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Community Development, Startup Weekend Mission, Startups

Can we accelerate commercialization of research w/ Startup Weekend?

An interesting topic that has come up recently for myself is taking what we do with Startup Weekend and applying it into other realms. Most recently at universities around the world I have had a couple interesting asks on if we could apply our 54hr model specifically to university research. The main reason for this request is that there are so many research institutions around the world who allocate tons of resources towards research and the development that ultimately just sit idol and are wasted. Could Startup Weekend be a testing ground for new teams, new business models and new avenues to help accelerate the commercialization of I.P.?

A few months back I was approached by Monika Luniewska about doing a Startup Weekend University event that focused specifically on research and technology and she proved to have the right connections, background experience and team to make this happen, so last weekend I flew to Copenhagen, Denmark for our first pilot research focused university event. We called this event Startup Weekend Copenhagen Academia. It was held at the Technical University of Denmark and we were ended up forming 10 solid teams and had everything from “Next Generation EEG Devices” to “Crop bio shelters” to even “pizza!”.

There were a ton of learnings that happened that we can all utilize if you want to do something in this space yourself. Here are some specific insights from this research focused event:

1. Remember, SW is a testing environment

No matter what realm we utilize SW in, we need to understand that SW isn’t a factory that pumps out remarkable ideas.  We have had some remarkable startups come out of a Startup Weekend but we more so provide an environment where we can quickly test and validate ideas which accelerate our success of great startup execution.

Especially with this new vertical, I think we jumped to a conclusion due to the excitement of the potential that this event would be different. Since we had the innovations, all we had to do was spend time to develop business models and we would have some cutting edge ideas. The problem is, that is not what we are developed to do. We are in the space of experiential education. We facilitate the learning for entrepreneurs to know what it takes to get from concept to business idea. We facilitate the conversations of diving into your communities startup ecosystem. We facilitate the growth of confidence towards taking action. Good idea or not, the end idea isn’t what we are built to do and we always have to remember that.

2. Problem then Solution vs. Solution then Problem

When you are launching a startup, typically you have found a problem and you are trying to create a solution to solve that specific problem. This research event was basically the complete opposite because this was taking an innovation that has already been worked on and trying to find a problem and market to make it work. Not to say that this was a bad exercise, because I actually think it’s a great exercise for non-business people, but it just needs to be understood ahead of time. Business people were in demand for this type of event.

3. Create an optimal environment for Customer Development

This was the area that lacked the most because the bulk of the time was spent on trying to figure out a strong enough problem/market to fit the innovation. It turned more into a weekend long brainstorm than one that fit our motto of “No Talk. All Action”. It was quite “All talk. No Action.” Once teams found out who their target customer was, it was quite late into the evening where it was difficult then to get a hold of customers. Now, here are some potential solutions for this:

  • Have the innovations to be worked on figured out beforehand
  • If you do have the innovations pre-selected, you can bring in professionals who work in that field to participate in a customer development session on Saturday
  • Do Customer Development session as pre-events.

4. Our model is transformative to many different demographics

These guys were controlling a game of pong simply with their brain waves…

For this specific event, the majority of attendees were scientists and or people with an interest in research. I went around and talked to a handful of attendees and they discussed how they wouldn’t have attended a regular Startup Weekend event which was more focused on software but how this one connected with them because of the research element. By the end of the event the very first person I had a chance to talk with said that this event was “transformative”. It completely opened his mind to a new way of thinking and opportunity to approach things. It inspired him to take action, the ultimate measure of success for us at Startup Weekend.

Even though this event may not have been the most successful event we’ve every had, it had a great impact on the community involved. There is something about experiences that connects with the mind in a completely different way and transforms the routine way of thinking we regularly fall into.

All that being said, I think we do have the potential to help accelerate the commercialization of research. If accelerate means being able to more quickly test business models in a very lean way, founder dating and ecosystem development, this is what Startup Weekend exactly does. Some definite tweaks need to occur to ensure the quality for a new demographic of attendees, but if interested can be done.
I had an absolute amazing time in Copenhagen and I especially thank Monika for her generosity, hospitality and willingness to party
(her blacked out in front ;P ). If you get a chance, Denmark is a great place with a fantastic community.
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About Joey Aquino

@Joey_Aquino https://joeyaquino.wordpress.com/ http://www.linkedin.com/in/jdaquino

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