One of the first questions budding entrepreneurs must ask themselves is if they are willing to risk their savings for their business idea. This question alone is enough to deter anyone from pursuing a start-up dream.
Perhaps spending a weekend with like-minded individuals, building a team and a business plan, pitching it to business leaders and investors, and gaining valuable insight could change their minds.
Seven years ago, the first Startup Weekend event took place in Colorado, US. Today, events like this are happening in more than 400 cities in more than 130 countries. This year, UP Global, the organisation behind the concept, is aiming to have 1,200 events take place.
The concept is simple: gather entrepreneurially minded people from all manner of backgrounds together and give them 54 hours to build a start-up.
What sounds like a basic exercise in entrepreneurship has actually borne fruitful results. According to UP Global, more than 36pc of Startup Weekend start-ups are still going strong after three months.
Rover in the US, an online community that connects dog owners with in-home sitters, has raised nearly US$25m in funding to date. Easy Taxi in Brazil, which connects drivers and passengers, has raised US$32m, and Kantox from Spain, a low-cost solution for exchanging foreign currencies, has raised nearly US$12m. Other companies have acquired other Startup Weekend start-ups, such as Foodspotting and Launchrock.
“Essentially, Startup Weekend is the best way to get an entrepreneurial experience,” said Jose Iglesias, UP Global’s regional manager for Europe. “A lot of people have a great student life or a great nine-to-five job, but feel that something is missing. At this one weekend, you’ll be able to share your ideas, meet like-minded people who can help you to make it real and potentially change your life.”
Ireland’s first Startup Weekend was held in Cork last year on the campus of University College Cork (UCC). One of the volunteers at this event, Aidan Murphy, was inspired to recreate it for students.
“It’s not about getting 500 students all together, it’s about getting 100 of the top-calibre students who have that entrepreneurial mindset and goals,” said Murphy, who is the education officer for UCC’sEntrepreneurial and Social society.
There are societies like this in universities across Ireland, yet there hasn’t been one event to unite them all. Ireland’s first Student Startup Weekend takes place at UCC from Friday, 28 March, to Sunday, 30 March, and there’s an increasing level of anticipation for what can emerge from the student-led gathering.
“An academic bubble like that is where you’re going to get the Snapchats and the WhatsApps,” said DC Cahalane, chief marketing officer of award-winning Cork-based start-up Trustev. Cahalane will be a mentor at the UCC Student Startup Weekend.
A test bed for ideas
Cahalane has been involved with Startup Weekends around the world. “It’s my equivalent of going to a concert or going to Electric Picnic,” he said, because he is an “uber start-up geek”.
The Startup Weekend format is similar to a hackathon, in that a lot of progress is made on a new product or service in a concentrated timeframe. The difference is participants don’t need to have a tech or business background.
“If you’re somebody who maybe isn’t connected to the start-up community, if you’re just somebody who has an idea for a business, Startup Weekend is the ideal opportunity to come along and test that idea,” said Cahalane.
He added that in Ireland, people with the same skillsets tend to form groups that don’t necessarily communicate with each other. At Startup Weekend, those with problems that need solving and those with the skills to address them can converge.
“The reason that ideas in Ireland are very slow to turn into start-ups is that, usually, there’s some part of the skillset missing,” he said. “With a Startup Weekend, purely because of the time compression, you don’t have time to make excuses.”
Cahalane also spoke of the value of giving blossoming businesses the opportunity to speak to investors in a largely informal setting. “The great thing about putting investors in the Startup Weekend environment is the founders and people get to ask the questions that they couldn’t ask if they were actually out raising money,” he said.
Cahalane said he sees the Startup Weekend formula growing in Ireland as it has grown in the US, while Iglesias said he envisages opening student events up to even younger age groups. The benefits, he added, can have a broad effect.
“Having an entrepreneurial mindset is important, not only for company creation and job creation, but also for employees working within established companies,” he said.
A version of this article appeared in The Sunday Times on 23 March