"I hadn’t planned on pitching." Lessons learned at Startup Weekend Education Oakland.

This article is written by Startup Weekend Education attendee, Chloe Wood. 

When I signed up for Startup Weekend Education Oakland, I expected a scene like a hackathon – a rush for designers and developers during team formation and a few days frantically validating with customers and building a prototype. What I got was so much more.

I hadn’t planned to pitch. I was sitting comfortably near the back row, watching the first ten people go up to pitch, when one of the organizers screamed, “If you have ANY idea you’re considering, pitch! Sometimes last minute pitches become the best startups!”

My mind snapped to a business opportunity the d.school’s K-12 lab director had just mentioned to me offhand.

Heart pounding, I scribbled an outline and started practicing under my breath. “Imagine a classroom where every student is engaged…”


The idea: design thinking workshops for teachers and administrators to close the gap between the overwhelming demand and limited supply for design thinking training.

An hour later, I was in disbelief. I had moved on to the top 10 ideas and gotten an amazing team. Li and Jeremy immediately convinced me to pursue my project rather than follow a momentary impulse to join another team, where I wanted to learn from an IDEO designer.

My team, and Startup Weekend, jump-started my life and helped me believe in myself. Before, I had been struggling. My goal was to master design thinking, but I found it difficult to practice alone.

I was too scared to even interview folks at the grocery store. I desperately wanted to work with a team. Thanks to the fantastic group of people who found me at Startup Weekend, I experienced real teamwork for the first time.


Here’s what it looks like: you have everyone else’s back, and everyone else has your back. You’re all working towards the same goal, and you can lean on your team because everyone can complement your weakness with their own strengths or expertise. Everyone’s voice is prized.

Part of what made the team even stronger was conquering challenges together. Our lowest point was at 4pm on Saturday, when other teams were busy working on their prototypes. Having just finished defining our problem, we felt horribly behind. We were early in the process since my primary goal was to give everyone a guaranteed learning experience, rather than only try for an uncertain win. I had been encouraging teammates new to design, to become comfortable with the process by figuring it out themselves and moving forward with group discussion and consensus, rather than have me say what we should do next. At 4pm, our team decided that it was time to start getting things done, so I started directing more than guiding.

Our biggest success: We placed third, which is a wonderful achievement. Equally or more important, my teammates and I accomplished things we weren’t sure we could do. Victoria and Michelle did the full design process after first hearing of design thinking Friday night; Jeremy built a clickable website for the first time; I guided a team that worked as a unit. Perhaps my biggest personal success was learning I could take small steps right now towards my career goal of bringing design thinking to education.

The amazing thing about Startup Weekend is that it forces you to go from someone who is all talk, little action (has a vague desire to make the world a better place) to someone who is all action, little talk (is implementing and testing a specific solution to a problem). Your biggest constraint – time – forces deliberate action. Are we working on the right thing? Are we answering the right question? Even if it’s not perfect, is it good enough to move on?

The list of things to do seems ludicrous– forming and bonding a team, defining your problem, interviewing multiple customers, brainstorming solutions, consulting experts, building and testing possible solutions, doing competitive analysis, creating a reasonable business model, and making and practicing a compelling pitch. By Sunday night, anything seems possible. You’ve gotten a startup from idea to launch in about 20 hours of hands-on time. What can’t you do?

This suspension of disbelief is, I think, characteristic of Startup Weekends – the conviction that the company you are working on is real, or could be. The belief that you can achieve what you set out to do.

David and Tom Kelley call it creative confidence. At Startup Weekend Oakland, I found mine. Nothing will ever be the same.

Three important lessons I learned from my mistakes:

The team is everything. Find ways to support the goals of everyone on your team. Lean on them, make sure everyone is doing what they’re best at. Now I know to try agreeing on explicit roles to recognize people’s existing strengths, instead of having an unspoken, unintentional expectation for everyone to be comfortable doing everything.

Customer interviews are amazing. Their passions and frustrations will be obvious, and they will open up whole new avenues for you to explore. Now I know to start interviews earlier so we can adapt the solution earlier.

You will have to make decisions based on incomplete information. There is not enough time to do “enough research.” That’s OK because you can always adjust later. If it’s the right decision you’ll prove your gut right, if not you’ll learn something. Now I know to jump into brainstorming and prototyping earlier.

Two Startup Weekend kids answer the question: "Could an app have saved Trayvon Martin?"

Could an app have saved Trayvon Martin? Dylan Lang, 10, and Yah Ella Willams-Riley, 8, worked on one of fourteen teams answering that question at the Black Male Achievement Startup Weekend in Oakland earlier this month.

