Techstars Startup Weekend Goes Small Town: The Small Town Tech Advantage

Friendly neighbors, wide open spaces, fresh air—the benefits of rural living are real. And now, with the trend toward remote working and co-working spaces strong and growing, tech companies are realizing that they can work with talented people who live anywhere, including small towns.

At Techstars, we believe you can build a great company anywhere, and we are here to support this new workforce migration. To do so, we are working with community leaders from across the States to support the first ever Techstars Startup Weekend Small Town Advantage Initiative, and we are super excited about it.

Techstars Startup Weekend is a hyper-inclusive, 54-hour event that lets you experience the highs, lows, fun, and pressure that make up life at a startup. The program is centered on action, innovation, education, and discovery. Participants give 60 second pitches of their company ideas on Friday night, and then everyone forms teams around the top ideas. The rest of the weekend is devoted to mentorship, workshops—and getting out of the building to validate ideas, develop prototypes, and finally pitch the companies on Sunday night to a panel of judges. The experience is exhilarating, exhausting, and life changing!

June 21, 2019, is the kickoff, when small towns from around the United States begin coming together to raise awareness of the untapped tech talent pipelines in their communities and to break the stereotypes around what rural communities have to offer the global economy. These community leaders want people to realize that with high-speed connectivity in their communities, there are no barriers to working remote tech roles. They’ll also be celebrating the advantages that rural areas offer, like how easy it is to get things done and cut through red tape in small communities where everyone knows, and supports, one another.

We’d like to take this opportunity to highlight to these incredible community leaders bringing Techstars Startup Weekend Small Town Advantage Initiative to life in their communities!

For the events kicking off on June 21, check out these community pages for more information and tickets:

Techstars Startup Weekend Danville, Illinois

Techstars Startup Weekend Independence, Oregon








“Everyone Is an Entrepreneur at Heart:” Community Leader Spotlight with Sean Paul Shanor

“Techstars Startup Weekend saved my life, literally!” said Synergy Space Founder and Techstars Startup Weekend Facilitator Sean Paul Shanor. It would be difficult to find a more enthusiastic advocate for these events, and he’s always willing to do whatever it takes to make another happen: “As a thank you and to spark as many as possible, I have every single weekend open to facilitate any event, anywhere on the planet. I’m in. Just ask.”

It was his mother who got Sean Paul to his first Techstars Startup Weekend (“thanks, Mom!”). After over a decade working in event operations and management, running major pro golf events around the world, Sean lost his “passion for life,” as he put it, and went home to Norway to find himself. One Friday evening, his mother kicked him out of the house, telling him, “Go to this thing called Startup Weekend. Looks like something you might enjoy.”

Catching the Startup Bug

For Sean Paul, the experience was a revelation: “First time in my life exposed to a 60-second pitch. Building websites and products in hours, not months. Brainstorming ideas and thoughts on a whiteboard. Feeling the openness and curiosity flourish. Meeting others in the same boat. Becoming aware of an entire ecosystem full of people willing to help, guide, and teach. In short, I got the startup bug. I found a new piece of myself to explore, and to this day I have never looked back.”

Ever since that first Techstars Startup Weekend, entrepreneurship has been Sean Paul’s driving force. But for him, it’s less about starting companies himself than about helping others. “I’m passionate about entrepreneurship,” Sean Paul said. “But infinitely more passionate about sharing my experiences and teaching others how they can become entrepreneurs. How anyone can be the impact they wish to be. It’s just a matter of choice.”

Living Give First

Sean Paul lives the Techstars value Give First. He segments his time in order to balance his priorities, and make sure he makes time for everything he considers most important. “I am privileged in being able to design an 80/20 balance for work,” Sean Paul explained. “80% is spent coaching individuals and teams, facilitating workshops, pitch training, and giving keynotes to inspire action—and finally, relaunching my own startup, Synergy Space. This allows me to fully volunteer 20% to help student projects and Techstars Startup Weekends.”

This is simply a response to Sean Paul’s deep belief that “everyone is an entrepreneur at heart. It’s just a matter of giving everyone a chance, teaching, and providing guidance where it’s needed the most.”

