It's Time for Startup Weekend: Are You Ready to Pitch?

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It's that time of year again and budding entrepreneurs are preparing their one-minute pitch for the spring Startup Weekends. All over the world, Startup Weekend organizers are getting ready for the 54-hour experience by recruiting sponsors, nailing down the venue, and ordering a truckload of beer and pizza (or whatever is the equivalent in their country). This May, 79 Startup Weekends are being held around the globe, from Kansas City, MO to Sevilla, Spain, Caxias do Sul, Brazil, Siem Reap, Cambodia, Johannesburg, South Africa, Chengdu, China, and Los Angeles, CA just to name a few. 

In Kansas City, Startup Weekend will be held this Friday, May 29th through Sunday, May 31st as part of the kick-off of 1WeekKC (our week to celebrate entrepreneurship in KC). Our fellow accelerator friends at Think Big Partners are hosting the event in their impressive new space at 1712 Main Street, 2nd Floor, Kansas City, MO. And our own Steve Stava, from Creelio (a 2014 SparkLabKC graduate) is one of the judges for the weekend along with Wes Bergman from BetaBlox. It promises to be a great week devoted to entrepreneurship in our startup city.

Why Startup Weekend?

Startup Weekend is one of those experiences that's hard to fully explain and understand until you have actually experienced it. It is the fastest and most furious 54-hours you'll ever go through. It's one of those "throw yourself in with both feet" kind of events. And the old adage is true — the more you put in, the more you get out!

We consider it to be one of the best ways to test the waters as an entrepreneur. It's low cost and low commitment in the big scheme of things, but you walk away with serious feedback on your idea and capabilities as a startup founder or early teammate. I know many corporate execs and cubical workers who have found their hidden entrepreneurial spirit at one of these events. Some have even gone on to start companies with ideas first explored at Startup Weekend. 

At a minimum, you will walk away from the weekend with energy and insights into how you can be more entrepreneurial if you decide to take the leap, or more intrapreneurial if you stay in your corporate job. A number of companies in Kansas City routinely encourage their employees to join in on the weekend just to spark a little creativity. And of course there are many folks that view the weekend as a way to see how much traction their idea really has and whether it's worth it to take the leap (or not!).

We of course love when entrepreneurs test their idea at Startup Weekend before applying for SparkLabKC. It's not only a great place to get feedback, but also a great test of potential teammates. We've had at least three companies in our program that have grown out of ideas from Startup Weekend.

How Does It Work?

Step 1: Buy a ticket at Startup Weekend KC. Sometimes the events get sold out, so get your ticket sooner rather than later. There are just a few days left!

Step 2: If you have an idea, work on your one-minute elevator pitch before Friday night. And yes, you really have only 60 seconds, or they yank you off the stage. If you pitch well, you are more likely to be picked!

Step 3: Show up on Friday night (5/29) at 6:30 pm. If you are pitching an idea to the crowd, you'll get in a line of 50-60 entrepreneurs who are all giving their one-minute pitch. If you're not, find a seat and start eyeing the idea you want to help build. Once everyone has pitched, the crowd will vote on the best ideas — usually about 10-12 ideas are picked. After another round to recruit for teammates, the games begin....

*Note: even if your idea is not picked, stick around and join a team. You'll still discover your entrepreneurial strengths in the process.   

Step 4: Spend the next 54 hours building your idea or the one you've joined, testing with potential customers, and crafting your six-minute pitch for Sunday afternoon. 

Step 5: Drink beer, eat pizza, make friends, think you can conquer the world, build something great, get very little sleep, think your idea is going to make billions... you get the picture.

Step 6: Practice your six-minute pitch and slide deck till you know it cold.

Step 7: Get up on stage when it's your turn and wow them with your team's brilliance. 

Perhaps you'll win one of the three places and get a few prizes, or you'll just be happy you participated. Any way you look at it, the weekend is one of the best ways to test what you are capable of as an entrepreneur, hands down. 

Tips to Nail Your Pitch

Your pitch starts with the one-minute version on Friday night and ends with the six-minute version on Sunday afternoon. Here are four tips that come from Steve Stava and Julie Edge of Creelio whose original idea for "Shop Startup" received the top votes on Friday night and won third place and best pitch on Sunday night in November 2012.

  • Tip #1: Know Your Audience

This is a room full of experienced and aspiring entrepreneurs. Make sure your pitch is something they can relate to and solves a real problem that they can wrap their arms around.

  • Tip #2: Have Great Graphics

If you can recruit a designer to your team, do so. Pitches with strong visuals tell a better story, and great stories win. 

  • Tip #3: Get Potential Customer Feedback

Your idea is only as good as who will buy it. So, get potential customer feedback during the weekend and incorporate testimonials in your presentation. 

  • Tip #4: Start Planning the Pitch on Friday night

Waiting until the last minute to prepare your pitch is the kiss of death for many teams. Get your presentation outlined on Friday night. It will help the team focus their energies on filling in the holes on Saturday. As soon as you have something workable, start practicing. As the details fill in Saturday and early Sunday, you'll be able to fine tune it. 

Final Thoughts

Good luck with your Startup Weekend experience! We'll be watching for the great ideas that come out of the weekend and may be ready for acceleration come January 2016! Our next couple of posts are dedicated to the "What now?" feeling that comes out of Startup Weekend... so stay tuned.

What are your tips for pitching a great Startup Weekend idea? Share them by tweeting @SparkLabKC.