What is Startup Weekend, really?

For the fourth year in a row, Startup Weekend is coming to Fargo. You may have heard the buzz, the distant tales of sleepless nights, 54 hours of work, of nerve-wracking pitch nights and infamous dance moves. But…what is it, really?

We did a little digging and spoke with past participants to present to you, readers, a clear package of what Startup Weekend Fargo is all about.

Startup Weekend 2015

A little history:

Meet the founder of Startup Weekend, Andrew Hyde. Andrew is a bright, shaggy blonde-haired guy with a knack for not just “getting his foot in the door” as the saying goes, but rather opening the door and stepping right in. He did this at Techstars, a venture capital firm/accelerator program in Boulder, Colorado, where he basically self-appointed himself as “Community Manager” and began working under venture capitalists like Brad Feld and David Brown.

Photo by KK.

Photo by KK.

But, as someone coming from the outside in, Andrew was very aware of a gap between the “startup world” and the rest of the world. He began brainstorming a way to give people, all people, a crash course in what it’s like to take their ideas and bring them to life.

What about a weekend, he thought. One weekend, 54 hours, where people pitch their ideas, form teams, and launch a startup, in a competitive format.

Startup Weekend was born. The first one was held, very casually. People ordered pizza, scribbled ideas on Post-It notes. Then, an all star team formed around the event – including Marc Nager, former CEO of UP Global and now Chief Community Officer at Techstars. Together they began to scale the event to reach across the nation, and then the world.

Now, Startup Weekend has become a global phenomenon. There have been over 2,900 events to date, in 150 different countries (more countries than Starbucks, the website notes.)

Here in Fargo, we’re going on round four.

Who is it for?

Startup Weekend 2014

Meet past Startup Weekend participant, Madison Christensen. Madison works here in Fargo at Intelligent InSites. Her brother Andy Christensen is the lead organizer for Startup Weekend Fargo, and was integral to launching the first one here in 2012. Yet, when he told her she should sign up, she still had apprehensions.

“I just worried, is my skill set going to be strong enough?” she said. “[Startup Weekend] can make it sound like everyone needs to be an expert when they come in.”

The registration, split into Non-Technical and Technical registrants, can seem intimidating, she said. Sure, she had some experience in graphic design – but could she really present herself as a designer?

The answer, she found, is yes. The event is not for experts in specific skill sets; it’s for people who want to learn and team build, she said.

“By surprise, most people signed up for something but didn’t have all the skills that it required,” she said. “I feel like everyone is in the same boat – they’re in there to learn something new.”

Likewise, she was surprised that the event wasn’t as tech-focused as she originally thought. In fact, many of the people pitching ideas were non-techies looking for tech people to help build their idea.

“This is the perfect place for people to share an idea and find tech people to help them build that idea,” she said. “No matter your skillset, there will be something for you to do on your team.”

Madison has already signed up for her second Startup Weekend. This time around, she’s planning to pitch an idea.

So, what is it?

Startup Weekend 2014

You’ve got the backstory, the insider scoop – but what actually is this thing? Let’s break it down:

Friday night – Pitch night. Anyone can pitch an idea.

These include but are not limited to:

  • Shower Thoughts
  • Driving Thoughts
  • That one time when you were cutting an onion and had an epiphany
  • That thing you’ve been thinking “Wouldn’t it be great if someone invented this?”
  • Re-inventing the toaster; water bottle; shoelace; et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

They can not include:

  • An idea you’ve already begun working on.
  • A past project already completed.

You are not required to give a pitch, although the more ideas, the better! All ideas are written on giant Post-It notes, and voted on by attendees. Those who pitched an idea are typically the visionary of the team, and select those who can help make the idea a reality. Teams consist of around 5 – 8 people.

Friday night, Saturday – Work. Now that you have your team, the rest of the time is focused on:

  1. Delegating tasks. Find out how you can work together.
  2. Validation. Get out and talk to people, make phone calls, find out if your idea is wanted/needed.
  3. Making the product. Whether it’s a mobile app or a hotcake business, by Saturday night teams are typically figuring out how the idea is coming together. For some teams, this is the time when the final pieces come together – the final A-ha moment of what their idea really means.

Sunday – Presentation day. The morning is a mad scramble of eating breakfast together, finalizing a summary of your research, and putting together a presentation to show the judges.

The final presentations consist of a brief (around 6 minute) powerpoint and talk on your work. Winners are announced after a short time of deliberation, and receive some sort of trophy (like a custom designed lamp) and other prizes.

John Machacek, one of the lead organizers of Startup Weekend Fargo 2016, said prizes this year are in the works, but may include passes to the Prairie Den, and food and drink certificates to encourage groups to continue to meet.

After that, everyone breathes a sigh of relief, and the after party ensues.

Throughout the weekend, you are provided with breakfast, lunch and dinner. And yes, people do go home to sleep. You are welcome to pull some all-nighters, but only if you want to!

Will I actually start a company?

That is up to you. The survival rate for startups that emerge from Startup Weekend varies, although the percentages are low (in the Netherlends it’s 20%). In 2014, Up Global published an account of 10 startups from around the world that emerged from Startup Weekends. Here in Fargo, a few that are still active include Hack Fargo and Medytex.

Whether or not you choose to pursue the idea is up to you and your team.

But ultimately, the best way to know what Startup Weekend is all about, is to find out yourself. Sign up here for Startup Weekend Fargo 2016, March 4-6.

RobSWeekend copy

If you want to start preparing now, read these tips & tricks from past participants!

Watch this video for more:

Photos courtesy of Startup Weekend Fargo.

Marisa Jackels

Marisa Jackels

, News