This past weekend I had the privilege of facilitating Startup Weekend Charlottesville! What an amazing time I had seeing so much of our nations history and meeting some amazing startupers along the way. Their Startup Weekend tshirts had this self proclaimed motto: ” Charlottesville. Kind of like the Silicon Valley, but with History!” I sent a picture of this over to Eric Ries and Dave McClure to see if I could get a reaction out of them, but still nothing… 🙂
This was the first time the state of Virginia had a Startup Weekend and in the initial conversations with the lead organizer, Mark Green, he seemed a little hesitant and uncertain of how the event would be received by the community. The city of Charlottesville has a population of roughly around 200k but it packs a lot of bunch within the small town. Probably the biggest strength this community has is the University of Virginia which is the heart of this town. For 2012 it ranked 2nd for Top Public School, 5th for Best Undergraduate Program, 5th for Best Undergraduate Business School, 13th for the Darden Graduate School of Business Administration and 25th Best National University. This research university is fostering some of the nations top talent and also supplying most of the jobs in this city. To completely shut out any doubts, the event sold out extremely quick hosting roughly 65 participants (which was the most our venue could hold) with 30 pitches that we narrowed down to a top 9 we formed teams around.
Friday evening was kicked off by probably one of the best keynotes I have seen at a Startup Weekend by Professor Saras D. Sarasvathy of the Darden School of Business Administration. She was engaging, high energy and has a ton of expertise in the field of what separates the successful startups from the non-successful. For more information on her, please check out her research on Effectual Action here. Hopefully someone was filming it and can post a video soon! One of the key points she wanted to stress to the new entrepreneurs in the room was to not just gather and listen to feedback from just anyone, but from ones who “will put skin in the game”. Whether it is the Lean Startup methodology or Effectuation, the point is everyone is willing to give feedback on your new concepts but the closer you can get to an actual customer the greater feedback you can iterate and build into your product. The sooner you can find someone who will PAY for your product/service, the sooner you can receive the iterative feedback you need to steer you in the right direction.
The entire event was filled with great energy throughout the weekend but I believe there was one big takeaway that any community needs to truly understand to be “kind of like Silicon Valley” and that is the importance of connectedness within your established community. Whether you are Charlottesville, Seattle, or Silicon Valley, there are these small networks and groups that are established within your city. What makes for a thriving tribe are the platforms that bring the groups together with the exact same goals and leverage the power of a tribe to achieve things far greater than they could on their own. This isn’t reinventing the wheel to create a thriving ecosystem, it is building platforms of communication.
One of the great values Startup Weekends has on new communities is that we are able to bring representatives from different groups together to work on projects that start these new conversations that may have never happened before. Whether it was two student groups within the University of Virginia that haven’t cross pollinated to create innovation or the private investing groups coordinating with the university to create new ways of experiential education, so many times I was hearing that this event was a genesis of the conversations that need to happen to create new innovation but have been so difficult to start beforehand.
The great thing about Silicon Valley is that the barriers to reach out and communicate to anyone within its community is extremely low. The amount of support and co-creation within its community is a key part to its success as a whole. How can you break down these walls and allow for more conversations between groups happen? Once you can do that, you may be able to be more than just “Kind of Like Silicon Valley” but your own innovative ecosystem. 😉
Thanks to everyone is Charlottesville! It was an amazing event and if you haven’t been to the city you need to check out this beautiful small town which hosts so much of our nations history.
Best of luck!