In 2006, I left the corporate world to launch my first startup. At the time, most people thought I was crazy, walking away from a promising career in law and finance to pursue a dream. People more familiar with startups encouraged me to move to Silicon Valley, where venture capital money grew on trees and tech talent congregated in cafes. So I made a few pilgrimages West but ultimately decided to stick it out in NYC and cobble together whatever resources and community I could find. These were the days before accelerators and coworking spaces, when you had to pay the local angel groups just to pitch. Needless to say, running a startup in NYC had its challenges.
Techstars launched its first NYC program in 2011, and in so doing helped to catalyse the local tech ecosystem. I remember meeting David Tisch, the original Managing Director for Techstars New York, and feeling encouraged that the burgeoning tech scene had a new resource that was founder-friendly and fueled by #givefirst.
Fast forward to now, when NYC is well known as a thriving startup ecosystem and the highest performing startup city outside of Silicon Valley. Local startups can now attract world class talent, and they have plentiful access to venture capital, corporate partners, and customers. Techstars has played an important part in the development of the local NYC startup community, having run 23 accelerator programs in the area, helped more than 265 companies #domorefaster, and supported nearly 500 local alumni founders including Plated, Classpass, DigitalOcean, Pilot, Latch, Chainalysis, and many more.
So, what’s next?
Today, I’m pleased to announce that I will be doubling down on my commitment to the NYC tech community as the next Managing Director of Techstars New York, continuing the work and incredible legacy of my long time colleague and friend, Alex Iskold. Having run several Techstars corporate programs including Techstars IoT, Barclays Accelerator, powered by Techstars in NYC, and Cedars-Sinai Accelerator, Powered by Techstars, I’m now excited to focus on the people and institutions that make up this dynamic city.
My goal is to build even deeper ties with local organizations that foster community and promote inclusivity. I cofounded The Fund, a community focused venture fund investing exclusively in New York founders and supported by some of the brightest operators in New York—making me fully convinced that the next wave of great companies will be built here. New York is one of the most diverse cities in the world, and Techstars is committed to having founders, mentors, partners, and program staff who reflect this mix of people and cultures. Further supporting this mission of inclusion, Techstars continues to deepen relationships with the many universities and civic initiatives that foster innovation. My own experience teaching undergraduates at Columbia University, as well as the Techstars partnership with Blackstone LaunchPad, underscores both my and Techstars dedication to inspiring and encouraging the next generation of young innovators.
New York, I can’t wait to see what we do together next.
New York is one of the most dynamic cities in the world, where the possibilities are endless and the resources plentiful. Techstars New York opens applications on January 7, 2019, and the program kicks off in mid-July. If you want learn more about the program or be involved in building the future of Techstars New York, our doors are open! Please be in touch.
I joined Techstars in 2013 and ran my first program in Spring of 2014. It has been an amazing journey, and I am so grateful to have the opportunity to work with incredible group of companies during my 7th program this winter.
Huge shout out to KJ Singh and Jill Canning who built Techstars NYC program into what it is today together with me. So very much appreciate everything that they’ve done for the founders, and NYC tech community.
Every program, and every group of founders is different and special in its own way. This winter, despite having absolutely terrible weather, we worked with stellar, very special and diverse group of founders and businesses.
We had 5 companies from NYC, and companies from Thailand, Spain, Romania, Austria, Detroit, LA and Montreal. 6 companies have female CEOs and 8 companies had female co-founders. Companies tackled industries ranging blockchain scalability, food-borne illnesses, security, storage, addiction recovery, genomics, construction, data science, recruiting and tracking KPIs.
The companies have made strong progress during the program, and have achieved very significant growth.
MEET THE COMPANIES
Acculis is using 3D models to help reduce errors in construction in the office and on-site.
Construction industry is wasting $140BN a year on rework. Lack of integrated and cohesive collaboration tools leads to expensive errors. Acculis is building state of the art communication and collaboration software for general contractors. The platform makes it easy to collaborate around 3D designs, to identify and fix errors and deviations before they become expensive rework problems.
Acculis is a team of 4 NYU grads passionate about construction space. The company received several signed LOIs from prominent construction and engineering firms, and built a strong pipeline of prospective customers. They are beginning trials on projects with combined value of $4.5BN. Reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Altru is a mobile-video platform that helps companies with hiring and training through employee-generated content.