In Sean Paul’s view of humanity, “We are all entrepreneurial inside.” He sees many different ways this can play out. As he explained: “This applies to yourself as a living and breathing human, as an intrapreneur shaking up corporates positively, as a game-changing leader and cofounder. All require you to be strong on the inside, understand yourself and those around you, to listen, to learn, to fail, to get up and try again.”

And in case you were wondering whether Sean Paul might want to come to your next Techstars Startup Weekend, he said again: “I am not kidding when I say I am here for penciling-in any Techstars Startup Weekend, anywhere!”








The Compare Game For Startup Community Leaders

by Chris Heivly, Entrepreneur in Residence at Techstars

My children are all adults now (that does not mean I am done being a parent) and I am reminded of one of my pet peeves that siblings seem to do all the time. That pet peeve is complaining about what they did not get as compared to what their sibling received. I used to call it the compare game and my kids all knew that was a hot button for me and thus to not use that in any of their arguments.

I find that that the same compare game is weaseling itself back into my soul as I work with startup communities around the world. We have all seen this in the rankings of various startup communities. I too am both a victim and purveyor of this. I am sorry, I am trying to rid myself of the ploy.

One of my mantras is this: Startup communities are like children—they should never be compared.

You see, on one hand, community leaders need a way to evaluate how well they are doing. On the other hand, the same leaders get caught up in using other communities’ attributes as a marker or milestone to set up goals for their community.

I feel like I am back listening to my children again. “If Jessie got a new pair of ice skates, then I should get a new pair, too!” Never mind that her sister did not ice skate or even care that much for ice skating.

In community speak, it might sound something like this, “Columbus, Ohio has a $100M new venture fund, I should get one, too,” says every Midwest city.

I firmly believe that the source of this thinking is rooted in a very simple motivation—we don’t know how to do this, and if something works for someone else, I need to do it too. By the way, we have no idea if that action on the part of the Columbus community will do anything to help inspire more entrepreneurs or help build better companies or result in more jobs.

Startup community building is a nuanced game with a thousand small actions that hopefully conspire to create an environment where great things can happen. It’s that simple—and that complex.

Passionate about building your community? Take a much closer look at the tools, the actions, the activities that community builders are deploying, and dig in deep as to their actual efficacy. Then experiment in your own community and see what helps move your community forward.

***

Building a startup community in your city? Try organizing a Techstars Startup Weekend. All the other startup communities are doing it.








Meet a Community Leader: Greg Monterrosa, Los Angeles, CA

Who are you?

I’m Greg Monterrosa, born and raised in South-Central LA. About 10 years ago I launched a startup that outgrew me. I hired my replacement and the business is still thriving. Since then, I’ve recognized my passion for helping others get their start. It all began at a Techstars Startup Weekend, when I saw the direct impact of supporting others. Four years ago some friends and I organized the first Techstars Startup Weekend event in our community, the Conejo Valley (North Los Angeles). It changed my life. Soon after the event I booked a one way flight to France, where I found myself mentoring at four different Techstars Startup Weekends. That cemented how important it was for me to maintain a global network.

While I was away, Cal Lutheran University Center for Entrepreneurship—where we hosted our Techstars Startup Weekend—contacted me to help them bring their space to life and open its doors to community members, and Hub101 was born. I picked up a copy of Brad Feld’s book “Startup Communities,” and it’s become required reading for all staff and community leaders—it’s become our bible. Over two years we’ve grown a community of about 150 people at Hub101, and we’re continuing to foster connections that tie early stage startups into economic development and beyond.

Why do you do what you do?

I am living my purpose, which is to empower people. It’s refreshing to surround myself by inspiring doers. I can also see the impact we’re making. To date we’ve created over 50 high paying jobs. Historically, people have used funding as a metric, but our community is a bit different. We’re hyper-focused on empowering our members to seek the people they serve, their customers. It’s amazing to see the people we serve at Hub101 want to give back to the space that helped them get their start.

What’s new for greater Los Angeles?

We’re excited to bring Hub101 to other underserved communities and are working on a second location in Ventura, which was recently affected by the Thomas Fires, and we’re working on launching a third location at a major mall. We are committed to bringing startup communities to places where they don’t exist, utilizing programs like Techstars Startup Weekend and playbooks like “Startup Communities.” Recently one our community members, Beth Sidenberg, formerly a general partner at Kleiner Perkins, launched Westlake Bio Partners, a $320 million fund, to support early stage biotech companies in the area.

