As one of the proud community leaders of Startup Weekend Pittsburgh, I believe that our events bring out the best in our community. We’re the ones who teach others to stand at the edge and leap head-on into the unknown. We encourage people to listen to our city’s problems, create solutions, and iterate them if they don’t work out.
However, I think we sometimes get a little caught up in the glory of the startup world and forget about the pressing needs that are surround us at all times. Pittsburgh’s certainly a city on the rise, but it’s a city with a lot of work to do as well.
All proceeds go entirely to 412 Food Rescue, a non-profit initiative to reuse unsellable food and convert them into healthy, delicious meals for our community’s hungry. The event will take place at The Livermore in East Liberty on July 25th from 7pm to midnight.
Here are 7 figures that motivate our entrepreneurial efforts to curb this very serious problem (facts and figures mostly extracted from Feeding America):
That’s the percent of people who live in Allegheny County who are “food insecure,” or are unable to feed themselves adequately. That seems small, but here’s another number.
The number of people who are food insecure in Allegheny County. You could almost fill Heinz Stadium three times over with that many people.
How many children are food insecure in Allegheny County. That’s greater than the capacity of PNC Park.
How much an average healthy meal costs in our region.
How much it would cost to eradicate hunger in Allegheny County every year.
The price of a ticket to the Summer Harvest. Using 412 Food Rescue’s efficient, ecological approach, each person who attends this will be able to feed a family of suffering from hunger for an entire week.
The number of people it takes to make a difference.
As an entrepreneur and a community organizer, I am convinced of the power of a single individual to make a huge difference in their community. This is not idealism – such impacts happen all the time. After all…
If you’d also like to sponsor or donate, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for reading!
Lee Ngo is a community leader based in Pittsburgh, PA.
Find me in…Pittsburgh, PA
Favorite Twitter Hashtag: #ecetech
What’s your day job?
What do you like to do for fun?
Travel and attend concerts
If you could have any teacher (dead or alive, real or fictional) who would it be and why?
Mildred Davison (my paternal grandmother), because she lives and works in the same community, allowing her to build in-depth relationships with her students and their families. She’s known for the high expectations she holds for her students, as well as proactively working with their parents to make sure they succeed. Now retired and living in the same community, whenever Mildred runs into a former student, they often times reminisce on the lessons she taught them or how she built up their confidence.
How did you discover Education Entrepreneurs?
The Startup Weekend newsletter and social media.
What’s been your involvement in Education Entrepreneurs to date?
What’s the most challenging thing about being an Organizer?
One of the most challenging things is coordinating the meals: trying to cater to everyone’s dietary restrictions, be cost-effective, as well as offer a variety. We have to keep our participants well-nourished because they’re working around-the-clock to create great new innovations.
What’s the most rewarding thing about being an Organizer?
The most rewarding thing is when I run into participants and they are talking about their projects. Also, when I read news about our teams, it makes me proud.
What’s the biggest piece of advice you’d give to those trying to build an education innovation community?
Collaborate to optimize your competitive advantage and harness your social capital.
What’s the biggest piece of advice you’d give to people trying to create edtech products?
Spend time with your intended end users to fully understand their lifestyle and culture.
What’s the legacy you’d like to leave in education?
Developing a blueprint to engage underserved communities in S.T.E.M. education by harnessing the economic development in the area.
What’s your favorite edtech company and/or innovative school, and why?
My favorite edtech company is Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), because they keep reinventing how to deliver educational content to children and their families. Their adaptability to new media, while still maintaining their mission and quality, is inspiring. It’s classic and cutting edge, a true marker of innovation and sustainability.
Finish the sentence: In my dream world, education would be free of barriers to entry. Education would be equitable, not equal.
What are the books, events, videos, etc. that you think anyone interested in innovating in education and/or building community should check out? The Fred Forward Conference, Startup Weekend (any edition), We the Geeks a Google Hangout on Air via the White House. A must read is Growing Up Social: Raising Relational Kids in a Screen-Driven World. Also, here’s my book list for the year; it’s innovation-inspired.
