A new partnership with Google will allow Techstars to present this month’s Startup Weekend free of charge to Kansas City participants, said John Coler.
“It opens up the opportunity to reduce the barrier for entry for those who either would not usually use their discretionary income or (do not) have the ability to pay for a three-day event,” said Coler, lead organizer of the three-day program. “We just really want to pull a diverse group and lower that barrier of entry, helping people around the community know that they’re welcome to present their ideas in an environment that is open to fostering them.”
The event typically costs between $75 and $90 to attend, he said. Startup Weekend is a 48-hour event where developers, designers and non-technical professionals collaborate and pitch ideas the first night. Teams form around the most interesting ideas and begin fleshing out those concepts the rest of the weekend, often by building prototypes and targeting demographics. Teams present their ideas before a panel of judges on the last day of the event, and the best ideas win prizes.
“It’s a big party,” Coler said. “There’s always a little bit of drama, but it’s a hoot.”
It’s not just about winning a prize. Businesses have actually formed out of ideas born at Startup Weekend, said Lesa Mitchell, managing director of Techstars Kansas City.
“The reason we started Startup Weekend is to give people who haven’t done a startup before the experience of participating in one,” Mitchell said. “You’re taking an idea all the way from developing the idea to a minimum viable product in a weekend.”
Mitchell has seen tons of examples of people participating in Startup Weekend for the first time, pitching an idea and working on it the whole weekend, then quitting their job and starting a company, she said.
“We want to encourage that,” Mitchell said. “That’s what we hope happens during a Startup Weekend.”
As an international program, more than 23,000 teams have formed during 2,900 Startup Weekends in 150 countries, Mitchell said.
Kansas City’s Startup Weekend most recently featured Bek Abdullayev, founder of Super Dispatch as well as several local entrepreneurs and investors at an event last summer at Plexpod Westport Commons. Some success stories include Zaarly, 1 Minute Candidate and Little Hoots, an idea founder Lacey Ellis fleshed out during Startup Weekend.
This year, the Grow With Google initiative will also provide participants with additional training and tools.
“Google identified Kansas City as a tier one city that they chose to support,” Coler said. “So we’re actually one of the first handful of Startup Weekends to get this Grow With Google funding.
“This one is probably going to the most interesting one that I’ve ever partaken in,” he added, noting he has been an organizer of Kansas City’s event for the past four years.
The Startup Weekend team is expecting 100 participants, 20 mentors and five judges, Coler said. The tentative list of judges includes Adrienne Haynes, founder of SEED Law, Heather Spalding, co-founder of Cambrian, Riddhiman Das with ZOLOZ, and Jennifer Rosenblatt with MusicSpoke, among others.
This year’s list of volunteers, mentors and judges is posted on Techstars’ website and will be continuously updated leading up to Startup Weekend, Coler added. Mentors are still needed.
It is expected to be Coler’s last year organizing the event, so he’s looking for someone to whom he can pass the torch.
“We’re looking for the next generation of Startup Weekend organizers to help continue to make this amazing program still have a heartbeat in Kansas City,” he said.