Can you start a business in 54 hours? Last weekend, I went to test that theory at a Startup Weekend event in Kitchener, Ont. Turns out you can, sort of.
I’m not the typical kind of person you’d think of when you say “startup.” As a full-time working mother with two kids I was not the target audience for this event. But Startup Weekend accepted anyone with the gumption to throw themselves into a room with a 100 other people who thought mashing together technology and ideas was an awesome concept.
I’ve always had ideas in my head but never really knew what to do with them. And the thought of having my own company sounds really cool. Who doesn’t think that? So when I checked out high-tech incubator Communitech’s website a few weeks back and saw it was holding a Startup Weekend that only cost $100 (less for students) I figured, ‘why not?’
So I convinced my husband to be a solo parent for a weekend while I went from Toronto to Kitchener, about an hour’s drive away, to see what it meant to start a business. Not that I had any idea what I was in for.
You can come to a Startup Weekend with an idea in mind, or you can go for the experience and join a team when you get there. I had an online fundraising idea for high-performance athletes in mind, so I crafted my pitch on the notes app of my smartphone and practiced it on the drive. You only get a minute to make your pitch. ‘I’ve made speeches before,’ I thought to myself, ‘this will be no problem.’
I arrived at Communitech’s offices – office envy, by the way, with lots of light, glass, open space and colour – and crammed into a room with about 100 other people mingling and noshing on Pepi’s Pizza. I knew no one in the room. With that in mind, I figured if I totally embarrassed myself, at least my chances of seeing those people again were slim. After a quick look around the room I was relieved to see I wasn’t the only woman, nor the oldest person.
You have 60 seconds – not a second more – and you can’t pitch an idea you’ve done significant work on.
Half of the 44 pitchers, including me, got cut off by the timers. I’d forgotten what it’s like to speak in front of an audience of 100 strangers. My legs started to shake 15 seconds into my prepared speech, but I think I got the key message out before they turned off the mic.
We all voted on the ideas we liked best, and those with the most votes won. People formed teams around the winning pitches, hoping to get a good mix of non-technical people, web designers and web developers.
My idea didn’t fly and it only got a few votes. When I texted my husband later he suggested that a room full of technology and business types was probably not the best audience for my idea. He had a point.
I joined Team Prioritor – along with seven guys – which aimed to produce a productivity app to make time management fun. Users get points for working on job-related tasks and points are deducted for going off course and playing on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and other time sinks. We also wanted to have real-life rewards such as coupons. As the Globe’s Careers web editor, where we reguarly write about ways to be more productive, I figured I could contribute to this effort.
And we’re off
This was my group: Brenden, whose pitch won and who works at a local startup called Sortable; Alex, who has his own company called Kids Great Minds that teaches kids about computers and programming; Gerry, who had worked at RIM and was volunteering at Communitech; Louis, a programming ace; Jack, a marketing and business student; Ben, another programming ace; and Robin, a business and computer science student. It was a good mix. And none of us knew each other.
The energy in the room was electric as all these minds joined together to create a vision. We sat down, gave a brief introduction to each other, and brainstormed our idea on large sheets of paper to try to suss out what was possible and what our vision was for the product we wanted to produce, in some form, in the next 54 hours.