How to launch a company in 54 hours isn’t the only thing one participant learned
Pro Alert – an information platform aimed at helping first responders save time in emergencies – won first place at Greenville’s first Startup Weekend, a high-energy competition that challenged teams to build a business from the ground up in 54 hours.
Second-place winner Pecan Exchange connects pecan growers and retailers to negotiate a fairer price. Third-place winner Prospect provides Craigslist sellers a platform to better manage their posts and keep track of potential buyers.
The Greenville competition – the second in the Upstate – is an educational model powered by Google for Entrepreneurs and replicated in more than 200 cities around the world. The idea originated in Seattle with a group of entrepreneurs who launched a nonprofit to bring people together for weekend-long workshops to pitch ideas, form teams, and start companies.
As a member of Greenville’s organizing team, here are a few takeaways I learned:
1. How we conceive school is rapidly changing, and that’s a good thing.
Startup Weekend is a learning model that’s widely embraced, adheres to a structure and is replicable. And it’s institutionalized, just not in the traditional sense of the academy/university. Instead it’s directly tied to industry, supported by a reputable business organization (Google).
SW Greenville’s 60 participants formed nine teams and developed nine business models – aided by numerous coaches and mentors who have all experienced success in their various industries.
[WATCH: Get a glimpse into all that unfolded during the 54 hours of Startup Weekend Greenville, and hear some of the participants describe their experiences. Video by Susana Shetler]
People spent the weekend teaching each other by working together. Lots of conversation between folks owning varying skill sets and from multiple sectors. All this led to tons of not just new contacts, but new ideas and new skills.
Obviously, there’s a place for new educational models that don’t adhere to the “school” structure – and this is happening right in our backyard.
2. “Coding is good for you(th).”
[A message spotted on the dry erase walls outside of The Iron Yard’s space at NEXT.]
It’s no secret that South Carolina’s education system has a pretty poor national reputation. But while it’s not inherent to our identity quite yet, the Upstate is a hotbed for innovative, adaptable methods of learning rooted in industry over academia (think: CU-ICAR) – and could be a hotbed for tech.
Joe Tamburro is the CEO and founder of Rye Development and participated in SW as a mentor/coach.
“If you looked 50 years ago, entrepreneurs and startups were a lot more manufacturing-oriented,” Tamburro said. “Now we’re this big service economy and a lot of services are provided through software. So to me, it’s kind of the next Industrial Revolution, so to speak: tech companies people don’t see because you don’t see them driving their product down the road at 90 miles an hour like BMW.”
Aside from Sunday night’s team presentations in The Palmetto Bank’s ballroom, the rest of SW took place at the NEXT Innovation Center, where The Iron Yard Greenville – SW’s host – is located.
The Iron Yard is touted as the largest coding school in the country. It educates students in its intensive, non-traditional 12-week coding and business incubator programs, creating a flux of knowledgeable site and app developers and tech-minded entrepreneurs in our community; many of whom were either competing or mentoring at SW.
“Everywhere in the country has had an issue hiring developers,” Tamburro said. “As far as the Southeast, there are a lot of companies here that need programming, or are built on outdated technologies. Iron Yard has bridged that juncture.”
What we can see happening in these new “schools” of thought is a cycle of industry-influenced, industry-led educational models that work to tackle a community’s specific strengths (the Upstate’s willingness for community collaboration) and weaknesses (a lack of trained developers in the area) to boost economic development.
[Team Savvy Box spent the day Saturday holed up in this conference room at NEXT planning their startup.]
3. The creative process can be learned and must be taught.
Entrepreneurship and the development of new technologies share many defining features, but the creative process is at their core.
Jay Wilson Jr. changed groups twice before deciding to run with ProAlert, an idea he says he had for years as a firefighter and EMT in Virginia.
“I’ve never built anything in a weekend,” he said. “Not that I built it – it was myself and three other people – but it’s crazy to think we could come together and do something like this.”
When it comes to teaching and learning the creative process, minimal structure seems to be the best structure. At SW, no one is taking attendance. Teams self-form, change and evolve, as do the business ideas that were originally pitched.
Ben Riddle, who led team No Drop, software for nonprofits to monitor mentor relationships, said a defining characteristic of the event is “giving people the space to fail safely. You can pitch ideas in an environment where any idea is an OK idea to share with others.”
Education should provide a safe place for students to fail. But students have to be producing to fail. They need that freedom of engaging in the creative process – and that’s hard to find in a multiple-choice test booklet.
[ No Drop team members James Colston (left) and Ben Riddle (right) spent the weekend addressing how to improve and measure mentorship efforts between non-profits and those they serve. Colston is what Team No Drop described as a “microentrepreneur” and has battled bouts of homelessness.]
But perhaps the biggest lesson from SW Greenville is this, scribbled large on the wall outside of The Iron Yard’s door in the NEXT building:
4. “THE DREAM IS FREE. HUSTLE SOLD SEPARATELY.”
[A message spotted on the dry erase walls outside of The Iron Yard’s space at NEXT culminates the essence of Startup Weekend Greenville.]