Any final remarks?

If you’re a Techstars Startup Weekend organizer in a rural town or a place that is struggling, please reach out to me. I’m happy to meet with you and your team to map out where you’re at, and let’s talk out how we can help your community grow. To that end, I’m also looking for a mentor myself. If you’re a community leader reading this and think you can add value to what we’re up to at Hub101 or to my personal journey I’d welcome a note. Feel free to connect with my on instagram at @GregMetro!








Beware of Building a Startup Community Fire

By Chris Heivly, Entrepreneur in Residence at Techstars

For a brief, shining moment, I was in the fire suppression business, so I know a little about fire. Fire needs three elements: spark, material, and oxygen. That is why you keep your door closed when there is a fire outside the room—don’t feed it more oxygen.

When I meet with startup community enthusiasts, we talk about the factors that seem to grow a community and the factors that seem to inhibit progress. If we could only do more of the right thing and less of the wrong things maybe we could build a little momentum.

Every community has its challenges. Some of the ones I hear are:

  • We do not have enough capital;
  • There are leaders who try and control everything;
  • I can’t find any good mentors;
  • The local corporations do not engage with startups;
  • We don’t have any breakout companies.

These are real challenges and each one plays a negative role. But here’s the thing—in itself, publicly and privately bitching about these issues also has a negative role to play. I know this is human nature. I also know we need to address the issue.

Those complaints just gave the challenges more oxygen. And now we have a bigger fire.

Negative community talk creates doubt and has a direct impact on each member of the community. At the very least we need to balance the challenge discussions with the positive milestone stories.

Are you an active member of your startup community? Find yourself spending just a little too much time whining about what you don’t have? Try and minimize those conversations, and try celebrating a few more of the advances you have made.

***

One great advance for any growing startup community is a Techstars Startup Weekend. Organize one in your city!








Community Building: More is Better—Or Is It?

By Chris Heivly, Entrepreneur in Residence at Techstars

There are many aspects of life where more is better, and as such there are many times we employ strategies to maximize the more. A few examples that many of us live by are:

  • Money
  • Customers
  • Employees
  • Priceless Art
  • Profound experiences
  • Time with loved ones
  • Goals in ice hockey (ok, maybe just me)

In terms of startup community building, there are a plethora of activities that local leaders utilize to create lift. (For clarity, I am using the word “activities” in a very broad sense.) These may include:

  • Hackathons
  • Coffee meetups (1 Million Cups)
  • Grant programs
  • Pitch competitions
  • Learn to code academies
  • Accelerators
  • Networking socials
  • Startup weekends
  • Recruitment events
  • Venture funds
  • Community blogs

The list literally goes on and on. Developing communities are first challenged to convene the various actors across the ecosystem. This has an immediate positive impact as the tribe begins to organize. Participate in this over a few months and some momentum begins to build.

As a community matures, activities naturally increase as newly motivated leaders step up and attempt to fill various voids. In many mature communities, there may be as many as two to three events every week.

I find the number, the diversity, and the cadence of these activities to be one of the critical signals as to the maturity of a community.

But beware. There is a trap that evolves in some minds that if the first handful of activities start to build some very visible momentum, then more activities would have an even larger effect. Unfortunately there is a ceiling to the number of activities and the subsequent impact.

In terms of startup community building, the more is better strategy has a very visible limit to its effectiveness. Once a critical mass of organizing these basic activities is achieved (and there are different trigger points for different communities), then the strategy should shift to building more meaningful activities.

***

Looking for a great startup community building event? Find—or organize!—a Techstars Startup Weekend in your community.








Teamwork Makes the Dream Work: Interview with a Techstars Startup Weekend Winner

Last month, Techstars partnered with Levi Strauss & Co. to create a Techstars Startup Weekend exploring the Future of Retail in San Francisco where Levi Strauss is headquartered.

