Startup Weekend was the Best Risk I Ever Took

In the fall of 2013, I took a risk and experienced something that profoundly changed me. It was exciting, terrifying, and fueled by adrenaline. No, I did not go skydiving or F1 racing. I attended Startup Weekend.

Here’s What Happened

On November 8th, I attended Startup Weekend Women’s Edition, the first Women’s Edition in Canada. In a nutshell, Startup Weekend is an immersive 54-hour event where participants pitch, form teams, develop, and present an entrepreneurial venture in an adrenaline-saturated blink of an eye. There is a reason why the phrase, “No talk, all action” is the motto of the weekend! Here’s a short explanation of what it’s all about.

Why I Went

As a former teacher who currently works on a district edtech implementation and professional learning team, I have had plenty of opportunities to work with teachers, administrators and students and explore how to apply existing edtech in their learning. What has been glaringly absent is a connection to the people who develop the tools, software and hardware that students, staff and districts use. How can we use edtech in the most effective ways if we don’t even know who creates it? How do we move forward together?

What began as a glimmer of curiosity turned into eye-opening insight when I attended the EdTech Innovation conference in the spring. It was the first time I had attended a conference where the purpose was not to sell technology via a one-way transaction, nor to discuss how to use it without discussing how it was planned, designed, and configured. Instead, this conference aimed to connect researchers, educators, industry, and developers. Participants came from a range of fields including K-12, post-secondary, research and analytics, HR and business, and technology development. I participated in deep conversations and discussions that brought to the forefront the need to connect all of these groups so we can learn from each other and work together. It opened my eyes to the missing pieces in the collaborative equation in the edtech space. My experiences at this conference set off a series of interactions that connected me with absolutely amazing people.

One of the many people that I met suggested that I participate in Startup Weekend. I was reluctant at first, because I did not feel that my skills fit neatly into any of the three participant categories: designer, developer, or business. But an excited voice inside said I had nothing to lose. So I signed up, not knowing what to expect. I hadn’t planned on pitching. I just wanted to observe and learn. But an hour before the event began, I decided to risk it and pitch. And I am incredibly glad that I did. Here’s my conversation about the experience with my amazing mentor and friend, Angie Tarasoff.

Three Big Insights

In my conversation with Angie, I shared a few observations that I’d like to elaborate on. I won’t give everything away though, because my motive is to encourage you to experience it and feel the terriffantastimazingness for yourself at the next Startup Weekend Calgary in February.  Here are my top three insights:

  1. Take a risk. Especially if you work in an industry that is unfamiliar with: organization-wide flexibility and innovation, strategic pivots, thorough and continuous validation, clear value propositions that aren’t confused with resources or activities, and collaborative relationships that reach deeper and further than business transactions. An experience like Startup Weekend makes you feel free, uninhibited, and ready to try, fail, try, and keep going.
  2. Know your value. It’s there. We all have something to offer. I had no idea that I would end up with the second largest team, work with seven absolutely amazing team members, see the value, insights, skills, and strengths of each one, and blaze into a third place finish. I have never accomplished so much in such a short amount of time with people that I had never met before. And there was so much to learn, just like the awesome second place founder Jenn Egroff writes.
  3. Iterate using the Startup Weekend model. I am absolutely convinced that this model can be applied in just about any situation where you want to solve a problem by acting instead of getting stuck in a perpetual loop of planning/analysis/doubt/fear. It’s a way to experience a true iterative action cycle where experiments are small, failure is short, coaches are incredible, and teammates are committed. Creating a working prototype or plan in just one weekend is incredible. You just do it. I can see this model used in classrooms, schools, organizations, and teams everywhere at just about any scale.

Next Steps

Angie and I are creatively conspiring to bring an event similar to NYC Startup Weekend EDU to educators and students. Angie has shared our whirlwind brainstorming sessions and first steps in her blog post here, complete with descriptions of the heart-stopping excited panic that I’m sure will continue as we move forward. If you’d like to learn more, ask a question about my experience, pick my brain about K-12 education, or be involved somehow, then let’s connect! We are just in the first stages of planning, brainstorming, and throwing ideas up, down, out, and back in!

I have remained in close contact with many of the people that I met at Startup Weekend, as well as edtech developers that I connected with in the spring. I am happy to offer what I know about the edtech space while they have been terrific sources of inspiration and advice about the startup space. I feel lucky and excited to be part of an incredible community of open, caring, and creative innovators.

I am going to be at Startup Weekend in February. I hope to see you there!