Each of my previous facilitations have been special in their own right:
- My first in NYC, shadowing the EDU vets on how to run a proper Startup Weekend,
- Orlando, where I had a blast participating in the first ever college education edition,
- Miami Diversity, the Startup Weekend version of a Spanish-language telenovela, and
- Triangle Trailblazers, where diversity is a prime directive, not an afterthought.
This next event may surpass them all – Portland is and always will be my hometown. I was born in Oregon City and went to school in the Beaverton School District, graduating from Southridge High School. (I’d rather not say when because, well, I’m old.)
Leading up to the event, I’ve been thinking a lot about this concept of “home”, especially as I’ve recently claimed a new one after moving to Seattle.
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Pittsburgh: Where I Found Myself (and just a few months before 30 – whoo!)
Before moving in August, I lived in Pittsburgh for three amazing years. I had just married my brilliant (and crazy-tolerant) wife, and other than striving to be the best husband possible, I had no idea what to do with my life … until I discovered Startup Weekend.
From that intense, eye-opening 54-hour experience, I launched my own ed-tech community, which was admitted into an incubator, received seed investment, and even found customers. I continued to volunteer and organize for SWPGH six times, launching its first education edition in February of this year.
Above all, I made friends who simply “got it” – people who came from the Startup Weekend world as well, and knew how to “give back” in the Brad Feld sense. When we weren’t organizing in the Pittsburgh community, we’d go on an Eat ‘n Park run or watching Silicon Valley on HBO On-Demand. It was grand.
I truly considered Pittsburgh my home until two opportunities opened up for me and lured me back to the West Coast: briefly serving as east coast regional manager for UP Global before its acquisition by Techstars, and now joining the mission to transform education, technology, and entrepreneurship with Galvanize.
Seattle: How I Quickly Thawed the “Seattle Freeze”
The move from Pittsburgh was … precipitous. I didn’t have the best chance to express my love and gratitude to everyone that did so much for me in Pittsburgh over the years (though I tried to cover as many bases again here). When I moved to Seattle, I was warned of the “Seattle Freeze” and heard it would take time for me to make friends.
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That has not been the case … because of Startup Weekend. The first people I contacted were my former co-workers, who then introduced me to the local Seattle community leaders. Instantly, I felt like I found my family here, connected by a shared passion and experience to build community through entrepreneurship.
Recently, I was invited out to the Techstars Community Leader Retreat to get to know Portland’s Dina Moy and dozens of other organizers from the US and Canada. I came away with the trip with two impressions:
- I am completely down with the Techstars vision and rationale for why it acquired UP Global. Techstars may be the largest for-profit accelerator in the world, but it was originally founded on the mission to lower the barriers of entrepreneurship to the world.
Supporting initiatives like Startup Weekend, Startup Next, Startup Digest, and Startup Week won’t really be profitable in the short run (why mess with a good thing), but in the grand design, these programs will cultivate both better startups worthy of support and stronger, focused communities that can support them.
That’s the vision that Techstars and UP Global shared, and that’s why I’m willing to stay on as a community leader and global facilitator. The terms of engagement do not really change from a non-profit status (in fact, they never actually did when you discover the legal difference between donation and sponsorship). Why should our support of the community change because of it?
- We may come from different cities, but we’re all Startup Weekend nation. Every community leader had a story to share, and the rest of us listened. Whether it was a startup story or a Startup Weekend anecdote, we “got” each other. (The altitude may have been a factor.)
If You Can’t Find Your Community, Create It (and Startup Weekend can help)
I look back on the last three years of being a Startup Weekender and can’t believe how far I’ve come from my previous status as a graduate school drop out. I didn’t make a lot of money, win any major awards, or acquire any common materialistic milestones like a new car or house.
I did, without question, make a lot of friends, and unlike the ones I made before, these friends stay in touch and support me however they can without asking anything in return, and vice versa. I also traveled a lot to places I never thought I’d ever go to until I was “summoned” by people I never met before.
Every time I go facilitate, I ask to crash on a couch or even on the floor just for the opportunity to bond with another community leader. Anytime a community leader asks to visit me, I prepare a spare room for them, no strings attached.
I’ve found my family, and we’re actually not that difficult to find.
Just look for the ones that “get it.”
Lee Ngo is a Seattle-based community leader and global facilitator for Techstars formerly based in Pittsburgh. He currently works as an evangelist for Galvanize.
At first, I found it strange that the organizing team of the Triangle event I facilitated on June 12-14 pursued a “trailblazers” edition. Initially I had thought the team wanted to create a diversity-themed event similar to the one I had facilitated in Miami just two weeks prior.
I learned quickly that the rationale behind that branding had to do with the perception of the world “diversity” as potentially not ideal. The term “Trailblazers” alluded to the multiple pioneers that have come from all walks of life in North Carolina, but not directly to women, people of color, or other underrepresented peoples.
This move honestly troubled me for two reasons:
Do people actually feel excluded when an event calls for diversity?