Content for Recruitment Marketing today is largely ineffective. Companies fail to attract candidates and provide insights on what it is actually like to work with specific teams at a company. Altru is changing the status quo with their innovative video platform for recruiting. Altru helps companies engage their employees in the recruiting process, and tell authentic, insightful stories about the company through employee-generated video.
CEO, Alykhan, was previously head of enterprise sales at WayUp. He started Altru with CTO, Vinnie, who is a Carnegie Mellon grad and former co-founder of PublicStuff. Since November, Altru has grown to close a group of enterprise customers including Unilever, L’Oréal, Dell, Digital Ocean, and Ultimate Software. Altru has grown ARR by 3x in the last 3 months. The company also has an active pipeline of Fortune 500 companies with over $2 million in potential opportunities. Reach out to email@example.com for more information.
The Clear Cut
The Clear Cut is a D2C diamond engagement ring company that eliminates the stress and confusion of buying a diamond engagement ring through personalized service and expert education.
Today’s diamond buying experience is broken. You have one of the two bad choices – go to traditional retail and get overcharged, or go to one of the online marketplaces and get overwhelmed with choices without any guidance or help. The Clear Cut solves this problem by combining a curated selection of high quality diamonds with a concierge service. The Clear Cut makes it easy for customers to make tradeoffs and pick the engagement ring that fits their budget.
Olivia, CEO of The Clear Cut is a 4th generation jeweler. She met her co-founder Kyle, who is a Columbia MBA grad, and was previously a founder of a diamond mining company, 5 years ago while they were studying diamonds at GIA. The Clear Cut sales have been growing 100% quarter over quarter. The Clear Cut amassed 75K passionate followers on Instagram. Reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
kpiReady automates data collection and reporting so that the team, investors, and stakeholders align on goals from Day 1. Smart growth starts early. We make early stage CEOs make better decisions by focusing on the KPIs that matter.
Measuring KPIs from day one is an essential thing for success of any startup. But figuring out what to measure and having the discipline to track things consistently is hard. kpiReady solves this problem with simple and elegant platform for startups and larger companies that helps them track their metrics. kpiReady recommends KPIs based on sector and stage and has easy to use UX that makes tracking KPIs easy and simple. The platform efficiently generates reports to help internal and external stakeholders document growth and diagnose issues.
KPI Ready was founded by Ali Goldstein Norup together with a long-time Techstars mentor and supporter Dane Atkinson. kpiReady is in our incubation track and started the company right before the start of the program. They are just reaching alpha on their product, focused on addressing the pain point of data collection and reporting. From there, kpiReady will streamline and automate the processes of report and share KPIs with founders, the team, investors, and other stakeholders. Reach out to email@example.com for more information.
Kyso is where you publish, share and extend data-science studies.
There is a data explosion around us, and data science is on the rise. But sharing and reusing data science studies is still not easy. Most work is published to Github, which is great for engineers but not great for the rest of the world. Kyso solves this problem with simple and elegant blogging platform for data science. With Kyso every notebook is clearly rendered like a blog post on Medium or WordPress. Kyso also makes it easy to clone and extend data science studies, making it easy for data scientists to build on each others work.
Eoin, CEO of Kyso, experienced this problem first hand while doing a PhD in Quantum Computing. Together with his co-founders Helena who previously founded a machine learning research company, they decided to go after this problem. In just 9 weeks, the number of studies on Kyso has been growing on average 50% WoW and have 300+ usable studies. Examples: Analysis of life expectancy vs GDP per capita and Prediction model for employee churn. Reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Loom Network provides scalable infrastructure for building blockchain apps on top of Ethereum.
Blockchain holds an awesome promise to be a new kind of distributed database and ledger. The problem is that due to the way blockchains are designed they are hard to scale. Loom Network provides the first ever infrastructure to make it easy for developers to build Dapps that get the trust and security of Ethereum, while maintaining the speed and costs to run efficiently at scale.
Loom Network’s co-founders Matt, Luke, and James have deep experience in developing large-scale applications, and were early in the blockchain space.
The founding teams’ motto is – we don’t write white papers, we ship code. They launched the company last May and have been very busy since! First, Loom Network developed Cryptozombies – a popular tutorial for writing Ethereum DApps using Solidity. They also launched DelegateCall – the first ever scalable Q&A site built on blockchain. Just recently, Loom Network unveiled its platform and infrastructure to be broadly accessed by developers.
Reach out to email@example.com for more information.
