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

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.

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.

Startup Weekend Stories: Eric and the super side project

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

Today we meet Eric Bailey, a designer, photographer, and front-end web developer. Eric is currently living and working in New York, but this story dates to Startup Weekend Cedar Rapids 2014. An idea that was a “super side project” (read: never gonna happen during work hours) for Sculpt finally got off the ground during Startup Weekend.

Then, that idea blew up. To date, Startup Stock Photos averages 50,000 pageviews per month and has been featured by the likes of Mashable, INC, The Next Web, and Entrepreneur. This is Eric’s recap. (Originally published on, more via Sculpt.)

Eric, the creator of Startup Stock Photos, as featured in a Startup Stock Photo.
Eric, the creator of Startup Stock Photos, as featured in a Startup Stock Photo.


Free stock photo sites are all the rage right now. Sites like Unsplash andLittle Visuals are bookmarked on my Chrome – I use them for everything. Like the open source movement, getting higher quality assets into the hands of people that are creating online is a wonderful, wonderful thing.

At Sculpt, I take a lot of photos, and we work with a lot of startups. So it was a serious joke when my CEO, Josh, and I were working late one night and he suggested I start a stock photo site.

“Call it Startup Stock Photos.”

“Okay. That sounds fun.”

So I bought the domain.

Startup Weekend Cedar Rapids was a week or so after that night. Between covering the event via social (Twitter/Facebook) and participating on a team, I set up a Tumblr and started uploading photos to the domain

And the response has been amazing. The site bounced around our regional networks for a few months before the fantastic startup community we have here in Iowa got wind of it. Huge thanks to Megan at Silicon Prairie News for her write-up, as well as Sarah over at We Create Here and Geoff at Welch Avenue.

It’s a constant joy to see my photos on other sites, and used by so many different people and companies.

Josh adds: “Because we love supporting startups. Because we hated the pictures writers licensed for their articles. Because we love bringing the Iowa startup community to the rest of the world.”

Here are a few examples – many more at

tumblr_ndyvpvMyyT1tubinno1_1280 tumblr_ndyve8fmFa1tubinno1_r1_1280 Startup Stock Photos stock2 Startup Stock Photos Startup Stock Photos

Find the next Startup Weekend in Iowa at!

Startup Weekend Cedar Rapids 2015: Meet the teams

Our 2015 facilitator, Max Farrell, corralled more than 40 ideas Friday night. Photo by Sculpt - find more on Facebook at
Our 2015 facilitator, Max Farrell, corralled more than 40 ideas Friday night. Photo by Sculpt – find more on Facebook at

The flurry of activity that happened Friday night – food, drink, games, pitches, and lots of post-its – has faded as ideas have come to the forefront. The teams of Startup Weekend Cedar Rapids 2015 are hard at work.

Teams got to know each other Friday night (Photo via Braden Kopf on Twitter)
Teams got to know each other Friday night (Photo via Braden Kopf on Twitter)

Saturday is largely about learning and answering questions – do you understand the problem to be solved? Really? Do you know what customers have that problem? Have you talked to them? And sometimes, the best learning moment is knowing when to walk away. “Our original idea, we invalidated immediately because of heavy competition, and our team wasn’t having any fun. It was bad,” said Brian Rupert, who worked on a team called Lunch Line before starting a totally new idea. “We switched ideas, and it switched the whole mood of the team – everyone is having fun, and contributing and being active. We can see the change, we can see the benefits.” Names, pitches and teams may change again and again before the weekend is over, but here are the ideas, as of now:

Career and Company

We talked to: Julie Troendle, an independent personal trainer The idea: Letting employers and potential employees “date” to see if they’d be a good fit. “It’s almost like a dating app for careers or jobs. Which means you’re not necessarily looking for the job you’re going to be with for the rest of your life, but looking at what you might want to be doing in the future.” Goal/challenge for the weekend: Coming together as a team – “It feels like we’re everywhere right now…Figuring out who we’re targeting, and exactly what problem we’re solving.” Personal growth moment: Being an introvert in a high-energy, close-quarters events. “That’s why I’m here, I wanted to learn about myself and how I would handle it.”


