Getting comfortable being uncomfortable at Startup Weekend Iowa City 2015

Photo via Startup Weekend Iowa City on Facebook
Photo via Startup Weekend Iowa City on Facebook

Startup Weekend Iowa City 2015 is in the books!

We had 65 attendees, 6 half-baked ideas, 7 tasty local meals, 1 team fall apart and then fall back together, and 8 solid final pitches.

There were moments – like seeing a 12-year-old mock up an app or hearing the winning team share what Startup Weekend meant to them – that reminded us why we do this crazy event in the first place.

Plus, we were one of four Startup Weekends happening across Iowa in one weekend – with almost 300 people involved (including mentors, organizers and judges), 213 of those fully engaged in a hands-on learning experience, and 26 new business prototypes pitched on Sunday night. (Stats here)

Startup Weekend isn’t new in Iowa – it’s been in the Iowa City/Cedar Rapids Corridor since 2011, and in Des Moines before that – but connecting the state in this way, through a somewhat-separate but also shared experience, feels like it might be a game changer. (Having all of Startup Iowa on slack, so we can all chat in one place, helps too). Major shoutout to our fellow organizers in Ames, Cedar Valley and Sioux City.

We were especially glad to have participants, organizers and mentors from the Quad Cities join us in Downtown Iowa City. We now have stronger ties to one of our closest neighbor communities and a bunch of new friends. It was interesting to compare where our two startup communities are in their lifecycles, and to see how we could both learn from each other.

So what did we learn?

Getting comfortable being uncomfortable

Chris O, who planned to spend his weekend coding but ended up leading the winning team through customer discovery and business model exploration.
Chris O, who planned to spend his weekend coding but ended up leading the winning team through customer discovery and business model exploration.

Our friend and mentor Andy Stoll told us, this is a central part of the experience of being an entrepreneur. Uncertainty is guaranteed, change is a constant, and you have to be ready to deal with it all – fast.

Our 8 teams definitely learned that this weekend. Almost everyone pivoted, like the team that went from a satirical think tank seeking “general smart asses” to a children’s book, or the one that went from a “mom app” for college kids to a CRM for your personal life.

And there were plenty of interpersonal struggles along the way. Working on a team of strangers is hard enough, but then Startup Weekend also layers on long days and intense deadline pressure. We also had some unexpected challenges, like the first snow of the season turning into a severe winter storm.

Several people bounced around between teams on Saturday, looking for the right fit. A few left in the middle of the day (note: not recommended).

But through it all, people seemed to be happy and having a good time. It might have helped that we had a few light-hearted concepts being developed – from a humorous political concept to a subscription service for adult products.

Throughout the weekend, every challenge was received as a learning opportunity. Even when things were tough, people stayed respectful and open-minded. They seemed to trust the process.

They found solutions – which is what entrepreneurship is really all about.

Welcoming diversity

Getting to know each other Friday night
Getting to know each other Friday night

Part of getting uncomfortable – and also part of finding the best solutions to real problems in the world – is opening yourself up to different ways of thinking.

We had lots of people from diverse backgrounds at Startup Weekend Iowa City (several of them traveled in from the Quad Cities or Cornell College). We had participants as young as 12 and as old as 71. We had several women-led teams (although our total participation was still far below 50 percent women – this is an area where Iowa has a lot of work to do, and we’re still working on it at Startup Weekend too). 

The teams with diverse backgrounds and leadership also seemed to be the teams that were having a lot of fun and finding some early success. The teams without diversity were more likely to fall into old patterns of thought – when really, Startup Weekend is all about breaking out of those self-imposed boxes.

Meet the teams:

First place:
Sexy Life: A monthly, date-night subscription box to help couples re-discover their relationships.

Second place:
TICLER: An app to help you maintain strong relationships with those you care about by providing reminders (call your mom!)

Third place:
Leksify: A mobile foreign language-learning platform, focused on vocabulary, that uses fun games to teach

Most Promising Opportunity – wins a free pass to Venture School!
Rock the Gift: A service to help online shoppers find unique, high-quality gifts

Alphabetically:
Corn Caucus: Engaging and empowering young people in civic life with humor and storytelling

Fashion Fit: Solving the problem of ordering the wrong size of clothes online

Passion U: A service to connect high school students with life coaches so they can discover their strengths and passions earlier in life

We Suck: An online forum for entrepreneurs to anonymously vent about their struggles 

So what’s next?

Startup Weekend is the spark that has started so many people in our community on their entrepreneurial journey (myself included) – and really it is just that, the start of a journey.

We’re hoping to see our teams again at…

Global Startup Battle. At least one has already applied! This is a fun online competition where teams can potentially win prizes. GSB, and the surrounding event of Global Entrepreneurship Week, was also the impetus to organize multiple Startup Weekends across Iowa in one go.

1 Million Cups. Happening weekly in three (ICR, DSM, CV) communities across Iowa, this is a chance for new entrepreneurs to present their ideas and get constructive feedback.

Venture School. This six-week program from the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center (JPEC) at the University of Iowa is a great next step for these ideas. They’ll dive deep into customer discovery and business models. venture-school.com.

In one of Iowa’s lovely coworking facilities. Our Iowa City organizers are particularly attached to  IC CoLab and Vault Coworking but there are many more great coworking facilities across Iowa too. This is where the community goes to work.








Is Startup Weekend for me?

@andystoll
@andystoll

Guest post by Andy Stoll: After hearing the question ‘Is Startup Weekend for me?’ over and over, he wanted to share his perspective. Andy is a serial social entrepreneur and co-founder of Seed Here Studio, Vault Coworking and Collaboration Space and The Iowa Startup Accelerator. He is also a global facilitator for Startup Weeeknd.