Do people not want to be part of an event that prioritizes diversity?
After 10 Startup Weekends as a participant, volunteer, organizer, and facilitator, I’ve come to not only appreciate the diversity of each event – I crave it. The greatest killer of an event is monotony – if it looks and feels the same as it did before, it will lose its luster.
My last two events were among the most memorable because they knew a simple fact:
Diversity improves community. Always.
Below are some key lessons I learned during my time in Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill that weekend.
1. History matters, especially from diverse narratives
We’re all familiar of the most famous narrative of innovation out of North Carolina – the location of the famous Wright Brothers’ historic heavier-than-air flight. The state also has a rich history of innovation from lesser-known figures such as:
Sequoyah – creator of the Cherokee alphabet, which allowed for increase communication between and across Native American peoples.
Lunsford Lane – born into slavery and invented a special tobacco that raise enough money to buy his freedom.
Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner – inventor of 35 products and holder of five patents, granted retroactively as she was denied previously for being a black woman.
I felt it was important to tell these stories as well in Durham at the event. Innovation can truly come from anywhere, but it takes a special drive to push it forward.
2. Diversity strengthens communities on the rise
I was truly captivated by the beauty and sprawl of the downtown Durham innovation sector. Everything from American Underground to the Iron Yard is all within walking distance, and the community is very familiar and well-integrated.
I can see why the Triangle has been selected for the location of the next UP America Summit in September. It has everything the country could want and so much more!
3. You can have a diverse team of literal professionals
In all of my Startup Weekends, I’ve never seen a more impressive, academic, and professional group of people that I did at Triangle Trailblazers. In this photo, I estimate there are at least twelve or thirteen advanced degrees and over one hundred years of professional experience.
Moreover, they ran their even with aplomb. Excellent communication, precision, and consideration for the needs of the community. Great, great work!
4. Diversity is more than just about race or gender
This event was attended by nearly equal parts female and male and predominately people of color, particularly African and Latino American. Also like in the Miami event, the Triangle event brought out another underrepresented group: the differently-abled.
Two teams that hoped to aid the visually-impaired worked from start to finish during this competition, with one app – The Blank App – going on to win the AT&T Special Award for Connectability.
It’s great to see Startup Weekend bring out the best of ourselves, regardless of whether it is convenient or profitable.
5. A new owner, but the same mission for diversity
With the recent Techstars acquisition of UP Global, there are many community leaders such as myself who are left with several questions about the future of the organization. While tax incentives and financial strategies are important, I think the preservation of UP Global’s Burning Man-inspired philosophy of “radical inclusion” should be at the forefront of the discussion.
To me, prioritizing diversity should be self-evident, and it should not ever be a point of contention.
However, until our communities evolve to that point, we’ll just have to stay vigilant. From the bottom of my heart, I thank the Triangle Trailblazers team for inviting me out to be a part of their special event, and I’ll see everyone in September.
Lee Ngo is a community leader and facilitator based in Pittsburgh, PA.
We doubt you need convincing at this point, but here are some of the awesome things we have lined up for you if you attend this weekend:
- DELICIOUS food from Capital Club 16, Sweet Pea Bakery, Beasley’s Chicken + Honey, Centro, Columbian food from Silvana Duque, Betty’s Better Breads, and Neomande
- GREAT beverages from Raleigh Coffee Company, Bombshell brewery, Mati Energy and Crankarm Brewery
- The FANTASTIC facilitator, Melissa Kennedy (who incidentally has also created a list of reasons why you should attend)
- An INSPIRING talk from Laura Fenn, Founder and Executive Director of the Walking Classroom
- AMAZING judges including Kathryn James of Blackstone Entrepreneurs Network, THE Brooks Bell of Brooks Bell, and Malaika Mose of IBM
- Super SMART and EXPERIENCED mentors and coaches including Blake Callens, John Austin, Dragana Mendel, Rebecca Horton, Andy Roth, Carol Vercellino, Tati Brezina, Cheryl Mills and Tatiana Birgisson
- A chance to hang out and innovate with TALENTED peers like Eleanor Ismail
- FREE Passes to Marbles for your kid(s)! (check out this post for more info)
- A BEAUTIFUL performance from Kidznotes! (check out this post for more info)
- And last but definitely not least, a chance to MEET our PREMIER sponsor, CT!
Oh and you’ll also get a pretty cool T-Shirt and another treat, courtesy of our amazing designer Magdalyn Duffie. Here’s a sneak peek! Can’t wait to see you tonight!
In our last post, we told you Triangle Startup Weekend Women is partnering with Marbles Kids Museum. Marbles is, “a hands-on, minds-on museum that inspires imagination, discovery and learning through extraordinary adventures in play and larger-than-life IMAX experiences.”