Anything else you’d like to share?
Be passionate and resilient.
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.
Startup Weekend Education Pittsburgh (#SWeduPGH / @SWeduPGH) came and went from February 20th to February 22nd. It was a sold-out emotional roller coaster for its 120+ participants, hailing from as far as Mississippi and ranging as young as nine years old.
I wrote previously that this event was a dream come true, and indeed it was. However, there were moments in this event that made me wonder…
Consider the following moments:
1. Duolingo’s Luis von Ahn basically walked down the street to come talk to us.
- Duolingo is the first educational app to win the coveted Apple App of the Year.
- The app remains completely free for users, yet Duolingo has raised a total of over $38M in capital to date.
- Over 20 million people are now using the app. There are more people are learning languages on Duolingo than in the U.S. Public Education System.
Prof. von Ahn also opened up about his struggles as an entrepreneurship – the nightmares of product, the perpetual campaign of “gamification,” and the immense complexity in providing a service for each language.
There’s nothing greater than when a local startup rock star maintains a sense of humility. Thank you, Prof. von Ahn!
2. That moment when Expii’s Po-Shen Loh made the entire crowd gasp in awe.
I know it seems silly that I compared myself to Steve Jobs when he first saw Steve Wozniak’s PC and operating system for the first time, but I hope you all understand that feeling now.
When Professor Loh showed us all “The Map” – that seemingly endless web of knowledge that continually expands as people actively contribute to Expii via “colossal collaboration” – the entire room was floored.
Prof. Loh is just one of many in a community of game changers, and the best part: they’re more excited to meet YOU. Expii is currently live and ready for you to contribute.
3. A mother and son competed AGAINST each other (and, somehow, both won)
I did not discover this until well into the competition, but participants Wesley and her son Porter joined different teams: Project Playground and The Wrinkled Brain Project. Throughout, there was nothing but love and respect – sometimes a rare sight at an intense competition like Startup Weekend.
Although Mom ended up placing first in the competition, Porter was the real star of the event. This Startup Weekend featured the first “Reaping” ever – a sacrifice of one participant to entertain the other participants and maintain social order.
However, when the moment of selection came, Porter volunteered as tribute.
He managed to vanquish a Koldiak with a Grimlug’s flurry of tornadoes and saved the day. (I don’t know what these words mean.)
Well done, Porter, and Wesley – way to be an awesome parent. Speaking of which:
4. We’re convinced Pittsburgh would crush a Startup Weekend Youth.
As a judging and coaching dynamic duo, Entrepreneuring Youth‘s proud alums Jesse and Joziah Council were the most poised (and well-dressed) gentlemen at the event.
Our Youth Choice Panel not only counted their votes faster than the main judges did (that was my bad), they also entertained the audience with their enthusiasm.
Lastly, who could forget that little girl who validated Penny Discovery’s MVP:
The youth have spoken – they want more entrepreneurship!
5. Startup Weekends are not traditionally done in sub-freezing temperatures. (We Pittsburgh folk don’t care.)
Some of the team made a snowman out in front. We decided to name it “Gusky” after Norton Gusky, a huge advocate in the Pittsburgh education community and the first person to buy a ticket at our event. Unfortunately, he fell ill and couldn’t attend, so we hope that this snowman was a fitting tribute.
6. Nobody else than Mandela Schumacher-Hodge could have facilitated SWeduPGH. Nobody.
Not only did we get the Global Director of Education Entrepreneurs, but we also got a woman who grew up in Pittsburgh’s East End and whose local legendary father Leroy Hodge fought relentlessly for the kind of future we hoped to represent at our event.
One of our judges, The Fred Rogers Center‘s President Bill Isler approached her after the winners were announced. Apparently, Mandela’s mom and Bill were previously commissioners of the Pittsburgh Dynamo Soccer League, where Mandela cultivated her enduring passion for the sport.
If you can name someone else who should have been with us that weekend… you don’t really exist, for you are a logical paradox. Welcome back home, Mandela!
