Some lessons learnt during the Startup Weekend Enschede

I am a master student in Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Aalborg University (Denmark). Currently I’m doing my graduation project for VentureLab International, which is related to entrepreneurial teams and growth of new tech-ventures.

Lots of red posters on VentureLab walls with catchy phrases kept raising my curiosity, but the decision to join the event came few days before it took place. To be honest, it was a challenge for me to participate. Since I am still a student, I was wondering about my potential contribution at the event. I set several goals regarding my participation.

First I wanted to know what I am capable of. I believe that competitive environments are best suited to reveal our strengths and weaknesses. Second and foremost goal was to learn how ideas evolve into a viable and promising business models. I’ve studied a lot about business development and multifunctional teams etc., but it was about time to experience it in practice.  Apart from that I knew I would meet lots of professional, spirited, entrepreneurial people and extend my personal network.  Rigid time frames set for the development of ideas (54 hours of work) added some spice to the vent. So I joined. Now I am way closer to starting my own company.

Startup Weekend Enschede is a 54-hour event.  Developers, designers, marketers, product managers and startup enthusiasts come together to share ideas, form teams, build products, and launch startups. I enjoyed the company of about 60 attendees from technical and business backgrounds. We listened to impressive key-note speakers like Arthur van Hoff (CTO of Flipboard) and the winner of Startup Weekend Amsterdam, Henk Willem Beks (Goddess Alert).

The format of a startup weekend is to begin with open mic (microphone) pitches where attendees are encouraged to bring their best ideas and inspire others to join them as a team. Over Saturday and Sunday, the teams design and develop business models and first prototypes, listen to experts’ feedbacks and prepare 180-seconds final pitches.

After the first pitches, 8 ideas out of 26 survived the viability test and had teams formed around them.  I happened to become part of the MoRally team (online social impact game on sustainability). Our team was formed with difficulty.  The idea itself did not get a significant number of votes, and therefore also people to work on it.  Despite that, the idea owner –the aspiring entrepreneur- succeeded to attract me and another person to form a team.

The pitch of MoRally contained too many unnecessary details at first. This diverted the attention of the audience thus leaving them dumbfounded. They did not find the idea attractive and rushed away to join other, more explicitly presented ideas. Basically the only content I was able to grasp from the pitch was the term “CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) game”. Entrepreneurs are so into their ideas that they forget that others are not! Easy language, less details and better structure is what makes other people comprehend the message! I have been involved earlier into a project on corporate social responsibility so I found the topic quite interesting, especially since it was to relate to gaming.

Compared to other teams I thought ours did not inspire great hopes. Other teams consisted of experienced professionals, and ours mainly of students and solely business people. But the game inventor was surprisingly motivated by strong belief in success. After the pitches were done, the teams turned to work. First we spent 5 hours to comprehend the idea behind SCR game, by playing several game sessions. It appeared quite difficult to identify roles within the team, because members having very similar professional backgrounds. For years I’ve been studying that multifunctionality in teams is paramount to success. And  knowing that we were not “multifunctional ‘’ enough raised some discomfort at first. Monofunctionality, however, was still to some advantage. We had lots of meaty  discussions, which added new details and enriched our business concept.

Over Saturday and Sunday all teams subscribed for several experts sessions. First sessions with experts did not boost our confidence at all, especially because their body language said „I understand nothing of what you’re saying”! Despite ups and downs our lead- entrepreneur was still convinced of the greatness of CSR game. Commitment and belief is what led our team throughout the whole process. We kept working on the business model!

One of the important points is to realize one’s own capabilities and drawbacks. Despite being the owner of an idea, but being not such an expert presenter, one must delegate that task to someone who is more professional in this area. Entrepreneurs guard their ideas as chickens protecting their eggs. Interfering and further shaping the Ideas becomes really challenging then.  But I think it is also quite understandable.

After 24 hours of work, our team realized that without technical team members it was not going to succeed. We needed someone to create the graphic mockup of the game. And here all my entrepreneurial spirit came to the fore. Thanks to Facebook and quite a large number of engineer friends I was able to lure some of them to join the project. All together we kept moving forward. It’s not to say that we were ready by 19:00 Sunday, but what’s done..done!

We were really astonished to win the 3d award in the competition. It was an incredible experience.  I’ve learned from this event as much as I would learn in one year of my ordinary life.

Some lessons that I learned:

  • Plan a pitch very carefully and present the underlying idea as simply as possible!
  • Don’t give up your idea, no matter what they say!
  • Understand your capabilities and drawbacks within a team!
  • Leave space for others to work on and shape the idea, you may get surprised by the results!
  • Show your commitment, it motivates your team!
  • Negative feedback from people is a valuable source of information to get the next one positive, so love it!
  • No matter who you are- experienced professional or a student- everyone can make a difference!