Fifty-four hours, one goal: to create a winning start-up. At its most basic, that’s the point of Startup Weekend.
“If you want to be an entrepreneur, you have to put yourself in the entrepreneur’s shoes,” says Deborah Rippol, the organization’s European Coordinator. “A lot of people talk about creating companies, but they never take the first step.” Startup Weekend is attempting to facilitate that leap on a global scale.
The non-profit organization, which was founded in Seattle with a mission of promoting entrepreneurship, now stages roughly 600 events per year across 120 countries. It has staged eight weekend hackathons in London in total, half of which have taken place within Google Campus.
In March 2012, Startup Weekend had the distinction of running the first major event on Campus after the launch party. (It is one of six Campus official partner organizations.) “It made participants feel like they were pioneers,” recalls Rippol. Startup Weekend’s CEO Marc Nager made the trip over from the U.S. for the event, and Eze Vidra, the Head of Campus London Eze Vidra the opening speech.“It was amazing having Eze at the event himself. I think he was happy that the very first steps at Campus were creating start-ups,” she says.
Web designer Michael Hobson got involved after seeing a tweet from online tech news site The Next Web. Knowing very little about Startup Weekend, he was undecided about whether to participate until the last minute. Having never participated in a hackathon, Hobson decided to check it out, despite being worn out from an exhausting week at his regular day job.
“It was really intense. You go alone on a Friday, witness everyone’s pitches, pick a team and crack on,” he tells Informilo. . Hobson’s team, which ended up winning the competition with a mobile app called ‘Pollarize’ got to work immediately. The app allows people to solicit feedback from friends and other members, like a slimmed down quickfire version of Quora.
“We were quick to get out of the starting blocks and that might have been what gave us the edge I think,” he says.
In recent years, the velocity with which a startup moves has become ever more important. Facebook’s mantra is ‘Move Fast and Break Things.’ Entrepreneurs from Silicon Valley to Silicon Roundabout are encouraged to ‘Fail Fast’ – in other words, realize mistakes quickly, change strategy appropriately and apply the learnings in future. Serial entrepreneur Eric Ries has earned plaudits for his concept (and book) The Lean Startup that urges entrepreneurs to build minimum viable products (MVPs) to test products and services with consumers before committing too much time or capital.
For Ries, this is about making turning the art of building a business into more of a science. Hobson says Startup Weekend is the ultimate manifestation of that philosophy.
“Everyone talks about MVPs, ‘fail fast’, rapid prototypes and all of these start-up buzzwords and I think Startup Weekend embodies that (thinking), distilled down into a weekend,” says Pollarize’s Hobson. For him the experience was nothing less than transformative. “ “It’s sort of like an awakening. You find what you’re capable of when you’re put into a high pressure environment.”
The 54 hours at Startup Weekend led to a £40,000 investment into Pollarize’s team by Wayra, an incubator run by mobile operator Telefonica. Hobson quit his job at a web design agency to focus full-time on the app, which launched at the Dublin Web Summit in October. The company is currently looking to raise another round.
Not all start-ups that win Startup Weekend competitions are as lucky as Pollarize and immediately raise funding.
Rippol says it would be unwise to judge the organization on the number of successful businesses that emerge. “Startup Weekend values personal achievement, team building and long-term mentality change,” she says. “Through the events that we host at Google Campus, we’ve had more than 500 participants and while not all of them keep on running the exact same business afterwards, 30% of them do.”
Many others, she says, stay in touch and go on to form new businesses later. A recent survey of past participants showed that 67% of respondents still felt the experience was beneficial one year later.
The success of the events themselves is evident. A Startup Weekend hackathon last June sold out in three hours, and 300 people asked to be placed on the waiting list. Rippol says Campus has played a big part of that success, giving the start-up community in East London a central hub. “We see Campus as much more than a building. For us it’s a platform to grow our organization ” she says.
Hobson who, in addition to being a co-founder of Pollarize, is one-third of the 3 Beards who stage events such as the startup-focused Silicon Drinkabout and Don’t Pitch Me Bro’ on campus, says that Campus has become the “go-to” place for London’s start-ups.
“Before that there was nowhere where you could go to experience start-up culture if you were new to London or new to the start-up scene and you heard about Old Street and Shoreditch being this big start-up hub,” says Hobson. “ Now that Google Campus is there and open to anyone to go to and co-work at the café it’s become a startup Mecca.”
Though winning a Startup Weekend on Campus or off has its perks, such as exposure and potentially free co-working space or legal advice, there’s no financial prize. “Out of experience, it turns into cash for beers rather that proper investment,” says Rippol.
Ultimately, Startup Weekend’s mission is helping enterprising individuals to realize their potential and learn quickly if they have an idea worth building on.
And once they start thinking and acting like entrepreneurs, the hope is they’ll never stop.