Competition comes second at Startup Weekend Dublin

In this week’s column Kehlan writes from Google HQ at Startup Weekend Dublin. He looks at why competition has come secondary to skills and learning.

If you ever get a chance to end up in Google HQ in Dublin, take the opportunity. It is a great example of the function, design and practicality a building should be.

I’m reliably informed that the walkway that arches over the street was tested in a Boeing wind tunnel so as not to disrupt the air flow dynamic of Barrow Street.

On the outside looking in, people usually see the building as ostentatious. Step inside however, and a different story emerges.

The building is designed to connect with the worker. Everything you need is under one roof including a gym, sleeping areas and event spaces.

Google expects results, but it also gives its employees the platform to maximise that work.

On Saturday, I met a ‘doogler’. Google lets some employees bring their dogs to work. They come into the office and become part of the team.

None of this is designed for the sake of indulgence. It’s all designed to ask yourself one simple question, why would you ever want leave?

Startup Weekend is a simple design. You come armed only with an idea and the will to share it. It could be an idea that’s been lingering in your mind for while or one which came to you on the Dart on the way here.

It doesn’t really matter where it comes from, so long as you have the bravery to pitch it in front of a room full of people. The point is that you at least try. If you’re lucky enough you’ll get enough votes to form a team and work on your startup idea over the weekend.

From the start on Friday evening, people were working on their pitches. One of the participants told me that she had been practising in the car all the way up from Wicklow. She knew what she was going to say, that is until she got on stage.

Things change when you only have 60 seconds to sell your idea. Out of 60 participants, 43 pitched an idea. Ireland is not short of entrepreneurial thinking.

Daniel Johnsen was the weekend’s facilitator. Daniel has flown in from Kentucky to be here for the event.

His demeanour is charming and his relaxed attitude adds a sense of calm to the storm. Anybody who presents to a crowd in flip flops is worthy of being part of any startup community. He tells me that he’s very impressed.

“Y’all should be very proud of what you have here in Ireland,” he says.

“I’ve been to over 30 of these around the world and what you have here is pretty special. You have a community that cares. People want to help startups and be involved. Nothing produces start-ups like community”.

Having an idea isn’t the only prerequisite. You need the resolve to see it through. Validating the idea means no sitting at desks.

You can’t find customers on a computer. I bump into one of the teams heading out the door.

The team, Home Grow Heroes, wants to help people who grow their own produce at home to sell them.

Andy Macken, the person who came up with the idea, is taking his team down to Grand Canal Square to talk to shoppers and supermarkets. Getting validation from your target market is key to the final pitch.

A great pitch will usually beat out a great product in these types of competitions. You have a great product or service, but unless you convince the judges, you’re never going to win.

Convincing investors to part with money will be key to the future your start-up. For that, you need show validation, team connections and most importantly, how you can drive the company on.

Gene Murphy, entrepreneur in residence at Bank of Ireland, explains why the event isn’t about creating a start-up factory.

“Building start-ups are tough enough on their own. We’re trying to push people to gain new skills and think about how they validate ideas. It may look like a start-up competition but really it’s about learning the foundations of progressive idea movement; so taking the idea and finding out if it does or doesn’t work.

“Our job is to facilitate a thinking process rather than a competition process. Getting people to think differently in their approach to starting a business or moving on an idea,” he says.

People from big corporates come to these events too, looking for ways to make their own organisations leaner. The rapid pace of technological change means ideas in companies can’t take months to be validated.

Organisations are looking to get leaner and remove the long process of getting new products to market. The knock-on effect is that sales and marketing are needed to move quicker and decisions are taken more rapidly. The organisation learns how to move faster.

Ireland’s startup scene has been driven by events like these. You’d be hard-pressed to find a day that there isn’t something happening for startups.

Ireland is embracing a culture; not just of creating a business but creating a successful business. Things are too far gone to accept lip service, the community expects now. That has changed everything.

Sitting in the basement of Google HQ early on Sunday is an interesting experience. In the air hangs the chatter of groups carefully planning their pitches.

The smell of coffee hits as you walk through the door. Crumbs from danishes and croissants fly from the keyboard.

Four big screens emerge from the ceiling as people take their seats for the final catch-up before practising the pitches they’ll deliver to mentors in a just few minutes.

People are making notes and going through their pitch routine. Two friends are laughing about what you probably shouldn’t say in a pitch to judges. People are making connections and friendships.

Getting your pitch right is important, but its okay to get it wrong too. Daniel mentions that no one will call you on getting it wrong; it’s a learning curve, he says.

It’s good place to be. Why would you leave?


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