5 Great Startup Events for Rookies and Gurus Alike

    By | Small Business

    Taking the leap from a more structured environment to freedom and responsibility of entrepreneurship isn’t easy. When I think back to the day I made the decision to quit my job and start a business, one of the things I most desperately wanted was a way to test the waters.

    If you’re in the same state of mind, don’t worry. Today, there are a bevy of “startup intensives” that can give you the chance to try out the startup grind for a day, a weekend or a week at a time. These events, held frequently throughout the year, can help you decide if starting up is right for you.

    If you’re just getting started, try Startup Weekend.

    If you simply want to dip your entrepreneurial toe in the water, consider attending a Startup Weekend event. These events, held every week in cities around the world, are easy to find and gain access to. Be prepared to pitch an idea for a company, or work on someone else’s idea if yours isn’t selected by the group voting process as a top team.

    Over the weekend, you’ll work with a group of strangers to create a new company and plan for its growth. By the Sunday night pitches, you’ll have a good understanding of some of the traits it takes to be a successful entrepreneur: the ability to work under pressure, lead a team and wear many hats.

    If you have a business but you’re struggling to gain customers, try Lean Startup Machine.

    If you’ve tried a few Startup Weekends and are looking to build on your entrepreneurial skills, or if you’re running a startup company that is in its early stages, try attending a Lean Startup Machine event near you. This weekend is geared specifically at the identifying and building customer-driven products and organizations, as laid out by the work of Steve Blank and Eric Ries’s book “The Lean Startup.”

    You may not like hearing customer feedback, especially if they don’t value and wouldn’t pay for your product or service. But by finding that out now rather than later, you can also begin to understand what problems your customers do have and avoid wasting time and money building things that no one wants to buy. While this event is also relatively easy to access, a thick skin and a willingness to talk to strangers are necessary to get the full benefit.

    If you have technical skills, try a hackathon.

    Whether you’re a student or a professional developer, hackathons can provide you the time, support and freedom to build what you’ve always wanted. While hackathons vary in length, intensity and focus, you can find a good collection of student-targeted events at Major League Hacking. If you’re in my neck of the woods (the Midwest), Hack Midwest is the banner event of the year. There are even distributed hackathons, open to anyone in the country, like AT&T’s Connect Ability Challenge. It’s also worth mentioning that these events often have a pretty attractive cash prize (and bragging rights) at stake.

    If you’re a maker, inventor or hardware hacker, try Make 48.

    If using Arduinos to create your own home security system isn’t cutting it for you anymore, you might want to try a weekend-long hackathon like Make 48. While this competition is based here in Kansas City, there are similar robotics builds, invention challenges and other make-a-thons around the country. If you get more pleasure out of creating physical solutions to problems than coding software, maker events like this offer a hands-on equivalent to a hackathon.

    If you’re just a little unbalanced, try Startup Bus.

    Are you a regular ultra-marathoner? Does a Tough Mudder sound like fun to you? You just might be a good fit to try your hand as a “buspreneur.” Startup Bus is a four-to-five day startup intensive created by a team of entrepreneurs who had attended Startup Weekends and asked themselves, “Could we do that on a moving bus?”

    If you’re invited to become a buspreneur (yes, the program is invite-only, and requires you to be connected enough to find former buspreneurs and secure an invitation from them), you will find yourself faced with all the challenges one might imagine trying to build a company from a moving vehicle — spotty and/or insufficient Internet access, limited resources, motion sickness, ice storms — the list goes on. But successful buspreneurs find a way to thrive in these environments, securing paying customers, raising seed money, and garnering national media coverage for a barely-hatched idea. It’s a crucible, but if startup life doesn’t seem daunting enough for you on its own, you may want to consider trying a trip on Startup Bus.

    Regardless of how you learn about the startup lifestyle, getting a chance to try it out before jumping in with both feet can be helpful in many ways. You can make friends and begin to build a network of support to lean on when times get tough. You can start to understand the structure and process of testing and iterating quickly. And if you should decide that startup life isn’t the right fit for you? Your time spent dabbling in the startup world won’t be wasted. You can apply you new understanding of how to make big things happen with few resources to any aspect of your career.

    A version of this post originally appeared on Startup Grind

    Melissa Roberts is the President of Free State Strategy Group, an integral public affairs firm the helps clients develop and execute grassroots advocacy strategies to build engaged and receptive communities both online and offline. Melissa is a proud Kansas City startup community “feeder,” serving on the Board of the Kansas City Startup Foundation/Kansas City Startup Village, working with the Enterprise Center in Johnson County and the Mid-America Angels investment network, and advising a handful of local startups in strategic communications and digital marketing efforts. 

    BusinessCollective, launched in partnership with Citi, is a virtual mentorship program powered by North America’s most ambitious young thought leaders, entrepreneurs, executives and small business owners.

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