Startup Weekend brings together entrepreneurs to work in teams, pitch ideas and then build a business model, product and market-test for the top ideas – all in one weekend. Their work then goes to a panel of judges.
The next Houston event will be Friday through Sunday. The winning team will compete in Global Startup Battle with other winners.
Q: What do you think is distinctive about those who come to the event?
A: A range of people show up. Some have no idea what a startup is. Some are interested in learning what it’s all about. On the other end, we have people who have done a startup, decided to do something new and just want to meet people and be a part of a team. Most people are there because they are open to networking and want to meet people. You see people come in on Friday and they don’t necessarily know what to expect, but by mid-Saturday you see the passion in their eyes and everyone is excited about building something over the weekend and then presenting something on Sundays.
Q: What would you change about the weekend if you could?
A: Startup Weekend is really geared toward technology startups, and in particular toward Web and mobile development ideas. What we would like to change is to get more software developers and graphic designers involved. Usually about 30 percent of the people who show up are developers and designers, where in other cities it’s higher, so it becomes more difficult for teams to implement something over the weekend.
Q: How do startups that begin on this weekend differ from other startups?
A: One of the main distinguishing factors is not all the team members know each other before going into the event, which has its pros and cons. I look at Startup Weekend as a mini-dose of the real world. You have over the course of the weekend people who form into companies, heated debates, people who break off and leave and go to another company and mergers and acquisitions. That a lot of teams form right there is distinguishing because you’re hyper-focused and trying to deliver something by the end of the weekend.
Q: What are some startups that have grown into successful companies from Houston?
A: The guys who started TheSquareFoot were at the first one in 2011. The guys who did Tapja are still working on their stuff. There are a couple of other people that I’ve talked to that are still doing stuff. They may have just pivoted into other ideas. We’ve had five or six companies that have formed after coming to Startup Weekend.
Q: Local tech enthusiasts have long been trying to make Houston rival Silicon Valley. What would it take?
A: There’s been an ongoing discussion on the Houston Startups Facebook group about this topic and we’ve had several ad hoc events, roundtables and get-togethers to talk about how to build the tech and startup community in Houston. There are different ideas going around. One is having a good central location where people can get together. There are co-working spaces set up in Houston right now but in my opinion they’re either too broad in focus or just in the wrong location.
It’s also largely a chicken-and-egg problem. A lot of cities that have taken off – Denver, Chicago and New York – have had one or two home-run companies. After they took off, they had people who had the money and know-how to build the community. We have a very diverse market because we have energy and medical, but if we’re specifically looking at (Web and consumer) technology startups, then we’re very much lacking. We need leadership and capital to drive that. The people who have capital here are risk-averse, and things aren’t going to shift until we get people who are willing to take on more risk.
Purva Patel is a freelance writer. firstname.lastname@example.org