7. The epic dance party you all missed (probably because you built a company in 54 hours)
No words necessary. Just a video of Startup Weekend Pittsburgh veteran Steve McCarthy showing off his salsa skills with facilitator Mandela:
(In case you can’t see it – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h7J60ElaTOM)
Convinced yet that there might be a higher power involved? Perhaps, but I’m more inclined to think it begins with this validated fact:
Education is a big deal in Pittsburgh, and entrepreneurship is a great way to stimulate its progress.
It was too easy to recruit the right organizers and volunteers – I already knew the most passionate, committed, trustworthy, and hardworking people in town.
We really didn’t have any trouble finding the right judges – we knew we wanted a teenage entrepreneur, three prominent women in educational technology, and a veteran in Pittsburgh school policy and philanthropy. Mission accomplished.
The greatest challenge with any Startup Weekend is outreach – despite our hard work, we never know until the last minute if people will come out to participate.
So, on behalf of everyone, I thank you for experiencing what I had experienced just a few years ago – this event is and always will be for you.
I also ask that you do the following:
- Follow me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. – I usually post about weird stuff, especially why it’s okay for men to selfie.
- Have your projects follow me, too – keep me posted on your progress, and ask me how I can help your team.
- Ask me anything – if it’s Startup Weekend-related, email me here. If it’s anything else, email me here. I’m here to pay it forward, and as I’ve written before, I’m pretty hardcore about Startup Weekend.
- Keep going – stay in touch with your teams, talk to the others ones, reach out to our sister event in Raleigh – just promise me that you’ll keep going on this wild journey
- ORGANIZE – this will be the last time I organize an event for a while, for I have been plucked up by UP Global, the parent organization of Startup Weekend and many other excellent programming. It’s time for me to “pass the beaker,” and it’s time for you to step up.
(Apply here: startupweekend.org/organizer/application/)
After all, you’re now part of a big family, and we’re excited to have you.
Pretty surreal, isn’t it?
Lee Ngo is the Regional Manager of the US East Coast for UP Global and the lead organizer of Startup Weekend Education Pittsburgh. Many of the photos in this post were provided generously by Ben Matzke Photos, all rights reserved.
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
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
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 email@example.com.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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”
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.
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.
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.
This is the second 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.
Nathaniel Eliason: 3 do’s and 7 don’ts of how to spend your 54 hours at Startup Weekend
After winning Startup Weekend #4 last fall, I decided to have a little tongue-in-cheek fun and pitch a gag company at SWPgh#5 called Fratboxes. Although Fratboxes was a joke, my pitch was meant to show that most teams don’t spend enough time on things that give them the highest chance of winning.
So here are seven things I’ve seen Startup Weekend teams lose the most time on, along with three things they should have put more time into. Don’t make the same mistakes!
Things to Avoid Wasting Time On
1. Social Media
Social media is a “vanity metric.” Having a lot of followers makes you feel good, but don’t make the mistake of using it as “proof” that you have a killer product.
If you don’t believe that it’s a bad indicator, go to sites like fiverr.com and see how you can easily buy thousands of Twitter followers and Facebook likes for cheap. This is how new companies suddenly have thousands of followers.
2. Video Testimonials
Some companies will go out and get recordings of people endorsing their idea. But a video endorsement (1) doesn’t equal sales, (2) takes up a lot of time from your presentation, and (3) everyone will think that your endorsements were either doctored or even coerced..
Instead, try to get quotes from influential entrepreneurs in the region who like your idea. Bonus points if they’re experienced in your space.
3. A Fully Functional Product
Remember, you only have 5 minutes to show the judges how great you are, and only part of that 5 minutes should be spent on the demo. It’s not necessary to have a perfectly working product since you can show an animation of what it will look like to give the judges an idea of what it will do. You can always keep working on it later, but for now the goal is to win.
At the same time, some sort of mock-up or prototype that the judges can see or hold goes a long way. The more senses of your audience that you engage, the more they’ll remember you.