One Step provides b2b patient monitoring software to sober homes that helps them operate their homes more efficiently.
There are 23 million addicts, and over 5 million cycle through rehabs and sober homes. The relapse rate is 90% – we have addiction epidemic in United States. The problem is lack of adequate software tools that help monitor patients. One Step provides b2b patient monitoring software to sober homes that helps them operate their homes more efficiently. We provide a dashboard for staff to enter information and daily behaviors of the patients. There is also a mobile app for the patients that geolocates them, allows them to log AA meetings, check their schedules and view items shared with them.
One Step CEO, Eva, is a Harvard Law grad and serial founder. She realized there is a big need and a big opportunity in this $60 billion dollar market. Since launching the company in August, One Step has over 200 sober homes on their platform and growing 60% MoM average growth. Eva is aiming to get to 2K sober living homes by the end of the year. Reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
PathSpot protects food-service companies and their customers from the threat of food-borne illness by scanning for harmful contamination on employees’ hands.
50 million Americans get sick from food-borne illness every year and half come from poor hand washing. Average business gets fined $75K per incident and a lot go out of business. PathSpot solves this problem with an elegant device and software for protecting businesses and customers from food-borne illness. Employees simply scan the hands and know when they need to re-wash. Establishment’s management gets a dashboard that helps them understand gaps in sanitation procedures.
Christine and Dutch, two biomedical engineering graduates from Duke University launched PathSpot just a few months ago. Since launch, PathSpot has scanned over 45,000 hands, is installed in 10 venues, and has been consistently growing ~15% WoW. PathSpot has planned installations with Chopt, Sweetgreen, Plated, Sodexo, and Burger King test kitchen. Reach out to email@example.com for more information.
Rootine provides world’s first personalized vitamin mix based on your generic make up.
Each of us is unique, yet all of us get the same vitamins. Generic vitamins that are on the market today contain ingredients for hypothetical average person. So called personalized supplements based on questionnaire aren’t scientifically accurate. This is why founders of Rootine set out to go after $30BN supplements industry with first ever personalized supplement mix based on your own DNA. To use Rootine, you can either upload your existing sequence or get DNA test through Rootine. You then answer a couple of questions about your diet and exercise and provide optional blood test. Based on this information Rootine ships you unique, customized just for you, supplement mix.
Daniel and Bianca co-founders of Rootine have years of experience in health tech. Daniel has PhD in Biotechnology, and spent years studying how to create the vitamin mix with the perfect form factor, and perfect results. Rootine is now launching in USA and was previously tested with close to 1,500 beta users in Austria. Reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Streamline Genomics is a platform to help clinicians and researchers benefit from genomic sequencing without the need for data analysis expertise.
Although DNA sequencing is becoming a commodity, analyzing the terabytes of data inside genomes remains a huge challenge. Clinicians in most hospitals still don’t have adequate analysis tools for this data and as a result, over 650,000 cancer patients in America are impacted every single year, representing 40% of the 1.6M cancer patients diagnosed. Streamline Genomics is creating a platform for analyzing genomic sequencing starting with cancer patients. Clinicians can upload patient genomes to Streamline Genomics, run analysis and rapidly identify key mutations that are driving patient’s cancer. Clinicians can then use this information to tailor the patient’s treatment based on their specific mutations.
Josette and Brian, co-founders of Streamline Genomics, both hold PhDs in Genetics. They launched the company right before the program and are going through our incubation track. The company already has a pilot with a hospital in Montreal, a partnership with 4 other hospitals in eastern Canada, and a strong pipeline of interested hospitals in the US.
TypingDNA recognizes people by the way they type.
Today’s two factor authentication (so called 2FA) is inconvenient, costly and not fully secure. Users are sick of getting text messages with codes on their phones and having to type these codes. For businesses, these text messages come with a hefty price tag. As a result, companies either annoy their users or don’t use 2FA at all. TypingDNA is going after this $10BN+ with a simple and elegant solution – 2FA based on the way you type. The company developed sophisticated platform and API that leverages machine learning and helps recognize users by the way they type.
TypingDNA is a brainchild of Raul Popa, CEO and Data Scientist from Romania. After recently launching 2FA alternative, they were covered by TechCrunch and voted #1 on Product Hunt. They also just recently won best startup in Romania award. TypingDNA is now getting 150k+ API requests/month and have been growing API calls by 45% MoM. Reach out to email@example.com for more information.
