Can you make a franchise out of cultural collectives? The organizers of Startup Weekend, a non-profit that gives developers and business minded entrepreneurs 72 hours to work on their ideas with mentors and technical help, believe that is happening.
If CEO Marc Nager has his way with Startup Weekend, sparking the idea of entrepreneurship, and building the cultural value system that promotes innovation, should be as easy as knowing which aisle to walk down to get potato chips.
Startup Weekend, a startup ecosystem for developers and non-technical founders, started as a bootstrapped idea to get people in the same room to work on challenging ideas and hopefully spin up a business out of it. It’s now a global non-profit, stimulating economic growth by re-introducing the idea of entrepreneurship in a packaged weekend, exposing anyone with a great idea and the knowledge or coding chops to build a solution, to a whole weekend of potential growth and mentorship.
The non-profit is in more countries than Starbucks, a fact recently tweeted out during an annual conference they put on in Brazil.
According Nager, a bearded, lanky thirty-something, that’s evidence that people everywhere are looking for self-sustaining models that reward entrepreneurship, an idea that is not as recognized in other parts of the world.
"Being able to pull someone in … putting them into a position where they are being asked to share their ideas. That just doesn’t happen [in other countries]. When you are unleashing this new thing and giving them a safe haven, that starts to have its ripple effects," says Nager.
Putting the startup ecosystem in one world is like bringing new information into a system that needs that information to kick into action. "We are bringing together all stakeholders in the ecosystem. We want to make it self-sustaining" for after the weekend, says Nager.
The challenge that must be overcome, says Nager, is working through all the clutter and noise that gets in the way of entrepreneurial spirit. People follow the trends, and the hype, and there is so much noise out there that often people mistake the noise for the values and the shared beliefs that are the backbone of economies—the culture that keeps everyone together.
A lot of tension results. And sometimes lethargy, which is why Startup Weekend also takes a curatorial approach and tries to introduce the best mentors, and the best partners to the program.
"We as individuals want to create value, and we want to do things that we are passionate about. The manifestation of this through entrepreneurship is that, wow, I can find others that believe the same things I do, want to solve the same problems, and want to share them same values," says Nager.
Using the analogy of a wayward shopper walking through Walmart, Nager says that you can go into a huge store and you don’t know what you are looking for, but that Startup Weekend is trying to give you all the information that you need to make sure that the right people and the right ideas you are shopping for are right there.
"If you know the aisle number, and you know you are going to be looking for potato chips, you are going to find other people looking for potato chips and maybe you are going to have something in common," he says.
Nager made these comments after doing a SXSW Interactive panel with Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, about the importance of building community and the role startups play in building economies.
Hsieh runs the Downtown Project in Las Vegas, which is a recruitment effort to bring startups and entrepreneurs into the desert city most known for gambling. The idea is that entrepreneurs can find common purpose in being with other entrepreneurs and therefore generate whole new economies out of the last six or seven years of economic doldrums.
Just as a rising tide lifts all boats, both Hsieh and Nager lead organizations that are relying on grouping people together in that way to lift everyone up.
"It comes down to one of those impacts. The impact we have with Startup Weekend is highest with the cultural element. It’s bringing people together and giving them the notion that ‘I can share an idea,’" says Nager. "We want to create value and we want to do things we are passionate about."
[Image: Flickr user Micheal J]