This weekend is Startup Weekend Lansing, a global event (held in the TIC) that brings together entrepreneurs, innovators, designers, and anyone else interested in launching a company in their community. Participants from all over are invited to pitch their business ideas and form teams around the most popular concepts. Those teams are then given 54 hours to do everything they can to build the business from the ground up. Some businesses may never make it past the weekend but, some do.
Bring Your Ideas
Dave Mulder, co-founder of Conferences i/o, had the idea for his product while he was a student at MSU in the early 2000’s. But, it wasn’t until 2011, that Startup Weekend Lansing gave him the opportunity he needed to take his idea to the next level.
As a student attending numerous lectures, he noticed how much time was being wasted during Q&A sessions, especially when most of the questions were only pertinent to one or two students. Laptops were becoming more and more popular and then there was the introduction of the iPhone and, Dave says, “You could tell it was going to change the way people interacted.” With these technologies in mind, Dave decided he wanted to streamline the Q&A process for large groups and lectures.
When Dave got connected to the entrepreneur community in 2011 he heard about Startup Weekend Lansing and, armed with his idea, decided to attend. While he wasn’t intending to pitch at first, a last minute decision got his idea, an interactive Q&A app that allows participants to ask questions and then vote on the most popular ones, into the final round. From there, a team began to form.
After a whirlwind weekend of prototype building, market validation and research, Dave and his team ended up winning the judges pick and audience favorite. This gave them the legal assistance and funds they needed to form an LLC. But, in addition to the prizes it gave them something just as valuable, validation. “We saw that other people thought it would work.”
Today, Conferences i/o has launched the next generation in audience response systems, replacing the old “clicker” system with an app users can access through a website. They have just begun to grow pretty rapidly and increase their sales, and while Dave says it did take a while, he attributes much of their success to Startup Weekend.
Why Startup Weekend Lansing?
Lansing has a Startup Community, but many don’t know about it. Events like this allow that community to stand up and say, “Hey! We’re here and we are doing awesome stuff.”
If you’re thinking about attending Startup Weekend but are still undecided, just look at the success of Conferences i/o, what Dave says they gained from the weekend, and why Dave has become both a presenter and coach to participating teams.
Why It’s Valuable-
- Practice- Obviously you can’t accomplish in a weekend what you could in a year, but Dave says it helps participants get in the right mind-set. “It’s a crash course in building a business that gets you in the right frame of mind, if only for a weekend.”
- Networking- There are a number of people who come to Startup Weekend simply to ask businesses, “What do you need to grow?” The weekend puts you in touch with potential team members, investors and resources. Even if you don’t need anything from them when you meet them, it’s a future contact that could potentially be valuable.
- Mentorship- You have the opportunity to get direct advice from people with a wide range of talents and skills.
How To Make The Most Of It-
It’s only 54 hours, but they can be a successful 54 hours if you go in with the right attitude and mindset. After experiencing the weekend through a few different lenses, Dave has pinpointed some ways to make the most of the time you have.
- Have an open mind
- Be willing to learn
- Be willing to step out of your comfort zone
- Learn a little about business model generation
- Focus on partnerships rather than just product
- Dave is quick to point out that if it wasn’t for Startup Weekend, he probably would have never met his partner, John Pytel, who has been a driving force behind the business. “Focusing on partners gets you a business rather than just a product.”
Conferences i/o has big plans for this business this year, including a BHAG, big, hairy, audacious goal (you should have one too), of having their Social Q&A product used at a presidential debate. But, everyone has to start somewhere and Startup Weekend just happened to give Dave the kick he needed to launch his big idea. Maybe yours will be next.