I didnt know what to expect when my colleague agency Coplex contacted me about being a coach at Startup Weekend Phoenix last weekend. It sounded, exciting but what did I know about being a startup coach?
The folks at Coplex explained that I could offer my support as I have launched a number of successful ventures such as our own coworking space in Phoenix, the Nativa multicultural agency as well as a business intelligence tool named OYE. With that knowledge I signed on and was soon underway.
I was excited about the opportunity to meet entrepreneurs and startup junkies in the central Phoenix area. I was right, it was a great experience and I met about 70 smart, energetic, friendly people who had specific goals and wanted to accomplish them quickly. It was all very inspiring for a guy that has been an entrepreneur for six years and sometimes forgets the feeling of doing something new.
There was so much energy in the room, right from the start on Friday night when all 70 participants first met for dinner. We started off with icebreaker activities and I was happy I was there to get to know the individual participants in a more relaxed environment before everyone got busy building our their ideas. Now that we all knew each other, anyone who had a startup idea was invited to come to the front of the room and take 60 seconds to explain it. After hearing roughly 25 pitches, the audience was then asked to vote for the ideas that they thought were strongest and most in demand. Seven ideas survived from the voting and the most interesting thing to me was seeing how the participants began forming teams around those 7 ideas. Most of the people who pitched an idea that did not survive in fact wound up becoming a team member for another idea that was selected, which showed a real sense of community amongst the startup crowd.
Saturday was the longest day for the participants, most arrived in the morning and stayed until near midnight working on their idea with their teammates. My role was to offer any advice from the perspective of someone who has launched a number of companies including a tech startup in the last year (OYE). I mainly tried to provide feedback on their presentations among the guidelines of how the judges would vote on them such as if the idea was viable and if they could prove interest from their target market.
When I returned Sunday, teams seemed even sharper and focused on delivering a dynamite presentation to the judges later that day. There was a lot at stake including consulting from numerous services and free coworking space from our own Coworking on 15th Ave as well as Co+Hoots. I reviewed almost every slide deck from the teams and gave my advice on how to make them flow better, how to improve graphics, and ensuring that they covered the main points while fully explaining their idea.
Near 6pm on Sunday night the teams got together to pitch their final ideas to the judges. Although the teams hadn’t slept much there was enough RedBull to perk up the sleepiest member. Everyone did great, but there were three that stood out above the others. The third place prize went to an iPhone app named How You See Me that allowed you to rate yourself and then find out how your friends rated you in the categories of integrity, friendliness, and more.
The second place prize went to a team that I really was able to spend a lot of time with, Team ThinkSync. They are developing an amazing piece of software that allows users that download it to never lose an idea by quickly audio recording the idea from their phone, and then sharing it with their friends and colleagues and then further building the idea with their collaboration. It is an app that symbolizes the future in virtual team collaboration.
The top prize went to a team led by a scientist who are building an application named Plato that helps scientists categorize their experiments via an online application so they can quickly and easily find them for later use. This idea was very strong as the team had gone the extra mile in validation as their presentation showed actual scientists holding an iPad displaying the Plato application as well as a quote from them stating why they would use it.
Overall, Phoenix Startup Weekend was an excellent experience and I highly recommend it for anyone considering launching their idea. Here is the official wrapup from the organizers as well as a Flickr stream that gives you a great idea of how the event flowed. I look forward to doing it again next year.