Coming Full Circle with Startup Weekend Portland: Global Startup Battle Edition

On November 13, I will be facilitating for the fifth time this year for Portland Startup Weekend, joining dozens in the greatest startup competition on earth: Global Startup Battle.

Each of my previous facilitations have been special in their own right:

My general style is to embarrass this poor woman.
My general style is to embarrass this poor woman.

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.

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(Among many of my new responsibilities is crushing lip sync contests during Seattle Startup Week.)

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.

A blizzard was going down outside. We don’t care in Pittsburgh.

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.

Friends. Also, Startup Weekend volunteers. Coincidence?
Friends. Also, Startup Weekend volunteers. Coincidence?

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.

We're really into "the pineapple way" at Galvanize.
We’re really into “the pineapple way” at 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.

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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.

Never go mountaineering with Marc Nager. Trust me on this one.
Never go mountaineering with Marc Nager. Trust me on this one.

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:

  1. 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?
  2. 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)

Me (right) with my sister back in our old home in Beaverton, OR.
Me (right) with my sister back in our old home in Beaverton, OR.

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.

I have a problem with respecting other people's private space.
I have a problem with respecting other people’s private space.

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.

Education Entrepreneurs Community Leader Spotlight: Josh Murdock

20141129-DSC_5927One-line Bio: Edtech evangelist with a passion for all things geeky.

Twitter Handle: @ProfessorJosh

Favorite Twitter Hashtags and/or Handles

What I Do for Work: 

I’m an Instructional Designer & Associate Professor of Education and Social Networking at Valencia College. I’m also the founder of, which is a blogging, consulting, and training company. Other roles I play include being the CTEO of GottaGetBlogging, producing a featured segment on The Blogger’s Lab on BlogTalkTV, organizing the Edtech Orlando Meetup, and being an active Orlando EdTech Community Leader. In a nutshell, I’m a Teacher of Teachers, Troubleshooter of Problems, and Designer of Learning.

What do you like to do for fun?

I enjoy going to theme parks with my family, participating in geeky activities around Orlando, exploring the outdoors of Central Florida, surfing some waves, building Legos with my son, and being a foodie with my wife.


If you could have any teacher (dead or alive, real or fictional) who would it be and why?

C.S. Lewis and J.R.R Tolkien were both Oxford professors around the same time. Wouldn’t that make for some interesting coursework in mythology?

How did you discover Education Entrepreneurs?

I was on the Organizing Team of the very first Startup Weekend held in Orlando. Our team also helped launch the first Startup Weekend Education (SWEDU) in August 2012, which I believe was the first of its kind in the Southeast region of the United States.

What’s been your involvement in Education Entrepreneurs to date?

I’ve been a Mentor at eight Startup Weekends/SWEDUs, Organizer of two (including the first SWEDU: College Edition at Valencia College), and a Facilitator of Workshops that covered the topics of Business Models in Education and Prototyping for Non-Designers. I have also attended both the global UP Summit and regional UP America Summit where I got the opportunity to meet other incredible Community Leaders from around the world.


What’s the most challenging thing about being an Organizer?

The hardest thing is to get people, especially educators, to give up their weekend to learn about what it’s like to become an entrepreneur. Many educators haven’t had an experience like this and don’t understand the impact of the weekend, until they actually go through it.

What’s the most rewarding thing about being an Organizer?

I love knowing that you could have changed someone’s path in life. You could have helped them have an impact in education that they would have never dreamed about, until they got the push to make it happen. I’ve never had anyone tell me they wasted their time by attending Startup Weekend.

What’s the biggest piece of advice you’d give to those trying to build an education innovation community?

No matter the size, big or small, building a community is needed to truly affect change. Great discussion can result from involving a variety of stakeholders in education (e.g. educators, administrators, entrepreneurs, or just those interested in education in their community). It’s amazing to see how rich the conversation can be when you bring together 20 to 30 people with different viewpoints and experiences.

What’s the biggest piece of advice you’d give to people trying to create edtech products?

Get out there and talk with real people, including educators, students, parents, and administrators – all people who have a stake in your edtech product or service. Watch and understand how they utilize your product or service. Bring an educator on board with your team, or develop a great group of advisors who are in the trenches everyday to help make your product the best it can be.

2014-07-11 21.04.08

What’s the legacy you’d like to leave in education?

I want to impact individuals who will make a difference in education and are willing to think in a different way about how education can work in our society. Impacting current teachers, future teachers, students, and communities can have a vast ripple effect on changing lives one at a time.

What’s your favorite edtech company and/or innovative school, and why?

I’m involved with so many edtech companies and have seen several that are making an awesome impact on education, so it’s hard to name just one. It’s amazing to see the passion and dedication many companies have to innovate beyond just profit. 4.0 Schools is just one of those that is a non-profit who is striving to make a huge impact by educating educators to become entrepreneurs. It’s been amazing to see the experiments and ventures that are formed when educators get a bug to try something different to help learners succeed.

Finish the sentence: In my dream world, education would …

…be test-free!

What are the books, events, videos, etc. that you think anyone interested in innovating in education and/or building community should check out?