By bringing the fashion and tech world together, entrepreneurs explored a range of ideas from the consumer checkout experience to how retailers manage new pressure to become sustainable. Melissa Moore, one of the organizers of the event, recently sat down with the leader of the winning team from Techstars Startup Weekend Future of Retail to hear about her experience. Pam Belen, co-founder of Second Opinion, hails from a small town in the Philippines and graduated with an accounting degree. She worked as an accountant at Ernst and Young before becoming a consultant for a digital transformation agency. But she’s always had an entrepreneurial mindset.

Always an Entrepreneur

In college, Pam was inspired by meeting other students whose parents were entrepreneurs. Pam started a massage and wellness business with a classmate’s father and then a hot dog eatery when her first company failed. The hot dog business had an untimely end when Pam got scammed by a supposed landlord. She was looking for the next opportunity.

Techstars Startup Weekend

Visiting San Francisco—a.k.a. the land of entrepreneurship and innovation—Pam wanted to maximize her time and get real startup experience, so she decided to sign up for a Techstars Startup Weekend.

Every Techstars Startup Weekend follows the same pattern: participants pitch their ideas on Friday night, and then everyone volunteers to work on the most popular ideas. In just 54 hours (spread over three days), teams experience the highs, lows, fun, and pressure that make up life at a startup: learning from local mentors, finding customers, building the product, and finally presenting their brand new companies and a full-blown MVP to a panel of local startup leaders who select the Techstars Startup Weekend winner.

Pam didn’t have any ideas in mind to pitch when she arrived on Friday night. But as she was lining up, Pam thought about her own recent challenges and needs, and these provided the foundation for her pitch: when she goes out shopping, Pam often can’t decide on which outfits to buy. She’s ready to spend the money and buy clothes, but she wants a second opinion from a trusted source. Hence, the birth of Second Opinion, an app that engages micro-influencers to give real-time feedback and recommendations to customers while they’re shopping.

Success is About Team, Team, and Team

Pam credits her success at Techstars Startup Weekend to finding the right team: Maripily Alvarado, Visooda Kumar, Jeanette Jordan, and Alex Fernandez.

On Friday night, the facilitators emphasized how important it was to find the right team, but Pam didn’t realize how key the team really was until the end of the weekend—when they won first place.

“I can’t emphasize enough how well our team worked together. We each brought our individual talents to the table, and we recognized and respected each other for our different skills.” Pam says. “The high for the weekend was seeing the strengths of each team member, and working together to let each other shine.”

Pam attributes her success for recruiting such a terrific team to keeping an open mind. After everyone pitched their ideas and teams started to form, some participants came up to her and asked if she would be open to changing one or two things about the original idea she pitched. She was—and that flexibility helped her rapidly-forming team realize that this group was the right fit for them.

Challenges and Validation

To validate their product, Second Opinion took to the streets of downtown San Francisco and interviewed people on Powell Street, had them fill out surveys, and collected their emails.

They also used a key resource that’s integral to every Techstars Startup Weekend experience: mentors with tremendous startup and industry expertise. “The mentors were very helpful. They challenged our ideas,” Pam says. “They’re the domain expertise, and really helped us hone our plans: Julia Mehra [of Levi’s] was the one who tipped us off to reach influencers. Hudson Liao [of Social Marketing Science] coached us and let us know that micro-influencers have a challenging time making money.”

Not that everything went smoothly for Second Opinion: that wouldn’t be startup life. ”The low point was scrambling to hit the deadline on Sunday.” Pam says. “We were scared we wouldn’t be able to send our pitch deck in time. We pivoted on Sunday morning from focusing solely on the shopper to focusing on both the shopper and influencer.”

Quit Your Day Job

Pam quit her job the day after Techstars Startup Weekend, and four of the five original team members have committed to continue working on Second Opinion.

“Winning the new Levi’s smart jacket [first prize for the weekend] was a nice incentive. But we’re really proud that our idea got validated by industry experts, by Levi’s, and the customers,” Pam says. “We’re serious about solving this problem for customers who can’t decide when they’re shopping. We think real-time crowdsourcing is the future.”

Levi Strauss & Co., which partnered with Techstars on the Techstars Startup Weekend Future of Retail event, has reached out to schedule a meeting with Second Opinion, and the new cofounders are eager to leverage that potential partnership. Their goal is to have a product in the market in just three months.

