I’m fortunate to work with a team of change agents. We help large organizations overcome disruption and emerge into modern companies by adopting the agility of startups and the spirit of entrepreneurs. One way we stay close to the entrepreneurial culture in Chicago is to be immersed in innovation ecosystems. So naturally I’m excited to participate in Techstars Startup Weekend Chicago May 11-13.
During Startup Weekend, budding Chicago entrepreneurs spend 54 hours developing a prototype for new business ideas. At the end of the weekend, they pitch their idea to a panel of judges a la Shark Tank. My colleague Kevin McCann is part of the organizing team, and Moonshot is a gold sponsor. In addition, my colleague Amish Desai and I have a really fun job: we’re meeting with every team to give advice and ask questions in the form of mentorship.
The way Techstars describes it, during Startup Weekend, anyone is welcome to pitch their startup idea and receive feedback from their peers. Then “teams form around the top ideas (as determined by popular vote) and embark on a three-day frenzy of business model creation, coding, designing, and market validation.”
So why would anyone subject themselves to 54 hours of frenzied ideation? Well, quite simply, for the love of learning. Startup Weekend is about emerging innovators learning what it means to be an entrepreneur. It’s about developing a promising idea into a commercially viable product prototype or learning through trial and error why an idea might not survive the vagaries of the marketplace. It’s about introducing aspiring entrepreneurs to the innovation ecosystem of which Moonshot is part.
I have always been fascinated by innovation ecosystems such as the 1871 working space where Moonshot is headquartered. Entrepreneurs can develop smart ideas, but they need an ecosystem of stakeholders ranging from investors to educational institutions to accelerate the uptake of ideas. Members of the entire Chicago innovation ecosystem aim to do just that during Startup Weekend. I want to continue to be part of that connective tissue.
Startup Weekend also matters because the entire event is like an homage to the power of ideas. Every team starts with a raw idea for a product. As a team coach, I have no idea going into the weekend what those ideas will consist of. And that’s what thrills me: the mystery of not knowing what the teams will bring to the table but knowing I’ll be invigorated by fresh thinking.
I’ll bring to the startup teams tools that help bring rigor to idea development. I’m steeped in practices such as design sprints for rapidly prototyping ideas (I teach digital product management at DePaul’s School of Computing and Digital Media when I’m not working with clients). I’ll draw from a series of customer-centric practices and techniques based on Moonshot’s FUEL methodology, which helps modern product teams accelerate growth through Design Thinking and Lean Innovation.
Many of the ideas coming out of Startup Weekend will turn out to have little or no commercial application – but so long as a hopeful entrepreneur learns why their idea may end up not making it to prototype stage, then Startup Weekend will have done its job. After all, the great innovators such as Amazon leave a lot of ideas on the cutting room floor for every Echo that comes along.
I can’t wait for the weekend. No matter what happens, I’ll emerge invigorated by being around the next generation of entrepreneurs fueling the Chicago innovation ecosystem.