Vertoe is an on-demand short term storage provider.
Airbnb is awesome, but once you check out where do you store the bags? In general short term storage in cities is a problem. Whether you are a tourist, going to a concert or a sporting event, dragging around your gym bag or professional equipment, cities don’t really have good options for storing suitcases, bags and other things we carry around. Vertoe wants to change that with a simple, on-demand storage platform. When you need to store your stuff, head over to Vertoe, search for locations nearby to book and access space within minutes. Today Vertoe offers inexpensive and flexible storage solutions in local shops around New York City for as low as $5.95/day/item.
Sid and Neha, the co-founders of Vertoe, launched the company after experiencing the problem themselves. They launched the company in 2017, and now have 70+ stores in NYC. Since launch, Vertoe stored over 30,000+ bags, and has been growing at average 10% WoW avg. Reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
WATCH SELECT PITCH VIDEOS
THANK YOU MENTORS, ALUMNI & SPEAKERS
We are incredibly lucky here at Techstars NYC to have support from the amazing tech community in NYC, our mentors, our 100+ alumni companies, and amazing speakers.
We are truly lucky to have incredibly engaged alumni, who are coming back to help the founders from business introductions to investor pitch. Alumni is a constant presence in Techstars NYC program and really shape the program. Special thank you to Brian Jeong, Sarah Adler, Erica Jain, Nathaniel Harley, Susannah Villa, Rob Douglas, Neha Singh, and Danielle Cohen-Shohet.
We felt really supported by 80 mentors who worked with the companies during the program — huge thank you, as always for your support.
Here are specific shout outs from the companies:
Acculis – Chris Fraser (VP of Strategic Accounts, GreatHorn), Yaakov Zar (Co-Founder & CSO, Dispatch), Ian Strug (Co-founder, Virgo), Jason Saltzman (Co-Founder and CEO, AlleyNYC), Jonny Cohen (Senior Associate, Thyra)
Altru – John Cantarella (Head of Global Partnerships, Facebook), John Hill (VP of Network, Techstars), Fayez Mohamood (Co-Founder & CEO, Bleucore), Sabrina Kelly (VP of People Operations, Techstars), Matt Straz (Founder and CEO, Namely)
The Clear Cut – Max Wendkos (Product Design Lead, Aaptiv), Danielle Cohen-Shohet (CEO, GlossGenius), Brian Jeong (CEO, Hawthorne), Matthew Friesen (Head of E-Commerece, Global Brands Group), Carrie Reynolds (Executive-Level Consultant, CSR Consulting)
kpiReady – Mohamood Fayez (Co-Founder & CEO, Bleucore), Mitch Wainer (Co-Founder, DigitalOcean), Fabiola Carcamo (VP Product, Vroom), John Hill (VP of Network, Techstars), Weston Stearns (VP of Growth, DataCamp)
Kyso – Jonathan Cornelissen (CEO, Datacamp), Adam Johnson (CEO, IOPipe), Alexis Le-Quoc (CTO, Datadog), Adam Feldman (Product Manager, Sidewalk labs), Max Wendkos (Product Design Lead, Aaptiv)
OneStep – Susanne Mitschke (CEO, Mindmate), Rahul Sidhu (CEO, Spidr), Ryan Shank (CEO, PhoneWagon)
PathSpot – Tobias Peggs (CEO, Square Root Urban Growers), Josh Hix (Co-Founder & CEO, Plated), Nick Devane (CEO, Foodworks), Jonny Cohen (Senior Associate, Thyra), Diana Pincus (Vice President, Supply Chain & Quality, littleBits), Mike Montero (Co-founder & Chief Technology Officer, Resy Network), Rob Edell, Adam Casson (co-founder, Inscope Medical Solutions), Brett Jackson (Managing Director, V1 VC), Ben Schultz (Hardware Project Manager, Peloton Cycle), Alexandre Winter (Founder & CEO, Placemeter), Frank Rimalovski (Executive Director, NYU Entrepreneurial Institute), Sean Grundy (Co-founder and CEO, Bevi), Jenny Fielding (Angel)
Rootine – Susanne Mitschke (CEO, Mindmate), Fiona McCarthy (VP of Product, Prolific Interactive)
Streamline Genomics – Chris Fraser (VP of Strategic Accounts, GreatHorn), Ian Strug (Co-founder, Virgo), Matt Schwartz (CEO & Co-Founder, Virgo)
TypingDNA – Joel Wishkovsky (Founder & CEO, Simple Contacts), Kevin O’Brien (CEO, GreatHorn, Techstars ’15) , Matt Kozlov (Managing Director, TS Healthcare Accelerator) , Jason Grad (Founder and CEO, Bstow), Thierry Schellenbach (CEO, Stream)
Vertoe – Dan Herman (CEO, Welcome), Todd Saunders (CEO, AdHawk), Trey Sisson (Founder), David Lapter (Chief Financial Officer, Dashlane)
THANK YOU ASSOCIATES
We feel very lucky to have had a stellar group of associates that absolutely crushed it during the program. Every single week we heard from the founders how helpful they found the associates. Abby, Alice, Jeff, Grace, Kyra, Khalil, Nastasia – thank you so much working really hard and making a difference.