4. The Name
Don’t be the team that gets nothing done Friday night because they’re bickering over finding the perfect name. It won’t make a difference during the presentation, and it will significantly cut into the time you have for the important things.
Part of being an entrepreneur is learning to accept things not being perfect the first time. You have to prioritize to make sure the most important things get done. If everything is equally important to you, nothing will get done.
5. Financial Projections
Remotely accurate financial projections for a brand-new startup are impossible. A “hockey stick” graph showing that you’re going to be worth 50 million by year five is a nice story, but it won’t be taken seriously and it wastes presentation time.
Instead of trying to make wild projections, just talk about how large the market is, and why you’re able to compete in it. Show the weaknesses of the competition, where you fit in, and why you’ll beat them.
6. Making a Live Demo
Please don’t don’t don’t make a live demo. Something will go wrong or break. I saw this happen at my first Startup Weekend and then again at the Rise of the Rest pitch competition in the spring. It’s heartbreaking to see, and you’ll end up spending half of your presentation trying to cover up the mistake.
Instead, just put together a video, some mockups, or some site designs, and show them in the slides. It’ll be perfectly sufficient, and you’ll be protected from anything going wrong.
7. Making a Perfect Website
A perfect landing page won’t win the weekend. Yes, you should make at least a landing page, but you can do that in less than an hour using WordPress or Unbounce. Remember: The judges won’t be looking deeply at your website, so don’t spend too much time perfecting every pixel! Depending on your product or idea, often it’s just enough to have something people can put their email addresses into at the end of the event if they’re interested.
What to Spend Time on Instead
1. The Presentation
The presentation is the No. 1 thing you should be spending time on if you want to win. You could have started the next Facebook, but if the judges don’t know what you did, they won’t pick you.
Make sure your presentation is well designed, easy to understand, well rehearsed, showcases the product, proves it’s a big opportunity, and does all of this while being fun and engaging. The judges should laugh at least once.
If you’re not sure what to include or what format to go with, Guy Kawasaki’s example investor pitch deck is a good place to start. You’ll want to liven it up a bit though.
Aside from a great opportunity to learn about startups, Startup Weekend is also one of the best networking opportunities in the Pittsburgh startup scene. Founders of local companies, angel investors, heads of organizations like AlphaLab and Thrill Mill, they’ll all be there and more than happy to chat and help you.
Don’t just go heads down the whole time and miss this opportunity! Odds are you’ll make some connections that will seriously accelerate your startup education. It could even be a good way to find a job if you don’t decide to keep working on your company after the weekend is over.
3. Validation & Sales
The best companies prove their ideas and even make some sales over the weekend. If you can show up to the presentation on Sunday and say “Not only do we have this great idea, but people have already paid us for it!” the judges will be blown away.
Your product isn’t ready yet? Sure it is. Get people to commit to buying it when it’s ready Kickstarter-style, or get them to pre-order it for a discount. Or do what I did with Fratboxes and put up a sales page, then figure out how to make the product once someone buys.
Last but Not Least …
Have fun! Startup Weekend is an thrilling and intense experience. You’ll make some awesome friends, build something cool, and even if you don’t win it will be a great time. Enjoy it.
Nathaniel Eliason won Startup Weekend #4 with his company Tailored Fit and pitched a satirical company FratBoxes at Startup Weekend #5. You can find more of his work on his personal blog, or by following him on Twitter.
Hello, everyone! Today is the first in a series of awe-inspiring guest posts between now and SWPgh#6. We have an all-star lineup of past participants and supporters here to share their experiences and insights about what it really means to participate in Startup Weekend Pittsburgh. Today, we’re proud to bring you Lee Ngo. So take it away, Lee.
— Christian Moreno, SWPgh#6 social media contributor
Lee Ngo: Winning takes back seat to community, creativity, innovation
I am addicted to Startup Weekend Pittsburgh.
Since I moved to Pittsburgh two years ago, I have competed once, volunteered three times, and I’m about to organize twice: first for SWPgh#6 on Nov. 21-23, and then for Pittsburgh’s first Startup Weekend Education in February. And yet …
… I have never won or even placed.
