sign up. It’s possible to have more levels of increased engagement beyond this, of course. Each increased level of engagement provides more validated learning about what customers will do. In the Teenstarter example, one measure of a conversation rate would be that out of 73 people who viewed the landing page, 17 actually signed up by providing their emails.

There are other ways to validate what your customers like: interviews are often used

Interviews: Interviews are a great way to gather information during and after a Startup Weekend. Just because you are an educator does not mean that you should assume that you know what all educators will want—still take the time to get feedback from other teachers and administrators. Other participants, organizers and mentors can help you get in contact with people outside your own educator circle. Asking educators on other teams is one good method to gather some immediate input. Showing two or three versions of a product works well to provide you with specific feedback about features.

Mockups: Remember that you do not have to create a full product to get feedback. A mockup can provide the same information with much less time investment. I learned how to use Balsamiq (free trial period!) at one Startup Weekend—it’s great for creating a design of a website or iPhone app.

Traction: Once you’ve validated your concept, you next want to build traction, something that’s unlikely to occur during a Startup Weekend because of the condensed timetable but definitely an area of focus as you move your business forward. Traction means building a set of early adopters and being able to get those adopters to do something. For example, if you’re building a community-based site, then your traction would be connected to how many users are interacting on your site. If you’re selling a product to schools, how many schools have signed? If you’re interested in investors, then they will be interested in your traction.

When you’re at Startup Weekend, learn as much as you can from other participants and mentors about other effective ways to develop your concept into a viable business!