WHAT FOUNDERS LEARNED IN THE PROGRAM
Alykhan, CEO of Altru
If you aren’t being rejected more than accepted, you’re not asking for enough, reaching high enough, and valuing yourself enough. Try new things, ask people who scare you to help you, and begin to believe failing really is learning. If you’re winning constantly, you’re in a rut.” – Tarah M. Wheeler
Vinnie, CTO of Altru
The importance of networking, and how every person you meet, in any context, has the potential to bring about another hire, an investment, a new customer, or access to an even broader network.
Olivia, CEO of Clear Cut
I learned in Techstars was that regardless of your industry metrics are critical and actually enable you to think bigger picture. Prior to the program I was so in the weeds that at times I didn’t know where I was going. I also assumed KPIs were more relevant for hard-core tech companies. Today when I speak about our business I find myself using numbers in nearly every sentence.
Ali, CEO of kpiReady
Kyle, COO of Clear Cut
I learned to not let “perfect be the enemy of better”. At times we were hesitant to move ahead because we knew our plans were not fully formed. The team at Techstars encouraged us to just focus on getting better each and every day. As a result we have had incredible traction in the program!
The power of giving first. It amplifies and deepens everything.
Eva, CEO of One Step
Get good at sales. Everything at its core is sales – fundraising, acquiring customers and recruiting.
Christine, CEO of PathSpot
Techstars will not only make your business, your customers, and your team better, but it will also make you as a founder stronger if you fully immerse yourself in learning from the amazing staff, cohort, and mentors that it will expose you too.
Josette, CEO of Streamline Genomics
It’s never too early to join Techstars.
Raul, CEO of TypingDNA
- Being from eastern Europe we know how hard life can get at times, we’re trained to survive in difficult situations and because of that we didn’t expect to learn so much. We ended up improving our website, demos, marketing strategy, conversion funnel strategy, our products, the way we communicate, and ultimately Techstars helped us gain a larger vision about where our technology fits in the grand scheme of things.
- We thought that “do more faster” has to do only with quantity, the amount of time you put into something shall translate to a larger deal of work being done. Putting everything at speed allowed us to super focus and develop a state of flow where we understand sharper and deeper what has to be done to succeed in our business.
- Mentors, alumni, associates, program managers, they’ve all put their ass on the line for us. When you’re a small startup doing something like we do, you feel a lot of skepticism around, and that is good to a certain degree but it is not productive. Having people around set up to help you succeed, that is incredibly productive.
Sid, CEO of Vertoe
- Focus on deep funnel (product) – Just by focusing and nailing the deep funnel (higher conversion rates, fast and great performing website), you’re able to maximize the efficiency of your existing marketing channels while putting your new channels in the best position to generate great ROI. For as little as a 5-10% improvement in conversion rates, you boost all your marketing channels!
- Networking and mentorship – There are so many good mentors who are always willing to help. Don’t hesitate to reach out as you’ll be surprised by the #GiveFirst value that’s ingrained in Techstars.
Neha, CMO of Vertoe
Although there were so many other learnings in the program, the biggest one for me has to be the importance of optimizing your deep funnels first.
Just by focussing on bottom up approach, we were laser focussed on refining our product to provide a seamless experience for our customers – it helped us increase our conversion rate, show week on week growth. This approach has also helped us improve the efficiency of our marketing spend.
Other learnings: Givefirst, Importance of tracking weekly KPIs.
GOOD LUCK TECHSTARS NYC WINTER 2018
We had so much fun this winter working together with this talented group of founders. Join us in wishing them best of luck!
