It has been some time since I was involved with a Startup Weekend event – above and beyond the normal behind the scenes Operations role I usually play. That all changed this past weekend when I got my hands dirty again and helped organize and co-facilitate Startup Weekend Seattle. I even helped a team out with some front-end web development (who thought that would ever happen)!
I could go on and on about how awesome the event was, but instead I would rather share a few sporadic stories that stuck out to me with you.
Shenzhen/Seattle Connection - Michael Michelini 迈理倪
I’ve written about this before, but Startup Weekend Facilitators act as the bonds between different entrepreneurial communities. I firmly believe that there is no other company in the world better positioned than Startup Weekend to facilitate connections between people of different entrepreneurial communities from across the globe. That said, we decided to fly over a local Organizer & Facilitator from China, Michael Michelini.
Michael is a self described “American internet dude living in Shenzhen, China.” Michael has been involved (along with many other people) in helping Startup Weekend grow in Shenzhen, China. He is focused on helping Western companies execute Chinese social media and has been living in mainland China since 2007. He is passionate about working with like-minded internet entrepreneurs and bridging the gap between the US and China.
Michael had one of the toughest jobs in the world Friday night opening up Startup Weekend Seattle – with 2 of the 3 co-founders of Startup Weekend in the audience and the general high expectations associated with the Startup Weekend Seattle events – and like a true entrepreneur he rolled with the punches. Michael got the crowd super energized to kick things off and kept the 60 second pitch fire session running smoothly.
Startup Weekend is growing in China and all of us at Startup Weekend HQ are excited to help support and fuel the entrepreneurial community building efforts of people like Michael in Shenzhen and other parts of China. It was really great to learn more about tech-entrepreneurship in China and put a face to all our back and forth emails.
Never Too Early to Start – Ashwin Gowland
I was witness to probably the youngest person to ever pitch at a Startup Weekend and it was great. Ashwin Gowland – Founder of GapTooth Stickers - stepped on stage to take the microphone and then clearly and confidently articulated a problem he had identified, proposed a solution and was able to recruit a team of super talented designers in the form of Dwight Battle and Kyle Kesterson. How fucking awesome is that? Next Zuckerberg?
My name is Ashwin. I am six years old and I am an entrepreneur.
It was so inspiring to see him on stage presenting to a crowd of over 100 people and I learned that it is never too early to take action on your entrepreneurial ambitions.
Final Pitch Presentation – Andrew Kinzer
One of the biggest differences I noticed in teams from past Startup Weekend events I’ve been involved with was the quality of the Final Presentations. I attribute 95% of this to the relentless efforts and dedication of Andrew Kinzer of GroupTalent. I had a chance to talk one-on-one with Andrew and he shared some of his story with me, mostly how a friend encouraged him to participate in a Startup Weekend event and through this experience he realized he had what it takes to become an entrepreneur. Since then he has co-founded GroupTalent and has discovered a knack for delivering an amazing pitch to investors.
Andrew spent several hours on Saturday and Sunday helping teams prepare for their Final Presentations. He helped teams think about how to deliver their pitch at a high level: from what’s the dream they’re selling, how they pre-empt questions about market size & scalability, clarify between a “pain pill” and “vitamin”, and overall communication about the problem they were solving.
Andrew’s dedication and efforts shined through on Sunday as many teams had polished Final Presentations.
Local Seattle Tech Companies Getting Involved – SEOmoz + Glympse + Zillow
One of the most exciting parts about the event for me was having so many employees from local Seattle technology companies participate! We had executives from SEOmoz, Glympse and Zillow all getting their hands dirty with teams! Last year Glympse raised $7.5M in a Series B round, SEOmoz just raised a series B round of $18M (with Brad Feld joining their Board) and Zillow recently had their IPO! To have employees of these high-profile companies engage with local teams in such a big deal! Startup Weekend attendees can learn so much!
One person in particular, Stan Humphries, sticks out. Stan is the Chief Economist of Zillow and had never participated in a Startup Weekend before this weekend. After a few hours you could tell he took a particular liking to one team and even showed up on Sunday night just to watch their final pitch! For a guy with three kids he totally went above and beyond!
This sort of accessibility to such smart people who are willing to sacrifice their weekends and work side by side with would be entrepreneurs is what I believe makes the Seattle entrepreneurial community so unique from others.
I am not going to lie. Helping grow and manage the Operations of a global organization such as Startup Weekend is tough. Most of my day deals with answering emails from people around the world, conflict resolution, and paying attention to the nitty-gritty details no one else has time for. While I work with a group of amazing people, it is possible to become jaded. After this weekend and seeing what problems teams set out to solve – I am shiny and new.
Kinetix Academy was one company that personally stood out to me during the weekend. They used Microsoft’s Kinect to build games for children with Autism – how fucking cool is that? It was so refreshing to see a team set out to solve a real problem and not make another fluffy iOS application. All my hours of work and frustration paid off when I watched this video of a child with Autism playing the game this company was able to build is less than 54 hours!
These simple stories of real impact and action make what I do every day worth it.