Reflections on Startup Weekend Cedar Rapids

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Startup Weekend Cedar Rapids. It was an awe-inspiring experience for me.

This is the third Startup Weekend I've attended, but the first one I've truly participated in - previously, I've attended as a reporter and hung out on the sidelines.

This time: I pitched an idea on Friday night and was honestly a little surprised that several people wanted to spend their weekend working on it (I'm shy, I'd never done that before). But I had pitched it as a project to do good in Cedar Rapids, and people really do care about this community. By Saturday night, we had our product mostly functional and had circled around and around the business model canvas (we eventually settled on not carrying the service forward as a business, but donating it to an existing nonprofit that many of us want to get more involved with). Sunday was about finishing touches and getting the word out, and by Sunday night, I was pitching No Zombie Homes to a full house (again, a little intimidating - our idea centered around abandoned homes in Cedar Rapids and the City Manager was sitting right there as a judge).

In other words: there was no standing on the sidelines.

Needless to say, doing stuff is very different than writing about stuff. Here are some of the things that strike me about the experience:

Get a room full of creative people together, and suddenly lame icebreakers aren't lame.

In every Startup Weekend, Friday night is about getting to know each other and warming up to share ideas. We did a 90-person rock-paper-scissors war before splitting into teams for "half baked," an activity where we had to come up with a business based on two random words. (Kiran wrote more about this.)

I'm sure we've all been to some corporate retreat or team building activity where we've done similar activities with people who are clearly not into it (right?). That never seems to be the case at Startup Weekend. Every single person in the room seems totally electrified.

How do they do it? I'm not sure. But it's awesome.

A rollercoaster of emotions.

Part of why I wanted to participate this time was because I wanted to experience more of what it is like to be an entrepreneur - to empathize a bit more with the people I write for.

After the high of Friday night, Saturday especially was all over the map emotionally.

When we discovered a similar product, my stomach sank. When we couldn't figure out exactly who our target user was, I felt nervous. When my teammates started talking over each other I felt like an exasperated parent. When we disagreed, I felt frustration. And when someone questioned the premise of our idea, I couldn't help but to feel a little defensive.

All this, for a project I knew was just one weekend. I can't even fathom how entrepreneurs who take the plunge do this with their savings, their energy, their entire livelihoods.

Ask, and you shall receive.

I knew Startup Weekend would bring together enthusiastic and skilled people from business, technology and design.

When I pitched an idea about tracking abandoned homes and proposing solutions, I had no idea that these specific people would be in the audience...

- A lawyer specializing in foreclosure and real estate

- An engineer with a love for historic preservation

- An architecture student with a focus on green building

- A Cedar Rapidian who has already purchased a few of these homes with his fiance, in hopes of revitalizing them

...and more.

I really couldn't have asked for a more perfect set of skills for the project that became No Zombie Homes. And if I hadn't asked, I never would have found them.

Another way to say this might be: your ideas get better when you share them. (I've heard Andy Stoll say this often.)

Expectations matter.

There are always a few people who don't come back after Friday night. From what I've seen, these tend to be people who only want to work on their idea, so if it doesn't get picked they have no interest in joining another team.

I went into the weekend hoping to meet new people, learn something new and be part of a team that built something functional and useful. I was overwhelmed with how great I felt about all of these things by Sunday night.

Other people might come to Startup Weekend determined to be on the winning team (above - check out a CBS2 feature on winners Major Trading Cards). Or to really start a business (if you can do that with people you just met - more power to you). Or just to build something awesome.

All of these goals and expectations are perfectly legitimate. They could all also drastically change how a participant feels and acts.

Our facilitator reminded us to keep our goals and expectations in mind as we moved through the weekend. I found this helpful in shaping my experience, I hope others did too.

Prepare your mind AND body.

Startup Weekend made for three long days. We also had such great food sponsors, it was easy to over-indulge. (From a bacon and beer happy hour to sugary breakfasts and treats to soul food in 24 hours, topped off with lots of coffee and soda.)

Again, full-time entrepreneurs: how do you do this?

It takes a village.

 

David Tominsky was the main man who pulled this event together, but the great group of volunteers and sponsors (like the food sponsors) pushed it over the top.

I want to be sure to give a shoutout to the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance for donating the space. It really was perfect for spreading out and letting creativity flow.

What's next?

I hope to see this excitement carry forward. Will we be seeing new faces at open coffee and 1 Million Cups?

What else can we do to keep this awesome momentum going? Let us hear it in the comments.

Sarah

More from Startup Weekend:

Meet the 8 teams of the inaugural Startup Weekend Cedar Rapids via Silicon Prairie News

8 companies to pitch at Startup Weekend Cedar Rapids via The Des Moines Register

We've changed our name to FullStack via (the former) Cramer Dev - Josh Cramer announced the change during his speech Friday night

Reporting from inside Startup Weekend Cedar Rapids via We Create Here

- Inspired by connections, ideas built at Startup Weekend Cedar Rapids via We Create Here

Big ideas at Startup Weekend in Cedar Rapids via KCRG-TV9

An idea out of left field via CBS2

Baseball loyalty program takes top prize at Startup Weekend via Des Moines Register (shoutout to several of our FusionFarm colleagues who were on this team)

- More awesomeness than you can handle via the #SWCR14 hashtag on Twitter.

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