We talked to: Brian Rupert, a web designer and developer The idea: “Using digital registration to make setup and collaboration at 1 Million Cups events better.” The team wants to prove the idea with a community event they know and regularly attend – 1MC – before moving to other events. Goal/challenge for the weekend: Getting a late start – this team spent Friday night working on a completely different idea called Lunch Line. They are working on customer discovery and hope to have a few features ready to test by Wednesday’s 1 Million Cups. Personal growth moment: Balancing a few different goals – Rupert is working on customer discovery, the vision, building the product and mentoring another team member. “Just making sure the vision is clear across the whole team. Just constantly verifying that we’re all on the same page. And since the experience Friday wasn’t super great, just making sure everyone is happy, and making sure everyone is doing what they want to do.”


We talked to: Stone McNamara, a high school junior at Cedar Rapids Washington and Iowa BIG The idea: “Empower is a platform for people to anonymously post what they need encouragement on, what they need support on.” Negative comments are filtered out by the community before reaching the original poster. Goal/challenge for the weekendThe tech side – the team of 3.5 (one person has to leave midway through the weekend) hopes to launch a website tonight and an app before the final pitches tomorrow. Personal growth moment: “I’ve definitely been more vocal – during BIG I’ve been told I don’t really talk that much. Here it’s an open work space, you feel comfortable sharing your ideas…Everyone has the same goal. Even though we’re in competition, no one is unwilling to help anyone else in their journey.”

Family Caregiver Service

We talked to: Connor Schulte of The idea: “The process of being a caregiver for someone with a chronic illness is really difficult – we’re trying to come up with a solution.” Goal/challenge for the weekend: Really identifying the right customer segment and their problem to solve. “To hone in on one problem we want to try to solve, and develop an MVP or some kind of prototype.” Personal growth moment: Working on customer discovery – with a design and development background, Schulte has been pretty task-focused at previous Startup Weekends. “I think it’s a great experience to have – it’s very important to any business, I’m glad I get o be a part of it this time around.”

Iowa Bike Bar

We talked to: Scott Swenson, director of the Kirkwood SBDC

The idea: “Offering Cedar Rapids an active, fun activity. A group bike bar – a  mobile bar with six seats, a driver, it’s interactive.”

Goal/Challenge for the weekend: “We hope to have validated a need – is this a product-market fit for Cedar Rapids. And validate, perhaps, a pricing model.” Bikes like this are available but they may design their own.

Personal growth moment: “I can pick up and learn things form the other coaches and mentors. I’m trying to improve my own coaching. Each one can have different input, which sometimes conflicts, and that’s ok. – it gives you that different way of looking at things.”

Perfect Night 

We talked to: Rebecca Sullens – Cornell college career advisor The idea: “Helping people find options for a night out.” Simple as that. While the original idea had to do with dating, the project isn’t just for couples anymore. Goal/challenge for the weekend: “Identifying the biggest pain point – generating and creating the method to survey people….How much do we want to start a business, or how much do we want to identify a problem that needs to be fixed, and start trying to fix it.” Personal growth moment: Switching teams mid-morning after the Lunch Line idea fell apart. “Changing your mind…finding a project you can commit to as it evolves, and finding out how to work with people when everybody has big ideas, and everyone wants to work together.”


We talked to: Mike Clancy, a teacher at Muscatine High School The idea: “Trivia crack meets the classroom. It’s targeted at AP exams. We wanted to be able to give teachers feedback on their students.” Goal/challenge for the weekend“The edtech world is inundated with products – making the message clear that our product is unique and solves a real challenge.” This team hopes to stand out through gamification and providing data to teachers. Personal growth moment: Diving headfirst into startup life. ““In my mind it’s simple – create the app, send it out – but there are a number of variables I never really considered,”

Social Runner / Fit Together

We talked to: Leon Tabak, a computer science professor at Cornell College The idea: “A lot of people like to go running – they see other people in the community, but they don’t know who they are, and they want some companionship in their activities.” Goal/challenge for the weekend: Plenty of alternatives for fitness and socialization. “There are lots of opportunities for how people could go out and solve this problem – how do we distinguish ourselves? How do we define our market more clearly?” Personal growth moment: The academic, getting a taste of entrepreneurial life. “It’s all a little bit different than getting together to do it for the experience…I’m very happy my students are here.”

