When Amazon acquired PillPack in 2018 it was a shot across the bow for traditional pharmacies like CVS and Target. Suddenly, consumers could get their medications delivered right from their local drugstores, conveniently packaged and ready with automatic refills.
But, despite the big outcome, the company’s co-founder, Elliot Cohen, had a more humble start to their entrepreneurial journey. Years before, Cohen had participated in a Techstars Startup Weekend event where he worked with other aspiring founders to learn the basics of company formation and product-market fit. Then, when the idea for PillPack came along, he was ready to jump in. From there, it was on to the Techstars Boston 2013 class, $117 million in fundraising over the next several years, an appearance on the Forbes 30-Under-30 list, and ultimately a $1B exit to Amazon.
And it all started with a network, an ecosystem of people attuned to the work they were doing and the connections to help them grow. Another billion-dollar startup, Rover.com, was founded at the very same event that Cohen attended, and five unicorns were minted in 2021 from Startup Weekend participating companies.
Since the program began in 2009, nearly one million people have participated in a Startup Weekend, 10,000+ mentors have counseled and supported founders and there have been 7,000+ programs in more than 150 countries around the world. Over the course of three days, participants – who run the gamut from students, to serial entrepreneurs in search of their next big ideas, to corporate workers and school teachers who want a taste of the startup process – vote on their favorite business ideas, group off into teams, build prototypes, begin talking to potential customers and, finally, present their businesses to a panel of judges.
The experience is often a turning point in many participants’ careers. An opportunity to learn new skills, meet new people, and uncover opportunities that they may never have had access to otherwise.
This is the power of the entrepreneurial community.
One thing we have learned over the years is that the people who are attracted to Startup Weekend are quite similar all over the world. The program format that we run in New York City and Delhi is identical to what we offer in the tiniest towns in Africa and South America, but great talent and great ideas are everywhere. It is the access to this experience and the opportunities that come with it that can be the differentiator.
In the end, the mission of Startup Weekend is grounded in Techstars’ “#givefirst” philosophy, which guides everything we do. Ultimately, we do not focus our work on getting a bigger piece of cake for ourselves; we want a bigger cake for everyone. No matter where they live, what their background looks like or how profitable their idea might be, our vision is for a long-term community of entrepreneurs who can help educate and support the next generation of founders. And Startup Weekend itself only is what it is thanks to the tens of thousands of people that volunteer their time – both the organizers and the local mentors for each program.
Done right, this work will come back to benefit all of us in one way or another. Stronger global ecosystems help more and better founders emerge from those areas, creating opportunities for companies to build and flourish which supports jobs and economic growth in their home countries. As local startup communities grow, they only become stronger, helping to prove that anyone, anywhere can become an entrepreneur.
If you or someone you know is interested in organizing a Startup Weekend, you can find more information and application instructions here.
Jose Iglesias is Senior Director of Community at Techstars. He leads a globally distributed team, supporting grassroots community and ecosystem engagement across the world, helping to deliver entrepreneurial education and awareness in every corner of the world.