Have a good startup idea? Develop it next month, and then sell it to Facebook for a billion bucks!
Rob Forrest’s fledgling idea would eventually blossom into the Speakeasy app and go on to win $10,000 as Richmond’s best startup in 2013. But the idea began germinating in Fall 2012 at the inaugural RVA startup Weekend.
“It was born there over the weekend,” said Joey Figaro, who helped develop Speakeasy with Forrest, about the event’s influence on the app.1 Front-end developer at Richmond-based MacRumors.com, Figaro will take part as a volunteer2 at this year’s Startup Weekend, which is co-sponsored by Google, and runs September 19th – 21st.
“The Startup Weekend really kind of changed my life,” Figaro said last week by phone. “I’ve always been attracted to the idea that Startup Weekend represents, and I’ve always been into problem solving. But I’ve always been kind of a shut-in. I was afraid of putting myself out there and having my ideas judged and criticized.”
He found that the 54-hour marathon3 event makes both wallflowers and social butterflies comfortable. “It’s really kind of anonymous since you’re contributing in such a large group…there’s no fear of failure,” Figaro said.
Next month’s Startup Weekend will pool together a new group of people4 with budding businesses or those eager to help develop others’ startup ideas. “The people with the ideas are the stars of Friday night,” Figaro said about the weekend schedule. After initial chitchatting and networking, those with business ideas line up and individually present them to the room on the first day of the event.
“The pitch is really what defines whether you’re going to be working on someone else’s idea or your own,” Figaro said. “So if you have an idea, and you want other people to work on it with you…people have to vote for it. If it gets enough votes to move on, it goes onto the next round and goes through the weekend.”
The weekend turns into a “frenzy of creative problem solving,” he said. “You get to witness these ideas kind of come to life, and you gravitate towards anything you might like. From there, it’s a matter of pushing as hard as you can to figure out how to make it viable and bring it out of the Startup Weekend and into the world.”
Those who either abstain from pitching, or whose pitch isn’t selected, then choose which pitches they want to develop. Each pitch gets its own team of people and a coach to create a customer-focused strategy.
On Saturday, teams begin working at 9:30 AM and go until about 12:00 AM. On Sunday, coaches help teams tweak and fine tune before each team presents their ideas at 5:00 PM to a group of five judges who’ll decide the weekend’s best startup.
Figaro said the city rests on fertile startup ground. “I absolutely believe there is a very, very strong undercurrent of startup activity, and just creatives in general, here in Richmond,” he said. “Everyone I’ve met that has an idea has had the tenacity to go out and execute on it or try it.”
He believes Startup Weekend can do for others what it did for him, which goes beyond Speakeasy’s success in 2012. “Being in that kind of environment, being turned on to problem solving without fear of criticism and receiving nothing but support, really lit me on fire and opened me up,” he said. “Gave me the courage and drive I needed to take it out of the weekend and apply it to my life now.”
RVA startup Weekend runs September 19th – 21st at the VCU Student Commons at 907 Floyd Avenue. Tickets range from $49 – $99.
Photo courtesy of RVA Start Up Weekend
- Then called Simple Survey. ↩
- Part of Figaro’s duties will be to bring fellow introverts out of their shell. “I’ll look for people who are maybe hiding in the shadows, and I’ll come and do my best to make them comfortable,” he said. ↩
- Started by Andrew Hyde in 2007 in Colorado. The model expanded, and over 1,000 similar events have been held around the world since. ↩
- Roughly 120 people participated last year. ↩