My first experience was the greatest experience of my life. I was a competitor on a well-rounded, savvy team working to improve academic performance — and we had our asses handed to us by apps that:
- help with gifting for your significant other,
- identify allergic items in a store,
- get the attention of college athletics programs.
I am jealous of the winners … for about a day.
Ultimately, it did not matter if we won or lost. In fact, our company still continues on, much to everyone’s surprise (even ours). And there are many other teams that have done well in spite of not winning or placing, but went on to do some interesting and fantastic stuff:
- Inktd: a platform for tattoo artists to book their clients in an orderly manner
- MaxMyTV: an integrated social media and home media tool
- MegaBits: a massive multiplayer online game that uses geolocation
- Nymbus: a way to integrate mobile technologies into the live event experience
Startup Weekend is a sprint. Entrepreneurship is a marathon.
Some ideas keep going, and others are done by the end of the competition. A few don’t even make it to the presentation round, but we do everything we can to encourage them to go through the journey. Why? Because it’s all about the journey.
You don’t have to be a rock-star coder, a heralded artist, or a hotshot salesperson. You just have to be open and willing to be inspired by something new. It helps to be fearless, and it helps even more to be friendly.
SWPgh is 100% volunteer driven. We are not motivated by personal gain, for if we were, we’d be doing something else. We love the rush of entrepreneurship. We are addicted to teamwork, creativity, innovation, and theatricality. Above all, we do it for the community.
I come back every year because it’s the most fun you’ll have in the entrepreneurial world of Pittsburgh.
Join us. Startup Weekend was created just for you.
Lee Ngo is a co-organizer of Startup Weekend Pittsburgh and lead organizer of Startup Weekend Education Pittsburgh. He is also the founder of Scholar Hero, which was conceived at SWPgh#2.
Let the countdown begin! It’s a little more than 3 weeks until our sixth Startup Weekend Pittsburgh, and we can’t wait to show you what’s in store.
Now maybe you’re a Startup Weekend newcomer, wondering if this event is for you and whether you should participate. Maybe you’re a battle-tested startup veteran, thinking it’s time to pitch your next great idea. Whoever you are, here’s what you need to know about SWPgh#6:
1 You’re guaranteed to meet and work with amazing people.
Startup Weekend attracts our community’s most passionate makers and doers. This isn’t just a happy-hour. By spending a weekend to create companies that solve real-world problems, you’ll build long-lasting relationships with your teammates, competitors, coaches, sponsors, volunteers, and attendees.
2 You’ll sharpen your skills and pick up new ones.
With a whole weekend dedicated to letting your creative juices flow, Startup Weekends are perfect opportunities to work on a new platform, try public speaking, add to your portfolio, hone vital teamwork skills, learn a new programming language, or just try something different.
3 You’ll get face time with community leaders, thinkers, and doers.
Kicking off SWPgh#6 will be keynote speaker Justin Mares, author of the book “Traction: A Startup Guide to Getting Customers.” And facilitating throughout the weekend, we’re thrilled to have Jon Rossi, a one-man Startup Weekend dynamo and the founder of mydealerservice.com. There will also be amazing hands-on coaches who will mentor your teams, and a host of sponsors including Google, Saul Ewing, AlphaLab, No Wait, The Hardware Store, C-Leveled, Pittsburgh Technology Council, and Wall-to-Wall Studios, with even more to come!
4 You’ll learn more in 54 hours than you thought possible.
Startup Weekends are all about learning through the act of creating. Don’t just listen to theory — build your own strategy, and test it as you go. You don’t need to have a startup idea to participate. Because at Startup Weekend Pittsburgh, creating companies is just the tip of the iceberg. We make entrepreneurs.
5 Tickets will go fast.
SWPgh#6 will sell out before you know it. General registration is $99, with student tickets set at $49. Your ticket covers meals, snacks, access to exclusive resources from our sponsors, and of course, all the coffee you can drink. What are you waiting for?
Got questions? Email email@example.com.