This was originally published on Alex’s blog.
Each of my previous facilitations have been special in their own right:
- My first in NYC, shadowing the EDU vets on how to run a proper Startup Weekend,
- Orlando, where I had a blast participating in the first ever college education edition,
- Miami Diversity, the Startup Weekend version of a Spanish-language telenovela, and
- Triangle Trailblazers, where diversity is a prime directive, not an afterthought.
This next event may surpass them all – Portland is and always will be my hometown. I was born in Oregon City and went to school in the Beaverton School District, graduating from Southridge High School. (I’d rather not say when because, well, I’m old.)
Leading up to the event, I’ve been thinking a lot about this concept of “home”, especially as I’ve recently claimed a new one after moving to Seattle.
Pittsburgh: Where I Found Myself (and just a few months before 30 – whoo!)
Before moving in August, I lived in Pittsburgh for three amazing years. I had just married my brilliant (and crazy-tolerant) wife, and other than striving to be the best husband possible, I had no idea what to do with my life … until I discovered Startup Weekend.
From that intense, eye-opening 54-hour experience, I launched my own ed-tech community, which was admitted into an incubator, received seed investment, and even found customers. I continued to volunteer and organize for SWPGH six times, launching its first education edition in February of this year.
Above all, I made friends who simply “got it” – people who came from the Startup Weekend world as well, and knew how to “give back” in the Brad Feld sense. When we weren’t organizing in the Pittsburgh community, we’d go on an Eat ‘n Park run or watching Silicon Valley on HBO On-Demand. It was grand.
I truly considered Pittsburgh my home until two opportunities opened up for me and lured me back to the West Coast: briefly serving as east coast regional manager for UP Global before its acquisition by Techstars, and now joining the mission to transform education, technology, and entrepreneurship with Galvanize.
Seattle: How I Quickly Thawed the “Seattle Freeze”
The move from Pittsburgh was … precipitous. I didn’t have the best chance to express my love and gratitude to everyone that did so much for me in Pittsburgh over the years (though I tried to cover as many bases again here). When I moved to Seattle, I was warned of the “Seattle Freeze” and heard it would take time for me to make friends.
That has not been the case … because of Startup Weekend. The first people I contacted were my former co-workers, who then introduced me to the local Seattle community leaders. Instantly, I felt like I found my family here, connected by a shared passion and experience to build community through entrepreneurship.
Recently, I was invited out to the Techstars Community Leader Retreat to get to know Portland’s Dina Moy and dozens of other organizers from the US and Canada. I came away with the trip with two impressions:
- I am completely down with the Techstars vision and rationale for why it acquired UP Global. Techstars may be the largest for-profit accelerator in the world, but it was originally founded on the mission to lower the barriers of entrepreneurship to the world.
Supporting initiatives like Startup Weekend, Startup Next, Startup Digest, and Startup Week won’t really be profitable in the short run (why mess with a good thing), but in the grand design, these programs will cultivate both better startups worthy of support and stronger, focused communities that can support them.
That’s the vision that Techstars and UP Global shared, and that’s why I’m willing to stay on as a community leader and global facilitator. The terms of engagement do not really change from a non-profit status (in fact, they never actually did when you discover the legal difference between donation and sponsorship). Why should our support of the community change because of it?
- We may come from different cities, but we’re all Startup Weekend nation. Every community leader had a story to share, and the rest of us listened. Whether it was a startup story or a Startup Weekend anecdote, we “got” each other. (The altitude may have been a factor.)
If You Can’t Find Your Community, Create It (and Startup Weekend can help)
I look back on the last three years of being a Startup Weekender and can’t believe how far I’ve come from my previous status as a graduate school drop out. I didn’t make a lot of money, win any major awards, or acquire any common materialistic milestones like a new car or house.
I did, without question, make a lot of friends, and unlike the ones I made before, these friends stay in touch and support me however they can without asking anything in return, and vice versa. I also traveled a lot to places I never thought I’d ever go to until I was “summoned” by people I never met before.
Every time I go facilitate, I ask to crash on a couch or even on the floor just for the opportunity to bond with another community leader. Anytime a community leader asks to visit me, I prepare a spare room for them, no strings attached.
I’ve found my family, and we’re actually not that difficult to find.
Just look for the ones that “get it.”
Lee Ngo is a Seattle-based community leader and global facilitator for Techstars formerly based in Pittsburgh. He currently works as an evangelist for Galvanize.
