Experiential education at its best, Startup Weekend is an event held around the world that gives entrepreneurs a chance to put their ideas and their skills to the test. Attendees spend a full weekend developing a business idea and then pitching it to a panel of judges.
The first New Plymouth weekend was held last year and even though I bought my ticket straight away, I ended up being sick and not able to attend! So I was eagerly awaiting this year's event which took place over 14-16 October 2016.
(Ok I know this is sounding like an "advertorial" but I swear it's not, I just wanted to share my experience!)
Because I helped with organising the event, I knew the outline of how the weekend would run but I still didn't really know what to expect. What I found was about 35 people gathered on a Friday night, keen to get started. If you had a business idea you were welcome to pitch it to the group and you had a whole minute to try to sell the crowd on your idea. A large number of attendees pitched an idea - myself included - and from there, the ideas were written on posters and put up around the space.
Then it was time to wander around and "vote" on ideas that you liked by placing a sticker on the poster. You could easily start to see where the crowd's interest was and thus, you could narrow down the ideas you were interested in. (To go forward, each idea needs a team of 3 or more people so if nobody liked your idea, you had to pick another one to work on.)
Soon after that, teams just started forming. I really connected with one of the ideas because it would solve problems I face so I straight up told the guy who pitched that I wanted to work on it. From there, a few others joined us and teams were capped at 5 people initially. (Note for future participants, don't muck around, find the one you want to work on and commit or you might miss out as teams form quickly!)
You get straight into it on Friday night. Now, my team may not have been that focused on where to go next at that stage but we definitely had some discussions about what we wanted to achieve and we created a questionnaire to send out the next day.
Many teams turned up Saturday with news that their idea was already developed elsewhere and up and running. So the great pivot is where many teams started that morning.
Saturday morning is all about validating your idea. It doesn't make sense to create something that's already out there, or that nobody has a need for. Because my team's idea revolved around meal planning and grocery shopping, we sent an online survey around and also hit the supermarket to ask shoppers themselves. Our feedback showed that there was a need for our idea.
There are tools that are brought out by facilitators during the weekend to help teams focus their thinking and define the problem they are trying to solve. One of them is the Lean Canvas and there was another value proposition tool that really made you answer what the issue is, who is having the issue, and how you are solving it.
There are also mentors who circulate throughout the weekend and they coach you along with your idea and guide you to hit milestones at different stages. You don't want to get to Sunday and not really have something to present!
The mentors were great - very experienced, smart and patient. And there was a good mix of mentors over the weekend so you got feedback from people with different areas of expertise.
Once you can validate the idea and can articulate your problem, you can move on to figuring out how the business is going to generate income aka what is your business model? I got the fun job or running the numbers on our team and by late Saturday evening, thanks to my brain becoming mush, we were definitely slated to make millions a week... haha. (That's one part of the event that you don't know how you'll manage - you go from 6pm-12am Friday night, 8:30am-12am Saturday and then 8:30am-8pm on Sunday so you get tired, you get a second wind, you get tired again and come back repeatedly.)
By Sunday morning, the idea needs to be clear, at least a rough plan for a business model needs to be done and then you begin with your pitch. The pitch is essentially what you will present to the judges to convince them that your idea is the winner. Each team gets five minutes to present and then the judges ask questions for five minutes.
There are several pitch practices in front of the mentors so you have a chance to refine it and make sure that you are communicating what you need to. Those sessions are very useful indeed!
By about 4pm Sunday, it was time to tidy up and the presentations started around 5:30pm. The judges are purposefully not involved in any other aspect of the weekend so your pitch is the first they know about your idea. I was nominated as the presenter for my team so we cleaned up and then nipped away for a beer and so I could practice!
We were the last team to pitch and we generally had answers to most of the judges questions - the tough part about the timeframe is that sometimes you just can't reach the people you need to because it's the weekend! So, that happened for us and those answers may have been enough to give us a placing, but who knows!
Cheesy as it sounds, it's not about the winning. Honestly. It's about getting involved and trying something. Working your brain out. Meeting new people. Learning. And in some cases, changing your life.
It sounds like all of the teams from New Plymouth had plans to at least meet up again to discuss furthering their idea. I can't wait to see how many go forward. It's a thrilling experience and I will certainly be back again for the next one!
Want to see if we go ahead with our idea? Follow our updates here.