Startup Weekends are 54-hour events where developers, designers, marketers, product
managers and startup enthusiasts come together to share ideas, form teams, build products,
and launch startups.
I got involved with Startup Weekend four years ago because I firmly believe that entrepreneurship is the most powerful way to build a strong, sustainable, innovation-based economy. This is volunteer work and those of us that put on these events do it because it's inspiring and immensely satisfying. Over the last four years, I've had numerous people tell me that Startup Weekend changed their lives. A colleague approached me recently to say that it was attending Startup Weekend that inspired him to train in a new discipline and ultimately get work as a web developer at my company, The Working Group. I ran into someone else at an event who said that he took his idea from Startup Weekend, won the prestigious Launch Conference in Silicon Valley, went on to raise significant venture capital and is still going strong. Groupnotes, the winners of last November's Startup Weekend Toronto have quit their previous jobs, moved to Waterloo and been accepted into the Hyperdrive accelerator to pursue their entrepreneurial dream.
Stories like these remind me how much of an impact these events have had.
There is no doubt that Startup Weekend is doing amazing work on a global level. By connecting with local organizers like me around the world, Startup Weekend has managed to put on over 1,200 events, exposing more than 100,000 people to this form of experiential learning. "No Talk, All Action..." as their motto says, is making a real difference, which I've seen firsthand at every event we've held in Toronto since 2010. This past weekend, we decided to do something different and focus the entire event on the Education sector; it was the first Startup Weekend EDU event held in Canada.
I'm passionate about this concept because I know that the education sector needs help both locally and globally. Thankfully, Startup Weekend is not the first to realize this and there is currently substantial disruption around EdTech. Organizations like the Khan Academy, Udemy, Lynda.com and local companies like Desire2Learn and Top Hat are building big businesses by changing the way that people learn and gain access to education.
Having two young children myself and coming from a family of educators, I'm regularly reminded that we need to find ways to connect the people with the problems (teachers, education administrators, early childhood educators, K12 students, University/College students, etc) with people that can help to create new and innovative solutions to these problems. That's exactly what a Startup Weekend event does well. It starts by assembling people with all sorts of backgrounds, experiences and skillsets, then mashes them together to see what comes out the other end. You'd be surprised what can actually be achieved over 54 hours.
Whether the ideas that came out of this weekend's event are viable as businesses or not, over 175 people, including educators, developers and designers met each other, made connections and built relationships in a fun, intensive learning environment. This lays the foundation for future collaboration and innovation in the Education space for years to come. Canada has many issues in the education space that need to be addressed.
With people actively engaged and motivated through the Startup Weekend community, there is no doubt that we can have an impact and build creative solutions to help solve some of these problems. In fact, I'm pretty sure I saw at least four or five ideas this weekend that have the potential to do just that. More importantly, everyone involved in the weekend event now knows that they have the tools and network to make a real difference. Startup Weekend is an amazing enabler and now we've brought a new group of educators and students into the mix.
Having seen Startup Weekend grow and flourish in Toronto over the last four years, I have no doubt that we will see a game changing education project come out of this local entrepreneurial community -- either directly or indirectly. And I won't be surprised anymore that lives are changed along the way.
Congratulations to the winners of this past weekend's Startup Weekend Toronto EDU:
1st Learning Loop
2nd Smarty Pants
Follow Chris Eben on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ceben