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Starting a Business in 54 Hours

How do large corporations develop? What does it take to catapult from a seemingly unique idea or thought to having 80,000+ people and market cap of over 100 million? I have always been enamored by the concept of complexity. Not just algorithmic and program complexity but complexity in areas such as stocks and business. Ok, you guessed right, I’m an engineer (more specifically, a Software Engineer), and as an engineer, I really like to question how things work and develop.

During Startup Weekend I received answers to some of my questions. I participated in an event unlike anything I have ever done before. Portland Startup Weekend, a 54-hour sprint based event, was my first real exposure to the rigors of building a product, brand, and consumer base from the ground up. Truly successful companies, large and small alike, have mastered these three key areas, but probably not over the course of 54 hours! Of course there is more to this equation than those three facets. Portland Startup Weekend was a true test of will, collaboration, team work, and downright engineering rigor.

My day job actually sponsored me to go to the event, so after shutting off my work laptop on Friday, I headed down to Portland where I took off my official badge and put on my startup nametag. Participants came from all walks of life: the homemaker who was there to pitch the time saving idea that she had been mulling over for years; the business student who was doing this for credit; even the occasional small business owner who was just looking for extra hands! At about 7:30pm, the fun truly began as 45 people pitched ideas that they felt could be turned into real businesses. Out of this flurry of pitches came a natural selection and we identified 15 of the ideas that we thought would be the most viable. One team was formed for each of these 15 ideas and the real work (which was actually more FUN then work) began.

As teams began to discuss their ideas, passionate arguments and counter arguments erupted about why the idea would or would not work. Ironically, it reminded me of a few technical meetings I have had at Intel, and the ability to influence became key. Now I know why Intel offers a several in-house classes on influencing and managing up! As the evening wore on, teams moved from talking about the general initial product idea to the finer details of implementation. As you can guess, most of the initial 15 ideas changed and manifested themselves in new way based on the actual team members that were working on them. Some did not even reach a consensus until day two – talk about cutting it close!

On the second day, some team members built websites, business models were generated, and actual market research was conducted. I really believe that, regardless of how cool/useful/innovative your product is, without a viable market it simply will not sell. Luckily, my team realized this as well and we made sure to prime our final presentation in a way that would not only prove that our product could be made, but that it would sell like ice on a summer day!

When day three started , the pressure was definitely on, as most teams were still scrambling to shore up their minimum viable product. You could cut the tension with a knife and the hands on the clock seemed to race by when finally the moderators called the design portion to a close.

Sunday at 6:30PM marked the the final leg of our 54 hour sprint when we began final presentations and product demos. A group of experienced judges, investors, and startup CEOs made their decisions on which product they felt was the most viable and best executed. The questions they asked helped highlight the amazing achievements of the teams and pushed them to think about taking their startups to the next level after the competition ended..

Looking back, although my team did not win I am impressed with what everyone was able to create in such a short period of time and grateful to Intel for sponsoring my participation! I’m also still feeling really inspired to create a startup… Who wouldn’t be after that weekend?!

What did you do with your weekend?

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