Why Startup Weekend is Entrepreneurship’s Democratizer
Startup Weekend is simply an event that challenges teams to start a company in one weekend. It was created by Andrew Hyde in 2007, but was soon bought by Marc Nager, Clint Nelsen, and Franck Nouyrigat, who all saw global potential in the idea. The three scaled the concept and turned it into a non-profit.
Four years later, Startup Weekends have been launched in over 210 cities in 70 countries, and have over 43,000 alumni. Its supported by a network of global facilitators and local organizers spanning every continent except Antarctica-- but they’re working on it.
Startup Weekend captures the highs and lows of starting a venture – compressed into a 54-hour period. It involves pitching your idea, and crowdsourcing interested team members to hack on it. After the top 15-20 ideas are selected for further focus, teams form and then embark on the intense process of actually trying to launch their venture by the end of the weekend. At record pace, the teams tackle all of the fundamentals-- validating the idea, developing and getting feedback from customers, and even building fully functional prototypes.
According to the Startup Weekend’s ongoing surveys, roughly 80 percent of the participants plan to work on their venture with their team after the program. Startup Weekends, which happen in cities like New York, Palo Alto, Rabat, and Krakow, are the most accessible way to pitch, conceptualize, test, and launch a viable product into the marketplace today.
Why is this all so important? Startup Weekend is entrepreneurship’s democratizer.
Regardless of who’s who, a group of unrelated individuals meet up for a weekend to share ideas. Competence and knowledge are the currency that is traded.
“It has completely liberated this generation of people to share ideas in a forum that takes advantage of experimentation and iteration to arrive at the best teams and ideas, and sees failure as a learning opportunity,” says co-founder Marc Nager.
Nager believes that “by removing hierarchy and building teams not necessarily from the same tribe, Startup Weekend breaks down silos and cultural barriers to allow folks to experiment with creative and disruptive ideas.”
Startup Weekend has gained global relevance at a staggering pace. Nager describes the business model as “controlled open source.” The processes of Startup Weekend is executed by a team of curators, which include trained facilitators who are certified to execute the program, and local organizers.
What’s more, local organizers receive no compensation. If there is revenue left behind, 50 percent is returned to a “community chest” for future entrepreneurial efforts – not just future Startup Weekends, but perhaps on conferences, bar camps, reunions, or anything that contributes positively to the local startup culture. Altruism powers its proliferation.
According to Nager, incorporating gamification—or the competitive part of the process-- into the business model has also helped scale the program.
By combining community, challenge, and reward, Startup Weekend sustains and compels the interest of its participants, leading to a 24 percent repeat ratio of individuals who return for another weekend.
And – no kidding – they launch companies. By last count, the Startup Weekend team has over 300 active past ventures to show for their effort. For example, Kleiner-Perkins-backed Zaarly www.zaarly.com, a proximity based, real-time buyer powered market, took shape from Bo Fishback’s whim to pitch an idea he was mulling over at a Startup Weekend. Now with two rounds of venture capital behind him, Zaarly is in the fast lane.
The Startup Weekend model has led to a global movement in entrepreneurship by embracing the democratization of the startup. Perhaps we’ll be talking about the startup culture of the future not just taking shape in Silicon Valley, but the new one emerging in Rabat thanks to Startup Weekend.
TED ZOLLER, PhD, is Senior Fellow at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and directs the Center for Entrepreneurial Studies at the Kenan-Flagler Business School at UNC Chapel Hill. He is the founder of CommonWeal Ventures, a venture advisory service, and advises entrepreneurial firms and founders worldwide.
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