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7 lessons learned from organizing 7 Fargo Startup Weekends

April 19, 2019 | Bylgnelson| News

As John Machacek, the EDC’s Chief Innovation Officer, recovers from a full weekend of ideas, business planning and making sure there was plenty of coffee, we at the EDC are reflecting on how quickly the years have passed from the first Startup Weekend Fargo and what we’ve learned about organizing a good event.

And by the way, if you didn’t already know, Techstars Startup Weekends are a 54-hour event designed to provide experiential education and meaningful connections, and they occur all around the world. Participants gather on a Friday night to pitch ideas and vote for their favorites and then form teams to work on their startup throughout the weekend. They develop a business plan, validate their idea and formulate a minimal viable product (MVP). This all culminates Sunday night when they present their startup to a panel of judges.

So here are the 7 things we’ve learned (and by “we” we really mean John but tomato tomahto):

  1. It’s not about starting a real business – While a new company may start (like last year’s winner Rising Tide Software), Startup Weekend is more about the process of learning and connecting.
  2. Importance of a good organizing team – To run high-quality, creative Startup Weekends like our community is known for, it takes a lot of work.  A team that is consciously assembled based on their varying strengths but also with passion for the community, makes for a great participant experience.
  3. Great food & a well-designed t-shirt matter – Some participants joke that they came for the food and t-shirt but ended up loving the actual event.  From year one, we’ve been intentional of sourcing quality food from small business food vendors as much as possible. We also always utilize a new local graphic designer each year to create our awesome t-shirts.
  4. We see a range of emotions – A lot of hard work is crammed into one weekend with new ideas, forming teams, research to validate ideas, success/failure, creating a presentation, and sometimes needing to pivot. This brings a wide range of emotions, but the weekends always both start and end with fun and excitement.  And a little exhaustion at the end.
  5. Gratitude of the participants – Participants consistently contact me afterwards to say thank you for the experience.  Over the years, I’ve heard the phrase “changed my life” multiple times as well as “I’ve learned so much this weekend that I plan to…”.  Hearing these comments is very personally fulfilling.
  6. Appreciation for our sponsors – The cost of hosting a 54-hour event with 7 meals, plus other various expenses adds up.  The generosity of our sponsors allows us to bring down the ticket price to a level our target market can afford.  The EDC has been happy to sign on every year as that first major sponsor to get the ball rolling.
  7. Gratitude for our community – The event helps push innovation and enhance business skills, but it also opens the eyes of many attendees as to what our ecosystem is like and why Fargo Moorhead is THE place to live, work and create.  If we didn’t have a collaborative and caring community to genuinely embrace these new innovators, then Startup Weekend would truly be just a weekend – but for our community, the weekend is just the start.

A summary of the 5 teams from Techstars Startup Weekend Fargo 2019:

1ST PLACE: See Coach – A collaboration and communication platform for Child/Teen athletes, coaches, and parents to manage schedules, changes, announcements, feedback, and more. 

2ND PLACE – UnStuck – An app for connecting drivers of a stuck car who need a jump, push, or pull, with citizen helpers, like a social good Uber that allows for tipping transaction handling.

3RD PLACE – ensetzuVR – An immersive virtual reality language learning app allowing people to pick a language and become part of the story of learning it.

Evolve Education – A system for providing career path education and 1-to-1 informational interviewing for students who may not have access to shadowing opportunities.

MatchUp Mentoring – A services-based business to teach organizations with 250+ people the why and how to successfully implement internal mentorship programs.