Led by the incomparable Deborah Chang, the well-synced and ragtag organizational team of David Fu, Benjamin Newton, Laura Patterson, and Ingrid Spielman (with community leader Andrew Young as advisor) delivered a sold-out, knock-out event on May 27th.
In between real-talk mentoring and the occasional selfie, I took many mental notes about some best practices I saw at SWNYCEDU that I think should be replicated across all SWEDU events, if not Startup Weekend itself.
For your consideration:
1. Hold the event at a school, but in an open area
It’s a common understand that a SWEDU event (or Startup Weekend in general) should take place in a school – plenty of whiteboards, space, breakout rooms, and common areas. If teams are all in classrooms, however, they won’t interact with each other as much, which inhibits the core purpose of building community.
SWNYCEDU put most of the teams out in a common area, giving each station a huge whiteboards, sufficient tables, and open spaces to roam and float to other teams. The result: a willingness to share and collaborate that supersedes the spirit of competition.
2. Give out lanyards with ALL of the FAQ information you’ll need
“What’s the wifi password, again?”
“What’s the Twitter hashtag for this event?”
“How do I know you’re actually supposed to be here?”
Not a problem when it’s hanging around your neck at all times. Key information is great to have, and it’s also a reusable, standardized way to maintain formality and security at the event.
3. Use a text-messaging app to send out alerts
More compelling than email or social media, texting gets people’s attention faster and adds another method of outreach to a crowd of focused, stressed-out participants.
4. Provide advance information and office hours signups for mentors
Figuring out how to coordinate members seemed like an impossible art to me, but this group worked it out well by creating a station for teams to review and request mentors.
Coaches were asked to come at specific times, and teams sign up to meet with them on a first-come, first-serve basis. This eased confusion greatly for everyone.
5. Provide 3 phases of mentoring: brainstorm, focus, and presentation
Traditionally in other Startup Weekends, mentors pop in an event at various, even unpredictable times, and sometimes their advice does not mesh well with the team’s general progress. Some are already validated and advanced, and some are still searching for that “thing.”
SWNYCEDU takes these variations into account and brings in mentors during Saturday morning and afternoon strictly for brainstorm and validation.
In the evening, they bring in mentors (usually Startup Weekend veterans) who aim to provide focus after a long day of retaining multiple opinions and ideas.
By Sunday, SWNYCEDU brings in coaches who specialize specifically in pitch practice and communication, not business content or validation. This overall strategy gives teams a bit more structure and clarity as they evolve their ideas into bona fide companies.
6. Use Google Slides to present pitches seamlessly…
Simply put, there are far too many different ways to present at a Startup Weekend. Teams tend to present off their own laptops and switch back and forth between operating systems and format. In my opinion, this is a clunky and volatile process.
SWNYCEDU had one computer for the entire presentation setup, so they used a single format (Google Slides) and uploaded everything into the cloud. A huge amount time was saved overall between transitions.
7. … make teams do web demos (and tech check in advance)…
Doing live demos are traditionally considered a big risk at Startup Weekend – technical failures are perhaps forgiven but not forgotten. With only one computer for all 13 presentations, all demos also had to be sent up to the cloud and tested by 3pm.
8. … and put links to both decks and demos in a single Google Doc
A little embarrassing backstory: Startup Weekenders should always consider Murphy’s Law – whatever can happen will happen. This happened to me when I foolishly opened up every single presentation and demo into a single web browser and, to no one with a basic understanding of IT, crashed the system.
Organizer David Fu stepped up in a huge way to reboot the system and put all of the links to the slides, demos, and videos in a chronologically organized Google Doc. Once everything was back in order, the process went smoothly. Despite the 20-minute technical delay, we finished the event on time.
9. Serve dinner while the judges deliberate
As a past organizer and volunteer, I’ve never known what to do with the judges deliberation period. Dinner usually is served after presentations are submitted, and in the past I’ve seen ways to pass the time such as Community Asks or some light video or entertainment.
Serving dinner gets people to talk across teams, offer congratulations, and take their minds off the anxious decision that awaits them. Good food placates all.
10. Make animated GIFs of yourselves whenever possible
Taking on a new initiative that gets communities also doing Startup Weekends simultaneously, we made some fun little animated images for our friends in D.C., who held a Maker-themed event of their own. I think this speaks for itself.
If only we made more… Andrew Young, I’m looking right at you.
