Fifty-four hours can change your life. During Kirkland Startup Weekend in November at Carillon Point, that’s how long the roughly 100 attendees had to turn 12 hopeful ideas into 12 real startup companies. To begin, of the roughly 100 participants, 75 people pitched their ideas in 60 seconds or less. Everyone voted for the best ideas. Then, 12 teams emerged to compete for the big prizes.
It was a strong showing for a city’s first event, said John Sechrest of Renton, a global Startup Weekend facilitator who has facilitated 26 events worldwide.
“First, because (Startup Weekend) is a limited commitment, people can come and test the waters. … They get to meet new people, try new skills and get a better sense of what it takes to engage in a new business,” said Sechrest, founder of the Seattle Angel Conference. “Secondly, because it is a big chunk of time (a whole weekend), it helps to find people who are willing to commit to an idea. And not just commit, but to take action. So it helps you connect with people who are willing to engage in startup activities,” said Sechrest.
Startup Weekend is a worldwide phenomenon that’s growing. Andrew Hyde started Startup Weekend in Boulder, Colo., about seven years ago in a slightly different structure and format. Hyde sold Startup Weekend to Marc Nager and Clint Nelson, who moved it to Seattle.
“They were able to convert it to a nonprofit and to set it up with more structure and support,” said Sechrest. “Startup Weekend has been doubling the number of events each year for the last three years.”
The greatest value of Startup Weekend are the realizations among people that they can engage in the startup process and their connection with others on the same journey.
“Sometimes the weekend will create businesses that carry forward. Almost every Startup Weekend that I have been at still has one or two teams that made money along the way,” said Sechrest. “The biggest result of a startup weekend has been Zaarly (an online marketplace), which caused at least two people to quit their good-paying jobs to participate in a company, which has gone on to raise $18 million.”
Other companies that have raiseed outside investment include FoodSpotting, for foodies; Memolane, a social network aggregator; Soundrop, a social media application for Spotify; and A Place for Rover, which matches animal lovers with people looking for someone to look after their dog while their out of town. A Place for Rover came out of a Seattle Startup Weekend in June 2011.
Startup Weekend works because it focuses on action. In 54 hours, teams assemble as much of the business as possible — a business plan, a Facebook account, financial projections, graphics, a logo, marketing studies, prototypes, a Twitter account, a website and, if possible, real customers. Established companies like Clearwire, Google and Microsoft provide hardware, software and other tools to teams to help get the job done. Gathered in a Woodmark Hotel meeting room, the teams had five minutes apiece to present their ideas and their work to a panel of judges. The top three winners earned prizes and bragging rights.
Kirkland Startup Weekend produced its first-place winner: Eliza & Co., a company matching head-to-toe stylists and busy customers who need their assistance. Eliza & Co. will feature experienced personal shoppers with profiles of their styles and personalities. Customers who log into the website fill out a questionnaire and then will have access to
the stylist whose fashion sense and lifestyle they relate to most. Customers can then either pick from the collection displayed by the stylist, or the stylist can customize an online wardrobe and send it to the customer to shop from. The team members are Alex Tibbetts, Andrea Sames, Bill Howison, Brandon Rogers, Greg Thilmont, Margie Nicosia, Rachael Shaney, Rachel Kim, Shruti Prasad and Sreenath Kizhakkedath.
“It of course felt good (to win), but what we had at the end of it was just a basic plan. We are stretching it out and hope to reach the full potential. This will take more time and effort,” said Prasad, Eliza & Co.’s project manager
and an MBA student.
That’s the kind of effort the Greater Kirkland Chamber of Commerce, one of the event’s organizers, wants to encourage.
“Startup Weekend is important to Kirkland because it encourages entrepreneurship and small business creation,” said Bruce Wynn, the chamber’s executive director. “It also gets the IT community more involved in collaborating with other professionals in the industry.”
To Kirkland boosters, a successful Startup Weekend is further proof that the greater Kirkland area is becoming the next Silicon Valley.
Wynn said, “The reference to Kirkland being the next Silicon Valley is exciting from a Chamber of Commerce perspective and has been echoed by California-based startup companies that have relocated or expanded to Seattle and Kirkland. These companies express that Kirkland has all of the attributes of a Silicon Valley — close proximity to think tanks and institutes of higher learning, a fantastic quality of life, natural beauty, small-town charm, exposure to potential revenue and investors, and lots of smart and experienced IT professionals.”
Organizers hope those smart and experienced people are ready to start up. Startup Weekend will return to Kirkland this year, with dates to be announced. It’s a must for anyone who has an interest in startups, said Prasad.
“My suggestion is for you to go there well-prepared if you have a pitch proposal. You only get 60 seconds. Have an open mind. If your pitch doesn’t get selected, don’t lose heart. There are so many other ideas which need your expertise. Pick the one that you find interesting and stick with it, at least for 54 hours. It’s also a great place to network, and who knows what might come your way?”
MEET THE WINNERS
First Place: Eliza & Co.
“Eliza & Co. is a matchmaking company between head-to-toe stylists and busy customers who need their assistance. We will be featuring experienced personal shoppers with profiles that feature their style and personality. Customers who log into our website … will have access to the stylist whose fashion sense and lifestyle they relate to most. The customers can then either pick from the collection displayed by the stylist, or the stylist can customize an online wardrobe and send it to the customer to shop from.” – Shruti Prasad, Eliza & Co. project manager
LESSONS LEARNED: “When the idea is new and fresh, it takes a lot more time to convince others about it. A lot of speculations and doubts do come up, but the important thing is to stick by what you believe and prove that this idea has merit, too.” – Shruti Prasad, Eliza & Co. project manager
Second Place: Wecide
“Wecide is a fast and fun mobile way to get your buddies and family to Wecide on everyday things. ‘Which color top should I get?’ ‘Where should I go on vacation?’ ‘Which tires should I buy?’ Snap a picture or write a question to ask your Wecision’s. … Set each Wecision group to specific people, groups or even the world.” – Jacqueline (Jacquie) Puzas, Wecide team spokesperson
LESSONS LEARNED: “The most valuable lesson I learned from Startup Weekend was the value and power of the team. … Putting the people in the roles that empower them to leverage their highest competencies creates a very validating and exciting environment. Team members are passionate and respectful of their counterparts. It is awe-inspiring to witness.” – Jacqueline (Jacquie) Puzas, Wecide team spokesperson
Third Place: Scratchability
“Our business originated from the desire to solve the ‘little problems’ that we encounter in our everyday lives. … We associate each problem to an everyday activity that is assisted by a computing device and requires more than 30 seconds or five actions to solve. We then reduce the time it takes to complete each task through a simplified interface design.” – Dustin Jorge of Woodinville, Scratchability co-founder and Web/mobile developer
LESSONS LEARNED: “The most important thing I learned is that this is just the beginning. SWK is a great way to meet other people with entrepreneurship in mind. These people work together as a team towards goals in a structured plan. … Because of Startup Weekend Kirkland, we have a better understanding of how to approach things from beginning to end.” – Dustin Jorge, Scratchability co-founder
Kirkland Startup Weekend returns in 2013 — dates to be announced. Organizers, volunteers, sponsors and participants are welcome. For more information, contact the Greater Kirkland Chamber of Commerce (kirklandchamber.org).
First and second photos by Jenny Lynn Zappala; Third and fourth photos by Avitania Satari Bronstein