I encourage a lot of people to attend Startup Weekend, especially those who are curious about entrepreneurship and startups. One of the most common reasons people tell me why they CAN NOT attend Startup Weekend comes in a few variations, but is essentially getting at the same thing. Their doubts usually manifest themselves in reasons such as, “Well, I’m not an entrepreneur or a business person,” or “I don’t know how to code, design or build websites,” or “I don’t really have any ideas to pitch.” 

The real concerns that they are often getting at are: 1) I am a novice, is it still really for me? 2) If I go and don’t know anything (or anybody), will everyone know that (and call me out as a fraud!)?

A big secret that entrepreneurs don’t often tell you is that every single entrepreneur, business owner and startup founder has, at some point, felt that they were not qualified, not prepared, and not ready to do what they wanted to do (and worried they’d be called out at any time as a “fraud”).

This struggle defines the journey of every entrepreneur: overcoming anxiety, charting a course through haunting feelings of uncertainty, persevering in the face of self-doubt. You can’t learn these skills from a book or a class, you can only learn them by facing the fears.

All entrepreneurs eventually learn to be comfortable being uncomfortable (at least most of the time), and for those that do, the rewards are immense: growth, fulfillment, self-actualization, the satisfaction that comes from building a team and the joy of turning something in your head into a real thing…

The journey is long, but it is, in the end, the reward.

Startup Weekend is designed to be a first step on that journey, the first chance to dip your toe in to the water of entrepreneurship and making your ideas happen. It is designed for EVERYONE to attend. I’ve seen people as young as 11 participate and as old as 84. I’ve seen grill cooks, accountants, corporate CEO’s, skateboarders, veterans, moms, retired school teachers, kids and ministers participate. Maybe you don’t code, design, or “have ideas” (though secretly everyone has ideas), that’s ok because there will be others there that do. Everyone has a skill that they will contribute to a team, whether its writing, leading, interviewing, cheerleading, pats on the back, drawing, researching or a plethora of other things needed for each team to succeed—everyone and anyone has something to contribute to a Startup Weekend team (and often times at Startup Weekend you’ll discover skills you never realized you had!).

Startup Weekend is designed to simulate the entrepreneurial journey in an incredibly condensed 54-hour period. It is, in my view, the single best way to try entrepreneurship with essentially no risk, to go down the path and see what it feels like. Feels is the operative word.

If you have doubts about attending, you’re nervous and worried that you are “not ready,” maybe you have butterflies in your stomach. That’s the first sign you are on the right path.

Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.

Hope to see you at Startup Weekend!

Find the next Startup Weekend in Iowa at swia.co!

 








5 strategies to make your ideas happen

This post is from Andy Stoll, a social entrepreneur and media producer. He is deeply involved with the Iowa Startup Accelerator, EntreFEST, and he co-founded Seed Here Studio, a media and marketing agency dedicated to building a stronger community of entrepreneurs and creatives in the Iowa City/Cedar Rapids area.

Andy Stoll at EntreFEST 2014.
Andy Stoll at EntreFEST 2014.

I have spent the better part of the past decade helping entrepreneurs and creative people turn their ideas into reality–almost daily I get the question, “I have an idea, now what?”

Here are 5 strategies to get you started on turning your ideas into reality:

1. Tell a lot of people about your idea

This at first sounds counter-intuitive and is often met with the response of, “Won’t someone steal my idea?!” The truth of the matter is 98 percent of the time, you are not the first person to come up with an idea, and in most cases, your first initial idea is actually fairly crappy (because it needs sharpening). In entrepreneurship, success isn’t built on being the first to think of an idea, but it has everything to do with how well you execute and build your idea into reality. Facebook, for example, was not the first social network, just the one that executed the best.

Why tell others about your idea? Because it will make it better. The act of sharing your idea will help you get better at talking about it. When you share your idea, you’ll find that people will offer you critical feedback and often times recommend resources to move your idea along (“You should talk to my friend Dave who….”).

2. Surround yourself with other creatives and entrepreneurs

startupstockphotos.com - born at Startup Weekend Cedar Rapids.
startupstockphotos.com – born at Startup Weekend Cedar Rapids.

It has been commonly said that you “become the average of the 5 people whom you surround yourself with.” I take that to mean, “If you want to be a dancer, hang out with 5 other people who are dancers.” The same holds true if you want to be an entrepreneur.

Also, by surrounding yourself with creative and entrepreneurial people, you will learn to dream bigger and push harder, while meeting other people who may help you along your journey (and it’s often a longer journey than you expect).

3. Expose yourself to specific strategies to be innovative

In the last decade two leading methodologies have emerged to help put into words the actual process of “innovating” and making ideas happen. The Lean Startup Methodology and the Business Model Canvas are two of these strategies that are taking the startup, creative, technology and business worlds by storm (trust me, Google them), spawning books, conferences, evangelists, workshops and thousands of more successful innovative companies. The best thing about these methodologies is that they can be learned.

4. Try and fail, a lot

Also, counter to most logic, if you want to get good at making ideas happen, you first have to be bad at making ideas happen. Though I certainly don’t wish failure on anyone, failure is often the best teacher.

5. Attend a Startup Weekend

The good news is there is a single place where you could do all of these things mentioned above for very little money and very little risk! Startup Weekend is likely the single best ways for you to “try” entrepreneurship and try to make an idea happen. The risk is minimal (a little bit of money and a weekend of your time) and you will come out of it with new ideas, new friends, new knowledge, and I almost guarantee you’ll be fired up even more to take action on your ideas!

Find the next Startup Weekend in Iowa at swia.co!