“I’m proud of how everything came together because of teamwork,” Pam says. “There’s a saying that you attract people like you. Our team gravitated to each other because we have the same attitude and values. Ten years from now, I’ll look back to this and say: that was such a great experience.”








Life After Techstars Startup Weekend

By Margaux Joly, Techstars Customer Experience Coordinator

You’ve just finished your Techstars Startup Weekend, now it’s Monday and you’re back at work. Your backpack is still filled with post-it notes, a lean canvas template, seemingly infinite pens, and wrappers from all  the energy bars you ate last weekend to sustain yourself.

Your head is still spinning with ideas for the project you worked on from the weekend. In between your morning emails, you stand up to make a cup of coffee, and you suddenly realize that maybe you need to pivot again because the market research you did was actually pointing toward another target audience this whole time! Those people would have the purchase power to buy your product, meaning you wouldn’t need to forgo that really cool feature of the app (as you thought you might before, because it was too costly). You immediately text your Techstars Startup Weekend group the idea, they all love it, and then you realize that you’re standing up in the middle your office, completely forgetting what you were doing in the first place (you were getting coffee).

Welcome to the community! This is why we love these events so much. It takes a certain type of person to do just what you did, but the good news is at Techstars, we are those types of people and you are not alone.

Here are some tips to help you collect your thoughts and help find the next logical steps for you:

  1. Take a step back and let your mind rest

During the weekend, there is a lot going on. Your brain has just been flooded with information, criticism, and advice from the mentors and judges. You’re feeling the momentum and excitement to get started, but this can lead you to go around in circles chasing your own tail. Give yourself a couple of nights to sleep on your idea and absorb all of this feedback.

  1. Assess where you are at

If, after you’ve given it some thought, you’re still super excited to work on this, then it’s time to assess where you’re at.

Find a morning or afternoon where you can take some time by yourself, bring your favorite pens, post-it, whiteboard… and lay everything flat on the table. Where is your idea at right now? Categorize your thoughts in four ways:

  • What is your core purpose? Why are you doing this? It could be as simple as: I want to be my own boss and be in charge of the decision-making of my company. I want to create a company where parents can have a healthy work-life balance. I want to make healthcare accessible to everyone. I want to be the first company to make virtual candies… Don’t ask yourself how you are going to do this; that will come with time. If early on you can understand why you want to do this, you will always be able to hold on to that and it will guide you.
  • What makes sense? List the things you think are really strong about your idea and the things that give your stomach excited butterflies…
  • What doesn’t make sense? This can either be the things that you don’t personally understand about the idea, or the things that just don’t feel right.
  • What needs work? The ideas that have potential but have not yet been addressed.
  1. Touch base with your team

Before you come into another conversation with your team, assess what role you want to take in this project. Do you want to drive the whole thing? Do you want to focus on one area and need others to take ownership of the rest? Do you want to work with a team or would you rather do this alone?

It’s very common for a team to break up after a Techstars Startup Weekend. Sometimes it’s the whole team, sometimes it’s just one person. Whatever happens with your team, it’s okay. People come into this event with their own life story and perhaps they cannot commit to adding more work to their plate afterwards. If you have a good chat with your team, and set the right expectations, you’ll be surprised by how generous people can be with their time and how willing they are to lend a hand.

What you don’t want is to keep working on an idea, thinking you have people you can count on—when in fact you don’t.

  1. Figure out the next steps

Determine a plan of action and start building your business plan. You will constantly be revising some aspects until it is right.

Set yourself big hairy audacious goals (BHAGs), but also small achievable ones, because there is nothing more satisfying than crossing things off your list. Set different timeframes for your different goals.

Don’t be afraid to start asking yourself the hard questions: “What are your finances going to be like? What are the next legal steps you need to take to protect your idea?”

  1. Surround yourself with people who will help you

Know that you are not in this alone. It doesn’t cost anything to sit down over a coffee with someone to ask them some questions about law or money or marketing or anything else.

This is the very beginning: the moment when your startup starts. It’s exciting, scary, and absolutely wonderful. Enjoy it. And ask for lots and lots of help: no one succeeds alone.

