Last Saturday I was down at the London Startup Weekend, helping to mentor participants and hone their raw ideas into (hopefully) winning projects. Having been one of the organisers of the Cambridge Startup Weekend earlier in the year it was good to be see the event from another side (with a lot more sleep).
Firstly, a quick explanation of what the Startup Weekend concept entails. Essentially it is a 56 hour event that brings together people with ideas and skills to create some sort of application, product or business idea over the course of the weekend. People pitch their ideas on Friday evening, everyone votes on those they’d like to work on, groups form and they then frantically develop their projects ahead of judging on Sunday evening. The role of mentors is to provide encouragement, advice and occasionally a reality check.
Having now been to two Startup Weekends what conclusions have I come to? Here are five points that stood out for me:
Firstly the energy and enthusiasm of the participants never ceases to amaze me. These are people who believe in what they are doing, enjoying the experience and learning while they do it. While their current ideas might not make it, these are the entrepreneurs of the (near) future, which is heartening to see.
The range of ideas from both events was staggering, covering apps and websites from all sectors. I’d say there were more ‘physical’ services amongst the groups I talked to in London (such as lunch deliveries and pamper boxes for pregnant women/mothers), which is an interesting development from the normal software based businesses.
Scale – the Cambridge and London events were light years apart in size. Cambridge had around 110 participants, and London 200+. Due to space constraints London was split across two sites (Ravensbourne College next to the O2 Arena and Club Workspace in Clerkenwell). Obviously this meant more mixing between different groups in Cambridge (where everyone was in one, smaller space) and I think this benefited ideas development and networking. However I’m sure the Sunday evening judging and party brought everyone back together in London.
Hearteningly everyone realised they need marketing. Rather than thinking that the world will come flocking to their door, London participants factored in the need to identify and reach target audiences, with many considering quite sophisticated marketing approaches. London companies seemed to be ahead of Cambridge in this area.
The mix of people. As I said I didn’t talk to all 200 people in London but they seemed to be a bit more of a homogenous bunch in terms of age and where they were based. Cambridge participants seemed to have travelled further (such as from Finland) and spanned the age groups from twenty something to fifty year olds.
But all in all these differences are part of the appeal of Startup Weekends – everyone is different. So, if you’re interested in new ideas I’d urge you to sign up and go along to one as soon as you can – it is a great use of a weekend.
I had the privilege of being involved with helping to organise last weekend’s Cambridge Startup Weekend. Essentially a Startup Weekend brings together people with ideas and skills to create a new application in just 54 hours. People first pitch ideas and teams then form to work on the most popular ones. The idea is that some of these teams and applications then go onto become real, viable businesses.
Sound exhausting? It was. But what amazed me was the energy and enthusiasm amongst the 90+ delegates. Everyone was incredibly committed to the projects they worked on, despite the fact that they had only just met their team mates or come across the ideas. People were happy to work non-stop through Friday and Saturday night to achieve some pretty incredible things, learn loads and make lasting friendships.
This all made me think – just imagine if you could replicate this energy and teamwork within larger organisations. Innovation would skyrocket, as would morale as everyone worked towards the same goal, rather than in individual silos. Rather than going away on team building retreats/jollies, I believe innovation weekends are something every company should look at – or risk people with ideas just walking out the door.
- Cambridge Startup Weekend unearths new generation of talent (cambridge.startupweekend.org)
- Cambridge Startup Weekend set to find next generation of tech success stories (cambridge.startupweekend.org)
Cambridge has got a worldwide reputation for the excellence of its tech cluster. The likes of ARM, Autonomy and CSR are global leaders and a plethora of other innovative tech businesses like Transversal, Adder, RealVNC and Red Gate Software have successfully developed within the city.
But the tech market doesn’t stand still, meaning there’s a constant need for new startups to replenish the pipeline and potentially become the ARMs of the future. And creating a startup can look like a daunting prospect. You may have an idea, but where do you go from there? Tapping into the right skills and receiving help and encouragement is almost as critical as attracting funding when at a very early stage.
Help is at hand, through the first Cambridge Startup Weekend, which will be held between 11-13 March 2011. It adds to existing initiatives such as Cambridge Pitch and Mix to provide a focused event where people with ideas and skills can meet. Organised by volunteers, I’m very happy to be personally involved, both in publicising it and providing PR advice to the startup teams over the weekend.
An intensive 54 hour event, it focuses on building a web or mobile application which could form the basis of a credible business. At the end of the process, a high level judging panel, chaired by Neil Davidson, co-founder of Red Gate Software, will choose a winning project.
Based on a formula pioneered on the US West Coast, it is the first time a UK version of the event has been held outside London. And in another first, a proportion of the proceeds from the event will remain in Cambridge to be used as a legacy to support startups.
It promises to be an exhilarating (and exhausting) event and a great way of unleashing the next generation of great Cambridge ideas. Find out more at cambridge.startupweekend.org or follow the event on Twitter @swcambridge. Special offer tickets are available now, with prices at £50 when you enter discount code PRCAM.