Startup Weekend is a 54-hour weekend event—held in a number of communities across the U.S. and globally—during which groups of developers, business managers, startup enthusiasts, marketing gurus, graphic artists and more pitch ideas for new startup companies, form teams around those ideas, and work to develop a working prototype, demo, or presentation by Sunday evening. Local organizers run the event, with facilitators and mentors from the local community and financial support from local sponsors. It is volunteer-based. Generally, Startup Weekends are a fast way, with minimal time commitment and risk, to immerse oneself into an abbreviated version of how to start a business. But, what is the value of these very popular events? What role do they play in an ecosystem?
Despite the name, the goal of a Startup Weekend is not launching new businesses—although it can happen on a small scale. While working in communities across the U.S., I have spoken with economic developers who point to businesses that have started through Startup Weekends in their communities. However, in my experience, business starts are not the real goal or intended outcome of the event. Understanding the purpose of a Startup Weekend is essential for maximizing the impact on your ecosystem.
So, what is the role of a Startup Weekend in an ecosystem, and how can your community best leverage this type of event?
Startup Weekends are very visible events. Depending upon the size of your community, they can attract 100 or more people to participate. Beyond the participation, these events garner the attention of the community. They raise the visibility of entrepreneurship, create excitement around entrepreneurship, and help to build support for entrepreneurship among stakeholders.
Don’t underestimate the value of visibility. Visibility contributes to increased awareness of the value of entrepreneurship in a community. It can help stakeholders to understand why entrepreneurship should be encouraged and supported with programs such as accelerators and incubators. Visibility, and the participation attracted by a Startup Weekend, can contribute to creating or strengthening a community’s culture of entrepreneurship.
Startup Weekends can also make entrepreneurship accessible. An interested individual gives up her or his weekend to participate, and not their job (and salary), in order to try out entrepreneurship. She or he can test the waters (to some extent, and decide if starting a business may or may not be the right path for her or him.
While just 54-hours in length, Startup Weekends can provide some basic education on business startup. They can serve as an introduction for those who are new to the concepts of entrepreneurship and business startup.
Yet, holding a Startup Weekend in your community is not sufficient to spur and support entrepreneurship on an ongoing basis. The momentum generated by one of these events must be cultivated. Hosting regular meetups for entrepreneurs and those interested in entrepreneurship is essential. Meetups bring entrepreneurs together to network, and continue to provide visibility for entrepreneurship.
This leads to the last point about the value of Startup Weekends: they are merely one activity that promotes and encourages entrepreneurship in a community. In order to truly encourage and support business startup and growth, a community must provide entrepreneurial support programs (ESPs) to provide the on-going assistance that startups need. The ESPs may include a combination of incubators, accelerators, coworking and maker spaces, depending upon the needs of entrepreneurs in the community.
Nevertheless, Startup Weekends can play an important role in a community’s ecosystem by raising the visibility of entrepreneurship, helping to foster a culture of entrepreneurship, and engaging community members who are considering entrepreneurship. They can be an effective part of a larger strategy to develop and grow your ecosystem.