Why Student Startup Weekend didn’t want to attract the ‘usual crowd’

18 Feb 2020

Techstars Dublin Student Startup Weekend. Image: Sam Clein

Techstars Student Startup Weekend organiser Sam Clein told Siliconrepublic.com about some of the highlights from this year’s event and the winning ideas from the weekend.

A few weeks ago, Dubin’s Techstars Student Startup Weekend took place at Google’s offices near Grand Canal Dock.

Speakers at this year’s event included Gene Murphy, co-founder of the Startup Boost pre-accelerator programme, as well as coaches and mentors from the worlds of engineering, design, business and blockchain.

One of the participants shared a blogpost about his experience, which served as a recap of the 54-hour event. But we also caught up with one of the Student Startup Weekend organisers, Sam Clein, to learn about some of the highlights from across the weekend.

‘Sometimes the biggest victory doesn’t come from the participant with the best idea’

What kind of entrepreneurs attended the Techstars Student Startup Weekend?

There’s a ‘usual crowd’ of sorts for entrepreneurship events, particularly when they have a student vertical. You almost exclusively get the business student from UCD, Trinity or DCU. It’s a real shame because the best environment for facilitating creativity and innovation comes from diversity of experience and ideas.

As an organising team, we set out from the very beginning to market the event to as wide a group as possible, targeting students across a wide range of disciplines you wouldn’t traditionally associate with business, such as architecture, engineering, art, design, language, computer science and more. We didn’t limit the entry to undergrads either, or just to colleges in Dublin.

I think the turnout really reflected our efforts and we ended up with a hugely diverse group from PhD candidates in artificial intelligence to undergrad students focusing on the humanities. Many of our participants were first-time entrepreneurs, so it was super exciting to watch them discover their own ability to foster an idea and turn it into a business in just 54 hours.

At the same time, we had more experienced student entrepreneurs that were so passionate about start-up culture that they travelled from Limerick, Belfast, Galway and even Manchester to participate.

Tell us about some of the most exciting pitches that were given over the weekend.

We kicked off the Friday with optional pitches from participants with a potential idea for a business. An incredible 47 pitches were delivered (almost 50pc of participants pitched an idea), each just sixty-seconds long.

I was blown away by the variety of ideas, we heard concepts such as natural chemical therapy to relieve nicotine addiction; a shareable virtual link to replace IBAN transfers; an AR map linked to your university timetable; an app to improve your yoga forms using your smartphone camera, and many, many more.

After two days of listening to speakers and mentors, hundreds of coffees, dozens of surveys, phone calls, interviews, site-visits and practice pitches, our teams had all created a minimum viable product to deliver to our panel of expert judges: David Connolly from the Local Enterprise Office, Claire Fitzpatrick from ConsenSys, Ken Tyrrell from PwC, and Alan Costello from NDRC.

What were the winning ideas of the weekend?

Receiving the ‘Spotlight’ prize was NeuroRehab, which was my personal favourite. They used an existing wearable sensor technology to monitor the recovery of injured users, to aid their rehabilitation by collecting data to track their progress and connect them to people with similar traumas, building a support network.

In second place was Studio, a platform for contacting students with verified skills to complete work for start-ups and SMEs. Taking the first-place award was Parella, a service offering umbrellas for rent via kiosks at convenient locations such as outside your office, apartment block or Luas stop.

What were some of your favourite moments from this year’s Techstars Student Startup Weekend?

Sometimes the biggest victory doesn’t come from the participant with the best idea or even the team that takes home the top prize. Instead, it’s the more personal accomplishment of getting up on stage in front of more than 130 people and successfully delivering your pitch.

Personally, my favourite moment of the weekend was when one presenter succumbed to nerves, but after a few minutes more preparation and motivation from our volunteer staff, returned to deliver her pitch successfully with huge support from the crowd. I think this captured one of the most important messages of the weekend, which is that it’s OK to fail because you can always learn from that experience and try again.

What’s next for the Student Startup Weekend?

The four of us on the organising team were all first-timers, but I’m sure it won’t be our last event. We’ve all agreed to make sure Student Startup Weekend continues as an annual event, but whether this involves passing the torch to another team or not, we’re not sure yet.

I’m definitely open to organising something like this again. There was huge interest from my home city of Limerick (University of Limerick had the third-highest representation), so I’m considering putting a team together for Startup Weekend Limerick. Stay tuned I guess! You can follow me and my co-organiser Callum McDonnell on Twitter.

Besides that, I just want to say an enormous thank you to my fellow organisers Callum, Ben Cummins and Ultan O’Rourke. Behind this three-day event was three months of canvassing for sponsorship, countless phone calls and the odd sleepless night. We had a stellar team who took every bump and hurdle in their stride.

It’s no easy task drumming up support for an event like Startup Weekend, particularly one run by students, so a big shout out to our headline sponsor PwC Ireland for giving us a chance. As an intern with PwC I get to see from the inside how supportive they are of creative thinkers and young innovators and their support of this event was emblematic of that.

Kelly Earley was a journalist with Silicon Republic