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Although Startup Weekend has taken place in Colombia before, this year marked the first event for the Northern Colombian port city of Barranquilla.  Back in June 2012, Organizers Javier Fernandez and Javier Jaimes discussed putting on the event. At that point, they decided that they would dedicate themselves to Barranquilla’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.  Despite many challenges that were faced both culturally and resource-wise, Startup Weekend Barranquilla (Oct. 12th, 2012) proved to be hugely successful due to the passion and “bootstrapping” qualities of its Organizers – and the enthusiastic, action-based aura that proved to be infectious for participants as well as observers, sponsors, mentors, and judges throughout the entire weekend.  

The small Organizing team for Barranquilla was also challenged with a small budget and a lot of skepticism from local sponsors and community leaders. Fellow Organizer Hans Steffens explains some of the biggest challenges for this particular event: 

When we were searching for sponsors, we kept saying to them, ‘we aren’t making money with the event.  It’s a nonprofit event’ – we always try to make it clear that helping Startup Weekend is voluntary. 

The biggest challenge for me and Javier as Organizers was obtaining the resources to realize the event. It was very difficult because in Barranquilla, nobody believed in the event…for example, the companies that we tried to show the initiative to didn’t believe in it. 

Another roadblock showed up just 24 hours before the event: the sponsor that agreed to provide food for the weekend backed out at the last minute.  “Javier Fernandez talked with sponsors again and the food providers about the best way to solve the problem without affecting the budget.  He checked several plans and resolved the issue. It was amazing!”, explains Steffens.

Javier Fernandez adds, “We had some issues with the internet service in the first day, but we were able to solve this with the venue.  Startup Weekend has three very important items: Venue, Internet, and Food. So we tried to give the best experience with these items.”

Santiago Zavala, the event Facilitator, explains why this event was important to him: 

This event was really special for me for many reasons. The first one is that the organizing team was really aligned with everything that the startup ecosystem represents. The event had everything we needed (even GREAT food) because the team was resourceful and decided where to invest their time and energy and where it was not really that important.

Another big reason that made the event interesting for me was that there was one team working on a taxi (cabs) application. Their app was going to crawl government data to make sure that a taxi had paid all of the permits and was up to date on the legal side. At some point in the event the transportation officer from the city showed up and I made the team pitch to him without them knowing who this guy was – after a couple of minutes he revealed his position and the conversation was extremely productive and interesting for both of them.

Another reason was the participation of students from a public institution that prepares students on computer science. One of the teams had a good population of people from this school, and they where able to create the product on the first night and I told them now they had to actually go out and sell it. First, they where really scared of doing that, but after some mentoring and getting them ready they where able to go out and get their first client, which was really surprising because they where doing a software for schools and selling to schools is really complicated over the weekend. 

Finally, It was really inspiring to see Jorge’s team, udressme. They worked hard during the weekend. I mean really hard, and ended up with a beautiful, usable prototype on iOS. Not only that, but talking with Jorge the next day and understanding his background was really… incredible. I came back to Mexico full of energy and really exited about everything that is happening around Startup Weekend.

Jorge, Co-Founder of udressme (the winning team from the weekend), explains that he ended up traveling from another, more rural area of Colombia by himself, despite having originally planned on attending and traveling with friends.  He was unable to find a flight because a popular soccer game interfered with many travel options.  Finally, after detouring through two different cities, he was able to get to the event in Barranquilla.  “Nobody thought the event in Barranquilla could be made, and [the Organizers] made it better than expected,” Jorge says.  But the Organizers were not the only people bootstrapping that weekend.

“I didn’t sleep.  I have been to two Startup Weekends and haven’t slept yet.  In this one, I slept two hours, just because the internet failed,” Jorge explains.  Javier Fernandez adds; “Jorge took a shower in the pool of the convention center at 7 AM on the first day…”

Some of the local sponsors who observed the event over the weekend were so impressed by the dedication of everyone involved that they went out and purchased more Red Bull for everyone on Saturday night.


Hans Steffens shares what he finds so important about Startup Weekend;

SW helps integrate and make more people know each other. The networking in SW is very important to grow the climate. Moreover…for each event, more people can know this, and share their experience and build amazing teams…

The Organizing team hopes to re-create the magic from this year’s event at the next Startup Weekend, which they plan on scheduling for April 2012.  Hans adds that, since the event, countless people have asked when the next one will be.

Events like this year’s Barranquilla Startup Weekend serve as important reminders for the true mission of Startup Weekend – a grassroots movement empowering people from all backgrounds despite their social, economic, or cultural standing.  Everyone deserves the opportunity to turn a great idea into a reality.

Santiago Zavala sums up what made the event such a huge success:

In a few words, the event was clearly hard to organize, but you could feel the startup air all around and that, mixed with some incredible and interesting participants, was epic. I think that a lot of SW events are sometimes organized by institutions or programs who want to support the ecosystem, but this grassroots, startup feeling is 100 times more impactful, both on local and external people, both on attendees and people who just show up to see the event, mentor, or judge the teams.

Claire Topalian Claire Topalian
(@clairetopalian) Blog, Professional Writing, Communications and PR Specialist. I craft compelling, mission-driven content for companies and individuals that amplifies brand awareness, fosters community, and drives engagement. My experience includes work with tech startups, major corporations, and international non-profits. @clairetopalian