We’re pretty excited about the partnership and think you will be too. What this partnership means is that, while you innovate at TSW Women, your kid(s) can innovate at Marbles…for FREE! Yes, you heard us right, we’ve got FREE passes for your kids to go to Marbles this weekend. Not registered yet? Here’s what you’ll get if you sign up today:
- Two adult passes per day (Saturday 10/11 and Sunday 10/12)
- Five kids passes per day (Saturday 10/11 and Sunday 10/12)
When you register, be sure to also register for the Marbles passes. If you’ve already registered and didn’t sign up for the passes, but want to sign up, email us and we’ll get you squared away.
So sign up today for TSW Women and let your spouse, partner, friend or relative take your kid(s) to Marbles. We bet your whole family will be happy with your decision to come to TSW Women!
(Marbles is located at 201 East Hargett Street. Raleigh, NC 27601)
When I asked Stacy Jasper (pictured above), a participant in the recent Health Triangle Startup Weekend (TSW Health), why someone should participate in a startup weekend, she replied, “To challenge yourself to try something new.” Lucky for all of us, Stacy provided more great advice, and we think it’s too good not to share. So check out our Q&A with Stacy below and don’t forget to sign up for Triangle Startup Weekend: Women, it’s coming up soon!
Stacy is the lead medical writing scientist at Stiefel, a GSK company. She learned about TSW Health through one of the organizers and was the team leader of her team, “Waggin’ Aid.” But she didn’t originally intend to participate in the weekend or be a team leader, in fact she only came to the pitches Friday night to watch and learn. In her own words, here’s her story:
Question: Why did you participate in TSW?
Answer: I work in the healthcare industry, so the health focus of the TSW was of interest to me. My husband has participated before and was planning to attend this event as well, so I decided to go watch the Friday night pitches to hear what topics people thought were important. While listening, I just happened to think of an idea that I thought could be viable and decided to leap off the cliff of my comfort zone and pitch the idea. Both the fact that I pitched and that it was selected to move forward were a shock, but I then signed up for the rest of the weekend…
Q: What was your favorite part of the weekend?
A: Learning so many different things and meeting so many different people.
Q: What was the most valuable part of the weekend for you?
A: Challenging myself to be a team leader.
Q: How did you feel before/during/after the event?
A: Before: Incredibly intimidated.
During: In a complete daze of exhaustion, stress, and confusion (turning around in circles trying to decide what needed to be done next and how to do it).
After: An unbelievable sense of accomplishment for actually participating myself and for having such a small team that really pulled together to create a product that we could demonstrate for the Sunday presentations.
Q: Did attending the weekend give you a better understanding of what startups can be?
A: I don’t think it gave me an understanding of what actually working at a startup is like, but the weekend did provide exposure to some of the skill development (pitches, customer engagement) and challenges (developing a viable business model, defining and prioritizing the product features, monetization) that all startups encounter.
Q: How do you work with a group of people you don’t know for 54-hours straight?
A: Patience, humor, encouragement, and finding the strengths of each person to form an inclusive team…exhaustion and stress make this difficult, but keep reminding yourself that your efforts to get along will help you enjoy the weekend and will result in a better final project.
Q: What advice do you have for future startup weekend participants?
A: You can do it!
Our organizing team also believes YOU can do it. Take Stacy’s lead (and advice) and sign up today!
This article is written by Startup Weekend Education organizer, Karl Rectanus.
After speaking on a panel to some of the brightest undergraduate students from the US and Mexico last week, I decided something: Entrepreneurs have become too cool.
Entrepreneurs are the “lead guitarist” of the 70’s, the “stock broker” of the 80’s, the movie star, the striker on the World Cup team, and the point guard. Miles Davis driving an electric sports car through the middle of a Vegas night club. Being an entrepreneur is all sparkly photos, fast talking and billion dollar exits. Right?
Don’t believe the hype… The reality is entrepreneurs are people who solve problems for a distinct market, usually with a lot of hard work and limited resources.
So, when one of those bright undergrads asked me how I went from the classroom to the “glories” of entrepreneurship, I realized something else:
Teachers are real entrepreneurs.
Every day, educators are solving problems for their distinct market (their classroom of students) with a lot of hard work and limited resources. They help the students who excel and those that struggle. They invent and deliver solutions, with learning, analysis, communication, self-awareness, persistence and critical thinking as the commodity of trade. They help students move ahead on the next quiz, in the next grade, to the next level in the real world.
Do we celebrate teachers as entrepreneurs? Not always.
That’s why I’m ecstatic that our region’s next installment of Triangle Startup Weekend is Education focused. The event — at an amazing venue, The James Hunt Library on Centennial Campus at NC State on July 18-20 — will bring educators, mentors, celebrity judges and rewards to help make new ideas into new realities. Educators and engineers, problem solvers and critical thinkers, collaborators and visionaries will gather for 54 hours of invention, competition and new solutions.
So, if you’re a teacher, a student, or a regular old non-movie star that wants a dose of how real entrepreneurs create solutions, then sign up and participate. Learn more and register.
Karl Rectanus, an educator and entrepreneur, is the CEO of Lea(R)n, Inc. an award winning early-stage company bringing quality control to education technology.
picture via The Guardian.