Startup Weekend is a non-profit organisation based in Seattle, which has been holding weekend long business creation events since 2007 in cities all around the world. Last weekend it was Galway’s turn to host the event.
Participants gathered on Friday evening. Some had come to pitch ideas and others had come to offer their services as developers, designers or biz dev people. They were given colour-coded t-shirts at registration to make it easy to identify the various roles.
There were 30 one minute pitches made to an audience of 67 people. It doesn’t sound like a lot of time but it turns out that 60 seconds was a perfectly adequate amount of time to introduce oneself, give a brief headline of the idea and to make a request for the sort of people and skills the pitcher required to work with him or her on their project.
Ideas varied greatly, some grand in scale and some niche specific. People wanted to create career management tools, price comparison web sites, listing guides and one person even proposed a treehouse and swing business.
The pitches were then posted on separate sheets of paper around the walls in a large room kindly provided by the J.E. Cairnes School of Business and Economics at NUI Galway. Attendees then indicated their preferences for the ideas put forward by attaching sticky coloured notes.
The top 12 ideas were selected by the organizing team and the originators of those ideas then stood roughly equidistant around the room and gave a brief recap of their idea in turn. This was then the opportunity for the developers, designers and biz dev people to gather around the pitchers of the ideas that they most wanted to work on and in this way the teams were formed.
But four hours had passed and now before them lay another 50 hours of the weekend to get produce a minimum viable product (MVP), a working user interface, and a plan for creating customers and for handling the relevant financial issues that go along with starting a business.
On the Saturday morning it was remarkable how quickly the teams settled down to work. I had somehow expected there to be a getting to know you period where team roles and bonds would be established but people got stuck right in.
One of the good decisions of the weekend was to have all 12 teams in one large room. It wasn’t at all disruptive and there was a nice, continuous buzz of productivity that helped to keep everyone’s energy up through the entire weekend.
In the afternoon the mentors arrived. They came from all aspects of the Galway business community and in turn were able to offer the nascent startups a complete range of advice from legal to sales and all stops in between.
Among those giving up a valuable Saturday to share their experience and knowledge were Ian Knight from Flynn O’ Driscoll – Commercial Law and Investments, Mark Campbell – Pocket Anatomy, Dorothy Creaven – Element Wave mobile technology, Alan Burke – Annertech and Mark Quick – Entrepreneur and Engineer.
(Picture: Mike Conroy (r) – Cisco Galway mentoring at #swgalway)
A free massage was available on site throughout the weekend from Michael Klusak of Mobile Massage Galway. In the late afternoon a rather delightful yoga session was led by David Cunningham from The Yoga Shala.
In a break shortly after supper teams were asked to give a quick rundown to the other teams about where they were on their project. Interestingly, when the time came for them to make a request for additional help, it was suggested by the facilitator, Adam Haun, that the teams should reach out beyond the resources immediately in front of them. They should try to utilise the network effect already present to find a wider community of people to obtain information and feedback.
The participants also took the opportunity to watch an item about themselves on the local news.
Then it was down to work right through until 10pm. At least one team was going to carry on coding some place else afterwards. Dedication.
It was a foggy start to Sunday morning but the energy in the room burned on undimmed. It was a constant surprise to see how much work had actually been done. Information garnered from the market research done on Google Docs, Twitter and Facebook had been utilised into shaping numerous MVPs.
One team had a couple of its members go into town to talk to real live business owners. Initiative.
Shortly before lunch I spoke to one of the organisers, Paul Killoran of Ex Ordo. I asked him about the aims of the weekend.
“We have had people who have never met each other before arrive into a venue and get up and pitch their ideas. As an organiser you just sit back and watch this Petri dish of energy come together. It’s incredible that these people didn’t know each other a few days ago and by the end of this weekend twelve startup companies will have been created.
“The reality is that most of these startups won’t last until next weekend – one or two of them might. For me the most important part is founder education and networking.
“If we want to create startups in the West of Ireland, in Galway, what we really need to do is educate people about what it is you have to do to create a startup.”
One of the mentors, Greg Osborne – I Speak English Graphic Design Solutions, also spoke about the wider effect the weekend’s activities may have.
“It’s about the journey as well as any of the services or products they may create.”
After lunch the teams were reminded of the essential elements of their projects that they were expected to show the judges that evening.
Customers – Validation
- Is this a real problem that needs to be solved?
- Have you identified a specific market?
- Did you talk to customers?
- SHOW the validation in your presentation.
Product – Execution and Design
- Do you have an MVP or prototype?
- Can you show a demonstration of your MVP or prototype?
- DESIGN MATTERS! How easy and user friendly is your product?
Business $$ – Business Model
- What is the value proposition?
- How do you plan on making this a successful business?
- Go to market strategy: How are you going to launch?
So, no pressure then.
Soon enough it was time for the teams to show the judges what they had created in the previous 54 hours. The very experienced panel consisted of Barry O’Sullivan – Altocloud, Aideen Bergin – Bank of Ireland, Oliver Daniels – The Insight Centre for Data Analytics, Breda Fox – Galway Local Enterprise Office, Paul Gilson – Veryan Medical and Maurice O’Gorman – Galway Chamber of Commerce.
Each team had five minutes to pitch their idea, immediately followed by a three minute question and answer period with the judges. NB: Each of the pitches was recorded and will be posted separately on the Technology Voice YouTube Channel over the next week or so. So look out for them.
While the judges were in deliberation a popular vote amongst the teams themselves was held for the best business idea. That was won by Hours and their application to make shift management easier for small and mid-size businesses. Also an out of competition honorary mention was made to Random Acts of Karma (pictured above) and their social enterprise project.
Finally the judges returned and the winners were announced in reverse order:
3rd Place – Arrow – Arrow is an In-Airport application that guides users to their boarding gates, taking the hassle out of airport travel. It adds value by providing all relevant information about the specific airport and the users trip (Dylan Commons, Gavin Ward, Patricia Organ, Patrick Breslin and Michael O’Meara)
2nd Place- What Paws Around – What Paws Around is an online platform that allows dog owners to find dog related services close to their location (boarding, trainers, groomers, sitters) and access to a wide variety of educational information in one click. Every service is peer reviewed, to help customers choose what is best for their furry friends. Dog related services have the opportunity to advertise their businesses and to connect with a new customer base. (Caterina Lodo, Anthea Middleton, Gavin Donohue and Gianmassimo Vigazzola)
The Winner – FriendShip – FriendShip makes it easy to share the shipping fees when you buy online. Partner with your friends to place your order and share the fees. (Gofran Shukair and Emir Muñoz)
(Pictures: Snaphappystudios, Ireland)
Finally a shout out to the organisers and volunteers. Events like this don’t magically happen by themselves so here is a look at just a few of the people behind the scenes who helped to make Startup Weekend Galway happen.
L-R Paul Killoran, Tara Dalrymple, John Breslin, Laura O’Connor, Ciara Deane, Michelle Clarke, Darren Kearney and Noëmie Martin-Pascual (Picture: Snaphappystudios, Ireland) Those not pictured are Michael Campion, Ciara Loughnane, Emily Mannix, Jane O’Connor, Rose Barrett, Tom Murphy, and Paul Mulhern.
If you are interested in hosting your own event in your locale check out the main Startup Weekend site to find out details on how to participate.
Disclaimer: John Breslin is the publisher of Technology Voice and I am a regular contributor. One of Technology Voice’s aims is to promote Irish technology and its associated businesses both large and small. Any bias you may detect in this article is of the flag-waving sort and we are quite happy to put our hands up to that fact.