Sunday Dinner 

We talked to: Jonathan Bunjer, CEO of KASA Solutions The idea: “When you have a social gathering where multiple people are involved in bringing things to the event, dealing with the logistics of that…A central place that keeps track of that information.” Goal/challenge for the weekend: Develop a working webpage and test it on a few potential customers. Personal growth moment: His own business evolved from a need, so he hasn’t done a ton of customer discovery before. “You can have a great idea, but if nobody wants to buy your great idea, you’re out of luck. That can be kind of crushing at times.”


We talked to: Madison Gingery, a senior at the University of Iowa studying marketing and entrepreneurship The idea: “A fashionable personal security bracelet that will send help at the press of a button.” Goal/challenge for the weekendThe team is working on a minimum viable product (MVP) this weekend, but Gingery is more focused on finding teammates who might want to continue on after the weekend. Personal growth moment: Gingery is passionate about the problem she is trying to solve, and did a lot of research before the weekend – so opening her idea up to other perspectives was tough. “Communication – learning how to lead a group. I haven’t had a group of smart individuals lean on me to tell them what to do.”

Is Startup Weekend for me?


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!


Startup Weekend Cedar Rapids 2015: Meet Max

Max Farrell, startup weekend organizer (photo via Create Reason)
Max Farrell, startup weekend organizer (photo via Create Reason)

Max Farrell, serial Startup Weekender and co-founder of Create Reason, will facilitate Startup Weekend Cedar Rapids 2015!

He’s facilitated more than a dozen high-energy weekends throughout the Midwest, and first brought Startup Weekend to Arkansas and to high schoolers.

Full-time, he’s building Create Reason, which helps existing companies create and innovate.

Oh, and he’s also a rapper and a duck hunter. Read on for more about Max:

You said in your Tedx talk that hip hop was like entrepreneurship. What is entrepreneurship like?

Hip-hop is the most entrepreneurial genre. The movement from the Bronx became this multi-billion dollar global industry and the art itself encourages a streak of entrepreneurship. It’s a build from the ground up attitude and in order to make it in music, you have to make yourself heard and gain new fans (customers). Same as in business or startups. If you’re not creating what people want and not doing what it takes to creatively get your point across, you probably won’t be successful. It’s a beautiful thing.

Describe it for us – What was your first Startup Weekend experience like? Did you know what you were getting into? What kept you coming back?

My first Startup Weekend was in Kansas City in 2011. I drove down because I was curious about entrepreneurship and it seemed like a good way to get my hands dirty in “startups.” My current business partner was in school nearby and met me there. It shook both our worlds. We realized it was possible to build something from the ground up and that we could learn quickly and immediately execute. It was a huge shift away from the college mindset of learn all the time and then get a job. I kept going back because I learned an amazing amount from creative people in various parts of the country. 

I see you facilitated the first-ever high school Startup Weekend – how was that the same or different than an “adult” version?

Young people kick ass. Adults have a lot of jadedness / cynicism, but high schoolers, when treated like equals can do amazing things. Their minds are full of curiosity/ambition and many of them have talents that could exceed that of folks that work in companies today. The format was modified a bit to focus on forming teams from specific schools to make it easier to keep projects going after the weekend. The teams also had their pitches / ideas ready ahead of time. The experience sent a shockwave through the students that participated and the faculty that saw what the students were capable of. I’m pumped to see the ripples through the state’s education system.

What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned through your work with Startup Weekend? How have you applied it to your work with Create Reason?

Biggest lessons learned:

  • Ideas are worth acting on, not talking about
  • You can learn new things from the same process
  • People use products, not ideas. You have to create something that people can use and will pay to use. Ideas have a total value of $0
  • Execution wins the day

How I’ve applied these:

I’ve made sure to productize the offerings Create Reason can provide. It’s really tough to put things in boxes, but if people don’t know what they can buy, you can’t sell anything.

What super practical piece of advice would you give to first-timers?

For first-timers:

  • Don’t get stuck on your own ideas. Startup Weekend is about the experience, the community and learning. If your ideas aren’t selected, rally with some other folks and learn.
  • For students: please don’t tell us you have too much homework. You’ll be rubbing elbows with the parents of multiple kids and working professionals that are finding a way to make it work for the weekend, don’t come with that weak “homework” stuff.
  • No one is “above” participating. Too often I hear people say “I’m more of a mentor than a participant”. That’s bogus. I’ve seen CEOs/Founders jump in and participate in a Startup Weekend. They have a blast, wind up making great connections and learning something new themselves. 

