The following is a post from Startup Weekend Global Facilitator, Eric Brotto. Startup Weekend Odessa was held June 14-16, 2013.
One of the first errands I and the organizing team needed to run in preparations for the event was to go to the local printer to get badges, award certificates and the like. When we entered the storefront, the place resembled any other print shop I had ever been in. But quickly thereafter, I noticed the large collection of Communist Party paraphernalia plastered everywhere. Two-meter high portraits of Marx, Engles and Lenin covered a corner while at least a dozen sculpted busts sat on mantles and tables. The pièce-de-résistance was a massive linen banner award from the CCCP dating back to 1973.
I immediately imagined that this tiny little print shop in a corner of Odessa was owned by an ideologue with a strong dream of reviving the party and bringing Russia back to its former glory. Maybe he was living in a past that no longer existed?
The Irony Curtain.
Later that day, over lunch with the Organizers, the story of the print shop came up. It was quickly explained to me that rather than Soviet paraphernalia, the store was covered in Soviet memorabilia. In fact, the Soviet decor had the same ironic intentions of a typical London 1980′s themed party that would host people dressed in sweatbands and stone-washed jeans. The hammer and sickle emblems were more of a joke than anything else. Needless to say I felt quite foolish at that point. It was then that I realized– the only person who was disconnected in this story was me.
Oddly enough, I believe there is a moral to this story that is fundamental to Startup Weekend and the startup creation cycle in general. What we sometimes perceive to be one thing, is often another. And if we don’t make attempts at testing the truth of these perceptions, then how can we know what is truly a reflection of reality?
This process is absolutely fundamental during the creation of a startup. Every company that has ever existed began with the impression of a need. That was followed by the conception of an answer to that need. Finally, that solution is validated by a successful product.
This method is widely known in the startup community through the teachings of Eric Ries and his book The Lean Startup. What we don’t always acknowledge though is its importance elsewhere than in the validation of products, many examples of which I saw at Startup Weekend Odessa. Andrew Borisov, one of the Organizers of Startup Weekend Odessa, explained to me how the concept of Startup Weekend was quite foreign to many in Ukraine. When he would attempt to explain to locals what Startup Weekend is, people would make a lot of assumptions about the intention of the event. Some thought it was a money making scheme, while others were sceptical of it’s value for them. Of course this was chiefly due to the fact that they had never attended an event. So it was in actually coming to the event and experiencing it firsthand that they learned that entrepreneurialism and creating a business is not necessarily what they originally thought it was. It is this technique that is as interesting as anything else Startup Weekend has to offer. And this is why Andrew’s work in Odessa can never be underestimated. Through his persistent efforts in the weeks leading up to the event, he was able to inspire people from Odessa and its neighbouring region to come and be a part of this process.
But this was not the only way in which Startup Weekend Odessa challenged preconceived notions. Ukraine has a strong reputation of having skilled developers. This in conjunction with lower salary rates make it a common destination for outsourcing–especially for neighbouring countries like the United Kingdom. But Startup Weekend Odessa put a spotlight on the creative talent of the region, showing that there were many locals who had brilliant, original ideas and visions as well. After the weekend was over, I could only assume that everyone who attended saw themselves in a slightly different light. If they didn’t feel creative before, they certainly felt creative after the event.. If they dreamt of being an entrepreneur previously, they now felt that dream was much more possible.
Lastly, and probably most importantly, the idea that Ukraine has strong community tech leaders was also validated during my time there. In addition to Andrew, the other Organizers of Startup Weekend Odessa were equally inspirational. Dimitry Spodaret’s ambitious, but substantial Odessa Innovation Week held in the days leading up to Startup Weekend Odessa did much to bring attention to the Odessa tech scene. Without these kinds of initiatives, a true tech community is not possible and Odessa should be grateful for his efforts.
Admittedly I was most impressed by Startup Weekend Odessa Organizer, Tatiana Siyanko. A natural leader with a wonderful speaking presence. I could only imagine that her effect is being felt in Kiev where her and her startup are based. Startup Weekend has always been supportive of having strong female tech community leaders and I felt honoured to have worked with her on what was an exceptional iteration of Startup Weekend.
See the original post on Eric’s website, Digital Strategy.