A weekend with Techstars: How I learned to spell “entrepreneur”

The word “entrepreneur” meant very little to me a year ago. I was a recent college grad, fresh out of a year living in France, with no concept of the startup world that I’ve come to know.

I say “startup world,” because that’s how it feels – like it’s own realm. I’ve since taken a job that has introduced me to this world; to the crazy entrepreneurs, and events like Startup Weekend and 1 Million Cups. In fact when I started the job, which involves writing about entrepreneurs, I relied heavily on Autocorrect (because “entrepreneur” has way too many vowels.)

But my idea of the startup world didn’t fully materialize until recently.

Techstars

Fast forward to a weekend in October 2015, when fellow Fargo local Brittany Sickler and I boarded a plane to Colorado for an event titled ambiguously, “Community Leaders Summit.” We had no idea of what we were getting into. There was no agenda, no website.

What we did know was that it was put on by Techstars, one of the most successful accelerator programs/venture capital firms in the nation. We also knew the retreat was for facilitators of Startup Weekend, who were sure to be a lively bunch.

We were right. About 50 people came, traveling from large cities like Seattle, San Francisco and Montreal, to smaller cities like Springfield, Louisville, Portland….and of course, good old Fargo. Each attendee was a community leader of some sort. Many had facilitated events around the country and the world.

For me, a relative newbie on the scene, it was like taking a deep dive into the startup world and meeting all the key players. I was starry-eyed, eager to soak it in.

Tech stars

I started soaking it in from the moment I stepped out of the plane into Denver’s creepy tented airport, and given big hugs by my first two Techstars friends – Lee and Yasmeen (and later Sam, our fearless driver). I took in the thin mountain air, the gigantic elk, the hectic scavenger hunt to find the group. I took in the mega marshmallows, the bonfire crackling under the stars. I took in the hike through the mountains, the tire swing, the conversations about “who are you and where are you from.” We spoke about our deepest challenges, we listened, and we learned about each other.

For instance: I learned that Louisville, Kentucky has the longest firework show in the country. “Thirty minutes of straight fireworks,” we were told. I learned that the youngest attendee, a 17-year-old girl named Taylor, organized a Teen Startup Weekend in Albuquerque, New Mexico that was a huge success.

Techstars

I watched, too, as Startup Weekend facilitators navigated with new Techstars leaders. The retreat came just a few months after the announcement that Startup Weekend parent company UP Global was being acquired by Techstars. Part of the retreat served to qualm the questions and skepticism that arose out of that transition.

But the real punch of the event – something that lingered with me then and on the bus ride home – came from hearing Marc Nager talk about entrepreneurship. Nager helped start Startup Weekend as UP Global’s CEO, and now serves as the Chief Community Officer at Techstars. He’s the kind of guy that when he speaks, the words feel like gold nuggets.

He started by speaking about his trip to the Middle East, where he had spoken with Startup Weekend leaders from Iran and Syria.

MArc Nager

“Think about the table stakes that you have to be a community leader,” he said. In places like Syria and Iran, he said, table stakes for being a community leader are incredibly high, even life-threatening.

“The context in which they’re all working in is completely different,” he said. “But the values that are held by everybody are so fundamentally true, no matter where you are on this planet.”

I was hooked. I had never thought about the ideals of entrepreneurship as a universal truth before. And Marc went on.

“Entrepreneurship is a force. It’s a core set of values. It’s about when you see problems, finding solutions and not just complaining about them. It’s about being inclusive. It’s about inviting others, and always being welcome. This is not just a trend. This isn’t going away. This is changing the very fabric of the culture of our society, and our economies, globally. This is building a world that we all want to live in, and it’s building a world that we want our kids to live in. Entrepreneurship is not something for privileged individuals. It is something we are all innately born with. It’s going to be the legacy of our generation.”

This. This was the power punch.

The word “entrepreneur” has become a buzzword. It’s losing it’s meaning. Hearing Marc’s words reminded me about what entrepreneurship really is. It’s a powerful, world-rocking, life-transforming thing. It lives on in each and every person who is willing to start from scratch and solve a problem.

It reminded me too that our efforts in Fargo are not small. They’re part of a shift in culture happening all over the world – a shift that, as Marc said, is truly making the world a better place.

And that’s something worth fighting for.

 

Photos courtesy of Dvid Silva.

Editor’s Note: This piece is an editorial by our lead writer, Marisa Jackels.

Marisa Jackels

Marisa Jackels

, Opinion