Finally, and most importantly of all:
11. Have a team that puts vision, guests, and team above ego
I can’t say enough wonderful things about Team SWNYCEDU. There was not an iota of attitude among any of them. When things went right, they showered each other with support and praise. When things went wrong, they responded to the problems with solutions rather than stand around and point fingers.
On top of that, they were an absolute pleasure to work with. I laughed at Laura and Ingrid’s wry jokes, felt secure by Ben and Deborah’s unflinching professionalism, and may have found some long-lost cousins in Fu and Young. You couldn’t buy a better team than this one – they’ll do it all for free.
In short, I learned a lot at Startup Weekend Education New York City. I hope you’ve learned a lot by reading this, too. Can’t wait to come back next year… perhaps as a participant? =)
Lee Ngo was the facilitator of Startup Weekend Education New York and is a Regional Manager at UP Global, the parent organization of Startup Weekend. To learn more about UP Global and its efforts to spread the spirit of entrepreneurship throughout the world, you can email him at email@example.com.
To reach out or get involved with the Startup Weekend New York City community, reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com specifically to contact the SWNYCEDU organizers.
Photos from this event courtesy of Frank Fukuchi and the organizers and volunteers of Startup Weekend New York City. All rights reserved.
More about Education Entrepreneurs
Education Entrepreneurs is the largest initiative in the world focused on helping people use entrepreneurship to improve education. Its suite of offerings include Startup Weekend Education, Startup Digest Education, Workshops, online resources, and a global network of Community Leaders. Spanning six continents, Education Entrepreneurs has created an unprecedented opportunity for anyone, anywhere to shape the future of education.
Forming teams is an organic process. You can join any team that you want to join. If you like someone’s idea, talk to them and see how you can help the team.
Some ideas will attract more people to it. So the way you pitch your idea is important (https://blog.up.co/2014/08/31/pitching-idea-startup-weekend/). Some ideas will find it harder to build teams. You may have to go out and talk to people individually to get them to join your team. You have to sell people on your idea and tell them why they should be helping you with your idea. This part of the evening is most chaotic and it is designed to be this way. Its going to be a tough process to recruit people to join your team. So push on through and build your team.
We found a correlation between successful pitches and team building: the better the pitch, the easier to build the team.
All teams must have a minimum of 2 people and at most 8 people.
What if I am unable to build a team or my idea wasn’t picked.
This is a natural occurrence. Some ideas will not be able to put together a team before the night is over. It happens. The WORST thing to do is to just leave and not return on Saturday. Please dont do that. You came all the way to Startup Weekend to learn about building startups and to challenge yourself. If you leave now, you will miss out on the learning you can do over the weekend. And worst of all, you will miss out on building new friendships with all the people around you.
So if your idea wasn’t wasn’t picked or you are unable to to build a team, find a team/idea that you like and join it. You will learn so much that weekend so you can apply it to your own idea after the weekend is over.
Cool, I got a team! Now what?
The clock is ticking away! Get to work! Get to know your team. Exchange contact information with each other. Start to discuss your various backgrounds and expertise. Asses what each other can do and get yourself ready to hit the ground running on Saturday morning.
Each person will get 60 seconds to pitch their idea to the audience. Only 10-15 ideas will be selected to move into the weekend. Pitching an idea is not an easy task. It takes practice to sell your idea & vision in 60 seconds.
As a reminder, you can’t pitch your existing business/app. Startup Weekend is designed to be the most effective platform for growing new businesses from the ground up over the course of a weekend. A key facet of the weekend and a central value for participants is the spirit of complete collaboration, buy-in and ownership. We’ve found that having existing businesses in the mix undermines this spirit, in addition to creating an imbalance between those ideas that are truly ground-level.
If you have an idea and you have been doing some customer research, researching on the internet, designed some wireframes, talked to businesses to see if there is any demand, then great! Thats fine. We expect you folks to do your own due diligence before hand. As long as you havent launched, have customers or an MVP of the app.
In 60 seconds you need to:
5-10s Who are you?
10-20s What’s the problem? Use this time to set up the story. How did you discover this problem? How can we (the audience) relate to it? How many people are affected by this problem? Build that connection to the audience to capture their attention.
10-20s What’s your solution? Mobile? Web? Something physical?
5-10s Who do you need? Developers? Designers? Product folks?
Take the time and practice your pitch. Practice in front of your friends and see if you can convince them to vote for you.