Jim Harrer


Why everyone should experience a startup weekend.

Why everyone should experience a startup weekend.

I had the opportunity to attend a startup weekend here in my hometown of Bend, Oregon. In 54 hours, I watched 30 ideas, turn into 7 concepts that developed 7 companies including 7 websites, facebook pages and twitter feeds.  Each team conducted interviews with potential customers and defined their first release backlog for their Minimal Viable Product (MVP), embracing the Lean Startup principles discussed by author Eric Ries. Each team also created business models to help them understand their potential revenue opportunities, cost of goods sold, SG&A and profit potentials.  On Sunday night at 6pm, just 48 hours later, these new companies presented their five minute pitch deck to a group of judges.  One company had secured it's first paying customer, and another company was invited into a local World Market to test their homemade Venezuelan chocolates in the store. These teams gained an amazing amount of traction over the weekend. In this blog post, I plan to share some of the lessons learned from the weekend and how they can be applied to your startup.

I had heard of Startup Weekends being held in other cities, but I didn't give it a lot of thought.  Honestly, the idea of spending my entire weekend coaching teams didn't sound like a lot of fun.  Boy was I wrong.  Not only was it a ton of fun, it was insightful, rewarding and energizing. Let me explain...

Startup Weekend Bend OregonWhat is Startup Weekend you ask?

Startup Weekend is a global network of passionate leaders and entrepreneurs on a mission to inspire, educate, and empower individuals, teams and communities to turn a pitch into a startup. These are 54-hour events where developers, designers, marketers, product managers, business strategist and past Founders (acting as coaches), come together to share ideas, form teams, build products and launch startups.

Some people assume Startup Weekend is a tech driven event solely for software programmers, like a hack-a-thon, they're not. Startup Weekend draws a wider audience with broader skills: sales, marketing, business development managers, finance, UX/UI, web, CSS, data architects, past founders and current CEOs, CFOs, VCs and a handful of experienced Angel investors.  Add these skills early on, when the MVP is being defined, changes the  typical focus on "product development" to "customer development", asking some tough questions, early. Like, "Who is our customer, what is their persona, and how much would they pay to have this product or service?"  Add in the 54 hour time box around the event, you also bake in a real sense of urgency to move quickly into customer discovery.

What happened at Startup Weekend – Bend, Oregon.

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5 Great Startups in Bend, Oregon. A Startup Friendly City.

Bend Oregon EntrepreneurBend, Oregon, is a great place for entrepreneurs. Located in the center of the state, east of the cascade mountain range which provides year-round recreational activities (snow skiing, hiking, fishing and mountain biking) and collects most of the rainfall Oregon is known for. For example, Bend averages just 11.4 inches of rainfall each year and records 295 days of sun shine. This is far better than Portland's 43.5 inches of rain and 200 days of blue skies. The pure beauty of the area, pleasant weather, and year-round activities make it a great place to live. The friendliness of the people in the community make it the best place I’ve ever lived.

I’m not alone, about 76,000 people agree. What many people don’t know is, Bend has an active mentor community filled with successful executives from every industry. Technology, medical, oil & gas, education, legal, software, fashion, film, theatre and sports, just to name a few. We have a lot of 50 “something” retirees who live in the area, looking for worthy startups to mentor. This past saturday I met a retired Navy SEAL commander who is volunteering his time to help as a project manager.  "Failure is not an option" has a totally different meaning for him.  He's impressive and so are all of the other mentors I have come to meet and now call friends. 

With the help of EDCO and the leadership of Roger Lee and Jim Coonan, we’re starting to see these mentors organize. It started as an excel spreadsheet of local “Stable of Experts”, a list of people who are willing to help entrepreneurs in the area, often for no-charge. Now we have our Bend Venture Conference and the VentureBox business accelerator joining the ecosystem.

Recently, I had the pleasure of working with five startups in Bend, Oregon. All were in our VentureBox business accelerator program. We met each Wednesday (3pm-8pm), for 12 straight weeks.  The founders, working with local mentors develop their business strategy using customer development and other lean startup principles. These companies have taken off and are now seeking business and strategic partners, customers (beta testers and early adopters) and angel investors. 

Here are 5 great startups in Bend, Oregon.

JettStream, Inc. (http://JettStreamInc.com)JettStream-Logo-300pxl

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