Startup Weekend is the best 54 hours of my year. I’ve helped organize Startup Weekend Columbia for the last two years, and with this year’s event happening in just two short months (September 13th through the 15th), I started to ponder why some people are intimidated by the thought of attending.
I hear things like, “I’m not an entrepreneur” or “I’m not a developer” or, even better, “I don’t have an idea.” These are all objections I can easily combat by explaining what really goes on at Startup Weekends — and why they’re valuable for everyone. Whether you’re a high school student who’s never even heard of the term “coding” or a 60-year-old business professional with zero interest in joining a startup, Startup Weekend is for you. Here’s why:
High School and College Students
Why Attend: You need experience. You want fun. Startup Weekend has both. During the 54 hours, you’ll build new skills you never thought possible, you’ll be able to tackle a real problem and create a real business to solve it, and, better yet, you’ll have fun doing it. Columbia Startup Weekend makes an effort to combine work with play by providing games, kegs (for the over-21 crowd), and a host of other activities to liven up the weekend. If you have a great idea, Startup Weekend could even turn into your career.
Success: At the 2011 Columbia Startup Weekend, two high school students, Nahush Katti and Vikram Arunachalam Arun, blew the audience away with their concept for DoctorOn, a teleophthalmology company. The DoctorOn device consists of a small machine called iOn, which manipulates light into a slit and is designed to be attached to a smartphone, and an app. The DoctorOn team was recognized at Startup Weekend and has since gone on to participate in other pitch competitions; they’re on their fourth iteration of the prototype for the iOn device.
Why Attend: You either have a job or need one. Either way, Startup Weekend will strengthen skill sets that will help you progress in your career. If you’re interested in starting or joining a startup, this could not be an even better event for you — you’ll meet lots of startup founders and talk to people who are starting the journey themselves.
Success: Last year, Ryan Brennell led a team called Gladitood (formerly Woogah) and created a platform that helps conservation and humanitarian projects raise funds and rally volunteers from all over the globe. It’s a medium through which people can truly experience the world by engaging in communities everywhere. Gladitood received an honorable mention at Startup Weekend and has since been accepted into St. Louis’ ITEN and presented at 1 Million Cups.
Why Attend: The other participants at Startup Weekend could be your future clients or employees. You’ll never find a better-targeted group of intelligent and driven individuals in your hometown. This is the number-one “networking” event you should attend all year. Don’t walk around trying to sell, though; get involved with a team and add value. They’ll remember you. If you happen to join a group that’s working on something you truly believe in, you might just find yourself in a new career.
Success: Eric Margheim joined the MedSocket group at Startup Weekend Columbia. MedSocket is a company dedicated to improving healthcare by connecting clinicians with the best health information available with two patented products: 1-CDS, a clinical decision support tool, and 1-Search, an innovative medical search engine. These tools provide clinicians with easy access to information at the point of care. MedSocket received third place at Startup Weekend and has since gone on to receive seed funding from Centennial Investors. The team now consists of five full-time employees and several part-timers, and it’s even been awarded a Small Business Innovation Research Grant.
Why Attend: If you’re an investor complaining about the lack of great local companies to invest in, you must attend Startup Weekend. You could not find a better opportunity to vet potential founders, provide feedback before making an investment, and see an idea from conception to execution.
Success: Columbia’s first Startup Weekend winner was Zapier, a SaaS company that allows users to sync web apps without ever writing a line of code. Zapier went on to participate in Y Combinator, but local investors were able to see the potential first — and a couple of them invested.
Startup Weekend is a great opportunity for everyone, from high school students to CEOs. Participants get to hone their skills, meet other driven people, and drink lots of coffee. Look for a Startup Weekend in your town so you don’t miss out — it may just change your life.
Kelsey Meyer is the President of Influence & Co. and the co-creator of “Contributor Weekly.”