October 25th, 2016 – Last Friday, approximately sixty entrepreneurs of all ages filed into the Shasta Venture Hub on Caterpillar road, each committed to a new idea. By the end of the weekend, every one of them would be a part of a brand new startup. This high-energy, passion-filled experience is called Startup Weekend.
Joshua Johnson, a co-founder of multiple successful companies and a Startup Weekend facilitator, called the event “an immersive startup experience that’s all about action. It’s all about doing rather than about lectures and workshops. The goal is to create an environment that accelerates that learning process for them. They’re learning what it’s like to be part of a startup. They use the same tools and processes and experience the same hard questions from mentors that they would go through if they were in any other business environment. But they’re doing it in three days.”
Joshua was greatly encouraged by the way Startup Weekend developed this year. “We had 32 ideas presented,” he said. “Half the people who were here pitched an idea! Last year, we had to really encourage people to get in line to pitch. This year, we had a line extending almost out the door.”
The process of Startup Weekend works like this: On Friday, everyone who has an idea for a startup pitches their ideas in front of all the coaches and all of the other participants. Everyone present votes on their top three favorite ideas. In the end, only the founders of the top ten companies get to choose teams. Everyone then joins a group and forms a mock company – working to launch a demo at the end of the fifty-four hour event. “It’s really intense,” remarked Joshua.
The participants: A universe of ideas at Startup Weekend
The participants at Startup Weekend were shockingly diverse. Men and women, of many different ethnicities and backgrounds, dedicated to an array of hugely different ideas. The participants varied greatly in age, ranging from pre-teens into their 70s.
One group created an app called Swap, designed to replace the business card. Another group worked to create a form of therapeutic crib for premature babies called the Mara-pouch. Yet another group, founded by a 19-year-old, was called Redemption Clothing. Their idea was to create T-shirts for charity, each one specifically calling people to help one homeless individual per shirt, with a portion of the proceeds going to that individual.
As the participants worked, many remarked on the incredible energy at the event. “It feels like we haven’t been here that long,” said Elizabeth Fannin, part of the Swap team, on Saturday after an extremely late night of work. Immediately, the founder of that team, Joe Odell, jumped in to explain the team’s idea. “We’re trying to kill the business card,” he announced. “Someone hands you their business card, what do you do with it? You enter the info on your phone, you upload it to your database. Why do we have to do that? Why can’t we just hit a button and have the info? That’s what Swap does.” As they worked, the team’s excitement was palpable.
The excitement was also personal for many teams. Chris Gratigny, founder of Third Parent, was inspired to build an app to help parents because of his kids. “I have four children under five,” he explained, “and I came up with this because it’s really easy to forget about consequences and rewards. It’s bedtime, you tell your kids ‘no screen time tomorrow.’ About noon the next day you realize, our kids have been in front of screens all day – we told them ‘no.’ Our app is designed to remind you.”
The creator of Mara pouch was a registered nurse who had spent many years taking care of premature infants, and is personally knowledgeable about how fragile these babies are and about how important it is to keep them immobilized to prevent brain bleeds. In fact, as she gave the final presentation of the Mara pouch on Sunday, she was moved almost to tears. “Some of these babies are about the size of a kitten,” she said.
Other ideas included an app that would help people find religious institutions in their areas; a personal organization app that allowed people to enlist the aid of their friends in keeping them responsible; an app called Epic Life, designed to help people find popular locations for outdoor adventures in their areas; and an online marketplace for creative projects done by children. It was this last startup, helmed by a thirteen-year-old, that ultimately took home first place.
On Sunday evening, after working through the weekend, each team revealed their demo in front of four judges experienced in the business world and in front of an audience of interested community members. These presentations were delivered under strict time constraints – most of them simply ended when a facilitator cut them off. After each presentation, the team members had to answer tough questions from the judges about their business models.
Despite – or perhaps because of – the great intensity, the participants all reported the experience to be extremely valuable. “I think it’s a great thing to do,” said Chris Gratigny. “I think there’s a stereotype you have to be technical to do this, but you learn so much more about building a business than anything else.” Elizabeth Fannin added, “If you haven’t come, come!”
Startup Weekend is a national event put on by Techstars. The Redding Startup Weekend was generously hosted and assisted by the Shasta Economic Development Corporation at the Venture Hub. The event occurs once a year, in the fall.