Their app, Help Circle, lets you contact the police anonymously. Dylan and Yah-Ella’s team pitched to a panel of entrepreneurs and won new tablets. “She’s been coding ever since,” said Ella’s mom, Iman Saint Jean.

Check out what they learned at Startup Weekend in the video below!

MLK Meets Silicon Valley – Inclusion Hacking For Good In Oakland

This post is was originally published on PRWeb.

Startup Weekend Oakland invites community members, business leaders and techies to solve global issues related to education, health, restorative justice and sustainability.


Oakland’s first Startup Weekend hackathon will take place February 7, 2014 – February 9, 2014. The underlying theme is “Building a Silicon Valley that lives up to Dr. King’s dream” and is the first global hackathon for Black Male Achievement. The vision for this groundbreaking event presents the question “Could an app have saved Trayvon Martin?” says Kalimah Priforce, a 2013 Echoing Green BMA Fellow and Co-Founder of Qeyno Labs, the host for this historic event.

Oakland is quickly becoming the go-to place for new technology startups to find their big break. With the rising costs of living and working in San Francisco, many innovators are finding that the city across the bay bridge provides them with ample transportation options in and out of Silicon Valley’s tech hubs. Co-working spaces, affordable housing, a foodie’s paradise of delectable cuisine that reflects its increasingly diverse population, and an art and music scene that draws in tens of thousands throughout the Bay Area. Startup Weekend Oakland will take place at Impact Hub Oakland’s new space located at 2323 Broadway.


What is a Hackathon? Hackathons provide a venue for self-expression and creativity through technology. People with technical backgrounds come together, form teams around a problem or idea, and collaboratively code and/or design a unique solution from scratch — these generally take shape in the form of websites, mobile apps, and robots. Each team has the opportunity to pitch their creation to a panel of judges whose expertise reflect the five tracks our participants will be “hacking.” Teams have an opportunity to win prizes and awards, gain recognition amongst organizations, government officials and community leaders while interacting with notable movers and shakers in the Bay Area.

A Hackathon for Black Male Male Achievement (BMA)? Oakland offers more than exciting opportunities for work and play. Oakland is also home to a community of activism, social entrepreneurs, and green innovators tackling the biggest problems that are often overlooked by the largely Valleywag culture of its neighbors. “Startup Weekend Oakland is an inclusive event focused on progressive community problem solving intended to inspire collaboration amongst diverse ethnicities, professions and genders,” states Ayori Selassie Founder of Pitch Mixer Entrepreneur Forum and organizer for Startup Weekend Oakland. This three-day 54 hour event encourages developers, designers, and innovators from all backgrounds to tackle issues related to what today’s statistics reveal – from health, to education, to incarceration rates, young Black males have untapped potential.

Startup Weekend Oakland is initiating a national conversation on innovation that doesn’t typically happen in the tech scene thanks to supporters like the Open Society Foundations’ Campaign for Black Male Achievement, a multi-issue, cross-fund strategy to address black men and boys’ exclusion from economic, social, educational, and political life in the United States.

#YesWeCode Reception (Saturday Evening — February 8, 2014) – Startup Weekend Oakland’s most significant partnership is with Van Jones and Rebuild the Dream’s #YesWeCode initiative to get 100,000 low opportunity youth to learn to code. “Our aim is to make the training, tools and technology of Silicon Valley available to our communities – providing education and access that will demystify the language of coding,” states Van Jones, President and Founder of Rebuild the Dream. Van Jones will be keynote speaker for Saturday evening’s reception as he shares his bold vision to a room filled with leaders from the San Francisco Bay Area and across the nation. He will then be joined by a panel of influencers and experts for an hour-long discussion on Oakland becoming the home for the #YesWeCode movement.

The old adage, “it takes a village to raise a child” is supported by Startup Weekend Oakland’s family of contributors, sponsors, and community partners that include: Policy Link, The Kapor Center for Social Impact, Impact Hub Oakland, Pitch Mixer Entrepreneur Forum, Cooperative Education Ventures, Black Founders, Latinos for Social Change, BiTHouse and many others included on their website. “Supporting the creation and promotion of technology solutions, products and services generated by members of diverse communities in cities like Oakland is a honor,” states Jewell Sparks, inclusion hacking strategist and Founder of Strategic Diversity Group and BiTHouse (aiding with partnerships for the event).

Visit: http://www.swoakland.com to take advantage of early bird registration for the event and reception. If you are interested in contributing to the event as a partner or sponsor, email: partnerships@swoakland.com.