Startup Weekend Des Moines: Reflections of a past participant
Left, photo of Startup Weekend Des Moines 2009 with facilitator Shane Reiser pictured in the blue shirt in the bottom left. Right, Shane Reiser facilitating Startup Weekend Des Moines 2011 (photo by Geoff Wood).
As someone who participated in the first Startup Weekend Des Moines (see my Silicon Prairie News guest post at the time: "Startup Weekend Des Moines is a success") back in July 2009 and had the chance to spend several hours at this past weekend's event, I couldn't get over how well the organization and concept has evolved over time.
The growth is evident – participants have more than doubled, developer interest grew nearly 10 times (from three to 29) and more students and women were involved than even before – but more impressive is how the process has improved.
The attendees of Startup Weekend Des Moines 2011. Photo by Geoff Wood.
Startup Weekend, a Seattle, Washington-based not-for-profit, has now facilitated events all over the world (to date: 250 events in 32 countries) and it shows in the little things. For instance, the inaugural Des Moines event featured idea pitches on Friday night that lasted as long as five or 10 minutes. Those have now been trimmed to a neat 60 seconds, something that Startup Weekend Des Moines co-organizer Shane Reiser holds each participant to with a good natured yet identifiable and interruptive, "Thank you for your pitch." Also, winners are now determined by a panel of local experts and mentors, who not only judge the final pitches but advise the teams throughout the weekend. It's much more professional and efficient then the original way, which was initially planned to be an online vote but when that didn't work defaulted something akin to a raise of hands amongst the participants.
Reiser now works for Startup Weekend full-time (in July 2009 he was an analyst at Aviva's local office in Des Moines and organized the event for the fun of it) and is their only team member based here in Des Moines. We're lucky to have him representing Des Moines everywhere from New York City to Sao Paulo, Brazil.
On a side note, he recently told me that he won't be in Des Moines forever:
There's a decent chance I'll head out to Seattle in July. My wife is looking at doing her fourth-year medical school rotations there. As much as I love playing a local role in building the Des Moines ecosystem, I'll be able to provide a different kind of value living outside of its borders. Des Moines has a piece of my heart. I'll always be a fan and I'll make it a point to spread the good word about this great city to anyone that will listen. To the extent I can help local Des Moines startups make connections outside of Iowa, I'm always happy to do so.
Startup Weekend, the global organization, has grown in that time, too. That validation can be visualized by their grant funding from the Kauffman Foundation and their recent write-up in Entrepreneur magazine, but I notice it much more in how they present themselves. As opposed to the earlier message of "build a startup in a weekend" they now focus on promoting the local startup community more and using Startup Weekend as an a 54-hour glimpse into the life of an entrepreneur. That new branding is working for them, at least 10 local businesses from all phases of the entrepreneurial ecosystem invested in the success of the recent event.
It's a bit of a joke that more sustainable startups are created from people who met at Startup Weekends but were on different teams than actual ideas born over the course of the event. Although I don't have any statistics, I can certainly see that being true. Reiser calls it "co-founder dating," and since a lot of would-be entrepreneurs who haven't yet taken the risk show up at Startup Weekend, it should be a very good market.
Congrats to the Des Moines startup community on the completion of another Startup Weekend and congrats to Reiser and the rest of the team up in Seattle on the tremendous evolution of their organization.