***

Find a Techstars Startup Weekend near you, and experience the highs, lows, fun, and pressure that make up life at a startup—in 54 hours.








How To Get The Most Out Of Techstars Startup Weekend

In 2018, Techstars and Community Leaders have already run over 900 Techstars Startup Weekends in cities around the globe—and the year’s not over yet. Over 200 more events will take place during the month of November. Techstars Global Startup Weekend kicked off earlier this month and continues for one more weekend: November 16-18.

During these weekends, around 15,000 entrepreneurs worldwide challenge themselves to build a company in just 54 hours. It’s a truly awesome undertaking, and a massive thrill for everyone involved.

We asked some of our Techstars Community Team; (the people who make Techstars Startup Weekend happen) for their best advice on how to get the most out of the experience. Here’s what they said:

Lalitha WemelBe an open and active participant! Startup Weekend is an experience – so don’t sit on the sidelines during the weekend. Pitch an idea, learn a new skill, talk to as many people as possible, and step out of your comfort zone. It’ll be the best thing you do that weekend!

– Lalitha Wemel, Regional Manager Asia Pacific

Be present. Be respectful. Ask for help. Take charge of your own learning. It’s okay to make mistakes, and learn from it. Surrender yourself to immerse into one of it’s kind of entrepreneurial experience in a safe, secure, risk-free, diverse and inclusive environment.

– Anurag Maloo, Regional Manager South & Central Asia

Test the market and fail hard; over and over again if needs be. And finally, be coachable, always be coachable!

– Emily Skinstad, Operations Manager, Techstars Startup Programs

You get out what you put in. Clear your calendar, remove expectations, and immerse in the process!

– Jordan Rothenberg, Regional Manager Western U.S. & Canada

Stop pitching your idea to mentors, use their expertise and let them push where it hurts.

 – Margaux Joly, Customer Experience Coordinator

Techstars Startup Weekend is a box of entrepreneurship magic. The way you use this magic box is by talking to everyone. You’ll never find the same mix of mentors, judges, organizers and attendees in any other room so unlock the magic by talking to everyone and getting to know as many people you possibly can.

– Luis Rodriguez, Product Manager, Community @ Techstars

It’s crucial that you and your team don’t waste time on minor decisions like the startup name, logo, colors etc. Time management is one of the keys to succeeding at Techstars Startup Weekend. If it’s taking too long to make a decision, do a roman vote and move forward to the next item on your list. You will have plenty of time after the weekend to polish it.

– Jose Iglesias, EMEA Director – Startup Programs

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15,000 entrepreneurs at 200+ locations around the globe believe they can build a startup in a weekend. Come to Techstars Global Startup Weekend, November 16-18, 2018. Challenge yourself. Join us.








The Future of Retail – Join our First Ever Techstars Startup Weekend in Partnership with Levi’s®

On Friday November 2, Techstars will be kicking off the very first Techstars Startup Weekend in partnership with Levi’s® in San Francisco. Over the 54 hours, attendees will have the opportunity to work with top industry mentors to build startups in the retail and fashion space.

Whether you are a developer, business person, or just someone interested in the retail and fashion space, this event will give you the chance to work alongside the leaders in the industry and bring your idea to life.

“We want to continue to push the envelope in innovation,” said Julia Mehra of the Global Direct-To Consumer (DTC) team behind the event. “We feel the spirit of entrepreneurship is alive in the Bay Area and we want to continue to host, join, and propel conversations happening around innovation, particularly in technology and retail.”

The event kicks off Friday with opening remarks from Marc Rosen, EVP and president of DTC at Levi Strauss & Co. From there, participants will brainstorm and break off into teams to develop the best concepts.

The teams will be guided and mentored by experts from LS&Co. and Techstars, a worldwide network that gives entrepreneurs the resources and connections to succeed. The weekend culminates with teams pitching their ideas to a panel of judges that includes Rosen and Yulia Groza, LS&Co.’s VP of Ecommerce Technology, as well as executives from Pinterest and other leading Bay Area companies.

Come bring your idea to life and join us as we explore the future of retail!

To register, and learn more about the event visit the event ticketing page here. Use the promo code ‘techstars’ for 30% off your ticket.