I just finished facilitating Startup Weekend: Iowa City. This is the 5th Startup Weekend event I’ve facilitated, but probably the 14th or so I’ve been to.
I’ve mostly been to larger events – New York City, Seattle, Atlanta, DC – that draw 100+ people. But this was a smaller event, about 25 attendees. (This was actually my second “small” event, my first being a few weeks ago in Louisville, Kentucky.).
And I think I like the smaller events better.
On Friday night, I went through the usual facilitator song and dance. We had some great local speakers, we played Rock, Paper, War, and then we kicked off the pitches.
My one worry with smaller events is that we don’t get enough Friday night pitches (for those not familiar with the format of Startup Weekend: anyone who wants to gets 60 seconds to pitch an idea to the audience. Then we vote on all the ideas and the top voted ones move forward). Things were slowing down after 6 or 7 pitches, but I think we ended up with 12 or 14 – which was a pretty good number.
We accepted 6 ideas, which quickly dropped to 5, and by Saturday we had 3. This ended up being the perfect number – each team had a nice “critical mass” of people. The three ideas were:
1) A grocery list app. This one ended up pivoting several times, and they ended up as a team called Shindig – they wanted to make a social network based around events.
2) An app that helped record stories from the elderly, to preserve and share them after they’ve passed away.
3. A book for immigrants and foreign exchange students to help reduce culture shock and teach them about the societal norms and mores in America.
Because there were only 3 teams, over the course of the weekend I was able to spend so much time with every team. And this is why I like those smaller events better. I was able to spend a few hours with each team over the course of the weekend – get to know them, help them develop their idea, and get to see the evolution of their work over the course of the weekend.
I also got to talk with a lot of the mentors and local entrepreneurs who are making moves in Iowa City. Another reason I love events in smaller cities is I can help the people in these communities figure out how to improve and strengthen their entrepreneurial community.
There’s a ton of things I’ve seen in Seattle or New York or San Francisco that can be applied anywhere… if you know it exists. It’s silly for Iowa City to have to reinvent the wheel and make all the mistakes other cities did, so if I can chat with 5 or 10 people there and make suggestions or give advice… that’s awesome.
When I travel for Startup Weekend, that’s what I love to do. Facilitating an event is awesome, but it’s almost just an excuse to go places, learn about their communities, and figure out how I can help improve things after Startup Weekend is over.