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As a commercial lawyer, I often work with the founders of startups and small businesses.
Many of these founders got their taste for entrepreneurship at a local Startup Weekend. Some were even launching after a Startup Weekend.
But what if you’re not planning on starting your own business, and you plan to stick with your day job, is Startup Weekend still worth it?
I took part in Startup Weekend Dunedin in April 2018, and found that yes, Startup Weekend is hugely valuable, and not just for budding entrepreneurs.
If you don’t know what a Startup Weekend is, here’s a good summary provided by Startup Dunedin:
“At Startup Weekend you take an idea, form a team, validate your concept, build your prototype and present your work to a panel of esteemed judges in just 54 hours! The weekend is full of fun, good food, great company and a valuable learning experience that can be applied anywhere.”
From my experience, there are three main benefits you can get from attending a Startup Weekend. You learn heaps, you push yourself and you have fun.
Startup Weekend effectively crams in a large amount of learning into a short space of time. This is practical, trial-and-error based learning, so it really sticks with you.
There were a huge array of methods and theories that you can absorb over the weekend, how to start or run a business and how to validate your idea/market/customers.
Even if you don’t end up using the tools and ideas you learn, you’ll probably be able to help someone you know by passing on some tips.
At the very least it’s a great and cost-effective way of meeting any professional development requirements you have.
Aside from the obvious learning, I also learned a bit about myself. Going in, I’d done a little research, and got the feeling that technologically minded developers, and artistically inclined designers would be in high demand at a Startup Weekend.
They were. But there was also a lot of value added by people who didn’t fall in to one of those camps.
Our team had developers and a designer, and they were great. But we also had a distiller/hospitality expert, a logistics guru and a lawyer.
I’d like to think all of us had a lot to contribute, often in surprising or unexpected ways. It’s a great confidence boost to know that you have something to offer (even if you’re not yet sure what that is).
You also learn about others. I had always appreciated the value of a good eye for design, but Startup Weekend really drove it home.
Our designer/marketer took us through a brand creation workshop which really opened our eyes. He then turned our dreary slides into a really special pitch (and I can’t stress enough how vital this was).
In business and in life, it’s so important to have empathy, the ability to understand others. Startup Weekend is great for building empathy, as you work with people from a relatively wide range of occupations and backgrounds.
There were a number of times when someone really surprised me with an insightful comment or fresh opinion.
I’ll admit, I was a little nervous about attending Startup Weekend. I almost didn’t go, and to be perfectly honest I was starting to regret my decision about an hour in.
But then we got into teams, and started working on a business, and the nerves all just melted away. One of the themes of the weekend was about getting out of your comfort zone, as “that’s where the magic happens”. It might sound a bit cliched, but it was definitely true.
I did not want to get on stage and present our group’s pitch, and I kicked myself for volunteering, but I’m so glad I did it. I learnt more and developed more, simply through giving it a go and doing something I normally wouldn’t.
Likewise, I saw other people who, over the course of a weekend, developed their skills and changed their way of looking at the world. I don’t think I met a single person who hadn’t grown or changed in some way from the experience.
Another key point that I hadn’t appreciated was that you don’t necessarily have to finish the weekend and start a business straight away. It was clear early on that it’s still a win if you walk away thinking “nope, this is not for me”.
Part of the goal is to give you a taste of running a business, so you have a better idea of whether to pursue starting a business in the future.
Aside from learning and development, you also have a surprising amount of fun. It’s easy to get a bit caught up in the magic of it, and forget where you are.
Yes, it’s a whole weekend (excluding nights), but it can be genuinely enjoyable, and definitely an experience you won’t forget.
If you’re on the fence and wondering whether to go (or had never considered it), then I can wholeheartedly recommend Startup Weekend (especially the Dunedin one).
You don’t need to be an enthusiastic entrepreneur, or have an idea for the next Timely or Education Perfect.
You can simply go along and work with some talented and passionate people. You’ll even learn a few things that may help you in your day job (or just your life generally).
Startup Weekend Otepoti 2021 takes place in Dunedin from Friday, July 30 to Sunday, August 1, 2021.
- Wade Pearson is a commercial associate at law firm Gallaway Cook Allan, and also chairman of Startup Dunedin (but attended Startup Weekend before joining Startup Dunedin).