Getting comfortable being uncomfortable at Startup Weekend Iowa City 2015

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

Startup Weekend Iowa City 2015 is in the books!

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

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

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

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

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

So what did we learn?

Getting comfortable being uncomfortable

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Welcoming diversity

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

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

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

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

Meet the teams:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what’s next?

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

We’re hoping to see our teams again at…

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

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

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

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








Is Startup Weekend for me?

@andystoll
@andystoll

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.

Hope to see you at Startup Weekend!

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

 








Startup Weekend Stories: Lauren, finding community

Startup Weekend Stories: Memories, reflections and lessons learned from Startup Weekend events in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City, Iowa. 

Today we meet Lauren Aguilar, a student at the University of Iowa who has been involved with multiple local projects along with her brother, Nico. Sometimes college towns struggle with a disconnect between students and residents, but Startup Weekend helped Lauren cross the divide – she found the community support to keep going. She writes: “We never stopped working on the idea! I’m actually graduating in May and I will be working on SPEEKO full time!”

Startup Weekend Iowa City 2014
Startup Weekend Iowa City 2014

The idea – pitch, please:

Friday night we pitched an “um” counting app. Saturday we added helping people get over the fear of public speaking to our value proposition. Sunday night SPEEKO was pitched and it is an app that records your presentation or speech meanwhile tracking volume, pace, and filler words to give you valuable insights into how you speak in order to make effective improvements.

My brother, Nico Aguilar, and the SPEEKO team went through the summer accelerator of Venture School (a six week program developed at the University of Iowa) and we are still working on this project.

What were your hopes and goals going into the weekend?

I had no idea what I was getting into! I just wanted to meet new people, see what all the hype was really about, and try to learn something out of it.

What was your involvement  with the local startup community before the weekend?

As a finance student at the University of Iowa, I really wasn’t involved in the startup community at all! I got involved with the student incubator through JPEC during my third year, but I had no idea that there was so much more. I remember people talking about events that were going on in the community (like 1 Million Cups and TechBrew) but I never went to them. That’s why I’m so glad I eventually did because the community I’ve discovered has been incredible. 

What was the most challenging part of the weekend? 

The most challenging part of the weekend was just focusing on one idea and sticking to it. When you get a group of creative people together ideas just never stop! It was really exciting to see the evolution of ideas from the Friday night to Sunday night pitches.

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








Startup Weekend Stories: Levi, from student to tech founder

Startup Weekend Stories: Memories, reflections and lessons learned from Startup Weekend events in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City, Iowa. 

Today we meet Levi Bostiana software engineer interested in Linux and open source. After graduating from the University of Northern Iowa in December, Levi has taken the plunge to work on his Startup Weekend Iowa City project, Me2, full-time. “So really,” he writes, “Startup Weekend changed my life.” Read more on his blog – ‘Startup Weekend Iowa City 2014 – the greatest weekend of 2014.’

Pitching at Startup Weekend Iowa City 2014.
Pitching at Startup Weekend Iowa City 2014.

 

What were your hopes and goals going into the weekend?

At first, I found it as a great excuse to program all weekend on a cool project. I wanted to have a lot of fun building a business idea with a group of people who love entrepreneurship like I did and that is exactly what I did.

What was the most challenging part of the experience?

I was the only developer on my team and I was just starting Android development at that time, so completing a prototype of an app in a weekend by myself was pretty challenging for me. I did not concentrate too much on the business/marketing side of the business that weekend, I worked with our designer, Brian Rupert, closely the whole weekend trying to get a prototype done we could show the judges Sunday. It was so exciting when I got the speech to text part done on the app. I was pretty proud Sunday having a prototype completed.

How has the experience impacted you after the weekend?

I changed my work habits after the weekend. I had no idea you could get so much done in a weekend like I did at startup weekend so I changed up my workflow a bit to be more productive. I also fell in love with the community in the Cedar Rapids/Iowa City area and attended events in the Cedar Rapids/Iowa City area whenever I could to see the community again.

Advice I would give to someone considering attending startup weekend:

It is the funnest weekend you will have all year. When startup weekend comes to town, it is time to drop all your plans and go. Catch up with some old friends and make new. On Friday, you have no idea what you are going to be doing all weekend but on Sunday, you and your team are really close and so proud of what you get done. So rewarding!

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








Startup Weekend Stories: Brian, web designer and developer

Startup Weekend Stories: Memories, reflections and lessons learned from Startup Weekend events in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City, Iowa. 

BrianToday we meet Brian Rupert, a designer, front-end developer and game creator based in North Liberty, Iowa. Before attending Startup Weekend Cedar Rapids in 2014, he wasn’t plugged in to the local startup community at all (“I didn’t even know what that meant,” he writes). Today he works with several of the region’s most prominent startups and is a regular at community events.

 

Startup Weekend Iowa City 2014.
Startup Weekend Iowa City 2014.

What were your hopes and goals going into the weekend?

I didn’t really know what happened at a Startup Weekend, but my goals were to build something, meet people, and possibly find some people to work with/for.

The idea: On Friday, it was an app to suggest recipes based only on the food you actually had in your pantry.Sunday night it was pretty much the same thing, but suggested “best matches” of recipes with your stock of food.

What were the most memorable parts of the weekend?

The most challenging part was getting comfortable tearing the idea apart since it wasn’t mine. I also had no idea what a BMC (Business Model Canvas) was or really what was going on as far as validating the idea. I should have been more involved with that instead of designing/building the product. Actually building something (although useless) in the weekend was pretty exciting. Pitching was fun as it was something I hadn’t really done since college (14 years ago). Not having our idea validated and much of the presentation ready about an hour before pitch time was pretty unexpected since I wasn’t involved in that. Now I have learned.

Special shoutout: Organizer David Tominsky:

At Startup Weekend I was pretty heads-down working on our project and really squandered a lot of the networking/socialization aspect but I didn’t get a T-Shirt Friday night because they ran out. David told me to message him and he would get it. I did, and he was RIDICULOUSLY cool about it. He probably has no idea because he was just doing what he said he would. He made me way more comfortable with and feel welcomed to the community. Without him I would probably still be unhappy sitting in my home office working on unfulfilling projects.

How has the experience impacted you after the weekend?

In the best ways possible. I am working for a few startups in the area. I have learned SO much. I started working on my own app and pitched it at 1 Million Cups. I am coworking regularly. I did another Startup Weekend and am taking the idea through Venture School (A six week program developed at the University of Iowa). I like to think I have made some friends out of the deal, which is awesome.

Advice I would give to someone considering attending Startup Weekend:

You HAVE to do it. There is no downside. You have 51 other weekends this year to do all the other shit you think is important. Come to SW with an open-mind, willing to cooperate, excited to learn, and it can change your life.

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