Attend or Organize a Startup Weekend Education or Edtech Meetup. Watch a TedTalk at least weekly to remind yourself that one individual can have amazing ideas.

EdTech Orlando Meetup

Anything else you’d like to share?

The hardest thing about building any community is to have people understand it’s worth it to give up their time to be a part of that community. Make sure you are spreading the word to colleagues, friends, educators, administrators, and companies to become a part of your edtech community. It’s important to have voices from all sides in the room working together to make an impact on education.


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.

Orlando Startup Weekend Education Helps Solve Problems in Education

This post was written by Josh Murdock, Orlando Startup Weekend Education Organizer and was originally posted on his Professor Josh blog.

Many of us have 8am-5pm jobs. But there are always these things called weekends that give us an extra 54 hours of time to explore, relax, learn, and build. What can you do in 54 hours? How about creating a startup business that solves a problem in education. That’s what happened July 11-13, 2014 at Valencia College’s Collaborative Design Center on the West Campus. Fifty designers, developers, entrepreneurs, and educators came together over a weekend to create seven amazing companies in 54 hours at Orlando Startup Weekend Education. Many of the participants were from Central Florida but one came from Honduras and another from New Jersey to participate.


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Friday night both friends and strangers kicked off a weekend long journey to create a startup business from just an idea. Over 24 participants pitched their own ideas that would solve educational problems. Afterwards all the 60 second pitches, came a vote by all those participating on which ideas were their favorites. Educators votes were worth double, since it was education focused Startup Weekend. Narrowed down to form seven teams ranging from ideas that would attempt to solve a national problem concerning the lack of girls going into STEM careers to a solution that tries to connect teachers and potential guest speakers in an easier way.

Orlando Startup Weekend Education SWORLEDU Voting on Ideas

I was the main organizers for this weekend. It’s my ninth time attending a Startup Weekend, typically attending as a mentor in the past. It was the third Startup Weekend Education hosted in Orlando, one of the few in the southeast. I’m always amazed at the journey these teams go through from just an idea to a potential business that could have a huge impact on education.

The seven pitches that formed teams included:

  • Inspire Us: eHarmony for connecting guest speakers and teachers.
  • Party Time: Time management app for college students.
  • OE Scope: Turing optical microscopes into digital microscopes with a smartphone app and unique 3D printed adapter with lots of sharable features.
  • Telling Tales: A storybook development website for developing reading skills.
  • Learn Like a Girl: After school program for girls to get invovled and interested in STEM careers.
  • Lab Safety: Digital lab safety courses for both students and teachers to prevent accidents from happening.
  • Global Glass: Non-profit connecting Honduras (or other countries students/teachers) to teachers or retired teachers in the United States digitally for assistance and tutoring.

Saturday the seven teams focused on defining their problem, solution, and users. They went out to validate their ideas with those who are impacted by these problems or could be potential users or customers of their solutions. As each team moved along their journey, they are guided by various mentors from the community who volunteered their time to ask the tough questions and give guidance when needed. Many teams pivot in response to validation, competition, and lessons learned along their weekend journey. Dr. Lisa Macon, Dean at Valencia College was one of the mentors over the entire weekend and helped bring Startup Weekend Education to Valencia. “Watching the teams progress from “idea” to “product” was eye-opening. The teams with members who asked questions and kept an open mind progressed quickly which should be a lesson to the others who came in with hard and fast ideas. All of the participants learned something about product development, business models, and teamwork. I am looking forward to the next Startup Weekend event.”

Mentors working with teams at Orlando Startup Weekend Education

Sunday is the final push to develop a quality pitch that will impress the judges. Teams continue to build, validate, and get assistance for mentors along the way. Practicing pitches and being comfortable sharing your ideas in a simple to understand format is a key to success. Areas the judges focus on are customer business validation, education impact, user experience design, and product execution. The winner of July’s Orlando Startup Weekend Education was Inspire Us, bringing professionals into the classroom.

Orlando Startup Weekend Education SWORLEDU Group Photo

Everyone walks away with new lessons learned from others, including the mentors, judges, and organizers. One mentor Rob McCaffery, a Professor at Valencia College, said, “In addition to learning more about business, I find a lot of techniques during Startup Weekend that I can use to engage my classrooms and get students interacting with each other.”

Dr. Sandy Shugart, President of Valencia College was one of the judges. “Not many one-weekend co-curricular experiences are genuinely transformational. But Startup Weekend truly is.” stated Shugart.

Orlando Startup Weekend Education SWORLEDU Judges including Carlos Carbonell, TD Haines, Dr Sandy Shugart

After the weekend is over, it’s not the end for the winning and losing teams. It’s a chance to decide if they want to continue their journey in entrepreneurship and educational change. It’s an opportunity to connect again with those friends you met for the first time over the weekend. It’s a time to get involved in local meetups, such as EdTech Orlando ( that talk about the need for change in education year around.

Interested in learning more about Startup Weekend Education? Visit and search for #SWORLEDU on Twitter to see what happened at this weekend’s Startup Weekend Education Orlando event.