One more thing people should know about you:

I rap good:

I duck hunt too.

Startup Weekend Stories: Sarah, new in town

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

Today we meet Sarah Dunlap, an Iowa City transplant by way of Portland, Ore. She owns ApplePOPDesign, a web design and SEO/SEM firm. She saw Startup Weekend as a way to get plugged in to a new town: “Since I was new to the area, I thought it would be neat to meet others in the community and work on a new project.”

Sarah dunlap


What were your hopes and goals going into the weekend?

I wanted to meet others in the community. I also thought it would be interesting to see how others operate and see what it is like to work on a start-up project with other people. Most of the projects I’ve worked on have been solo projects.

What was the most challenging part of the weekend? Were there any unexpected moments?

I think the most challenging part is working with people you don’t know very well especially if you are new to the area. You have to figure out how to work as a team in a short amount of time. It is exciting to spend the weekend working on something and see it come together so fast. I really was surprised at the amount of work all the teams were able to accomplish in one weekend.

Advice I would give to someone before attending startup weekend:

It is important to have a direct conversation very soon after the weekend to discuss as a team how the project is going to continue.

Find the next Startup Weekend in Iowa at!

Startup Weekend Stories: Jesse, hacking for good

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

Today we meet Jesse Lane, a corporate employee who started showing up at events like open coffee longing for a side hustle. Two Startup Weekends later, he’s participated in multiple initiatives that mix social good with technology, and found the perfect project in Agropolis, an indoor farming service. He writes: “I hoped that I’d come out of the other side with a decent idea to keep working on and maybe a few people to work on it with me.” Members of the team are still working on the idea.

The Agropolis team at Startup Weekend Iowa City 2014. Team lead Jesse Lane is holidng the plant.
The Agropolis team at Startup Weekend Iowa City 2014. Team lead Jesse Lane is holidng the plant.

What was your involvement (if any) with the local startup community before the weekend?

Before my first one (Cedar Rapids last March), I had been attending the Open Coffee meetups for a few months trying to figure out how to introduce myself since I didn’t have anything in particular I was working on. By my second (Iowa City last October) I was much more involved in the community with 1MC, lunches, etc.

I wasn’t at all sure what to expect the first time so I didn’t have any hopes or goals. For my second weekend I hoped that I’d come out of the other side with a decent idea to keep working on and maybe a few people to work on it with me.

The idea:

My first weekend the idea that was pitched was some app/community/process to address the numerous “zombie” homes around Cedar Rapids left by the flood. By Sunday night we pitched an app we had built that would allow a user to report a home and have it logged to a database. That project kept going for a couple months and then petered out after talks with the city fizzled and the team dispersed.

The second weekend I pitched a vague idea to hack a business model for vertical farming (large-scale indoor farming in skyscrapers). Sunday we pitched a small hydroponic tomato operation to provide year-round tomatoes to local restaurants. Today the idea has morphed into an, as yet undetermined, product to help indoor farmers optimize their operations. We’re called Agropolis and we’re currently going through Venture School to crystallize our idea.

What was the most challenging part of the weekend? What was the most exciting? Were there any unexpected moments?

The most challenging part of the weekend for me is always team dynamics. Both times I worked with large teams which take a while to settle on an idea and then take a bit more management to make it through. I feel that both experiences helped me be a better listener and collaborator.

How has the experience impacted you after the weekend?

I’d say it’s upended my life at the moment! I work a full-time job and have 3 kids and now I’ve thrown Venture School on top of that. If it weren’t for my wonderful fiance there is no way I could manage it all. She’s also recently started her own venture, New Leaf Redevelopment.

Thanks also to:

Dave Tominsky for drawing me into this community through the open coffees, his enthusiasm for entrepreneurship in the Corridor, and cajoling me into applying to Venture School.

You, Sarah, and We Create Here for keeping me up-to-date about my community and organizing community building events.

Finally, all of the friends I’ve made in the entrepreneurial community in the past year or so.

Advice I would give to someone considering attending startup weekend:

Go and pitch! The first time I didn’t pitch an idea (fear of public speaking) and I regretted it. The second time around I practiced and just went for it and it paid off.

Find the next Startup Weekend in Iowa at!

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!

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!

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!