A Weekend at Google

This November I had the opportunity to compete in a Startup Weekend, a 54-hour tech startup competition where designers, developers, product managers, and aspiring entrepreneurs come together to share ideas, form teams, and launch startups.  Google for Entrepreneurs and Up Global sponsor Startup Weekends in cities all over the world, and I competed in Dublin’s Startup Weekend, which was facilitated by Adam Huan and Gene Murphy and took place at Google’s European HQ on Barrow Street.  Spoiler alert- my team didn’t win the competition- but that hardly matters because I had one hell of a time and accomplished the goals I had set for myself at the onset of the weekend.

In my last blog post I had written about some of the resources available in Dublin to tech enthusiasts and aspiring entrepreneurs, and the Startup Weekend is an embodiment of Dublin’s thriving tech scene.  It began with open mic pitches on Friday night where any of the 80 participants could pitch his or her best idea.  The group then voted on the strongest ideas to move forward, which formed the 10 teams that all attendees could opt to join for the duration of the competition.  The rest of the weekend was spent focusing on customer development, validating ideas, practicing LEAN Startup Methodologies, and building a minimum viable product.

The competition culminated in Pitch Night on stage at The Foundry, Google’s European Digital Innovation Centre, where each team pitched their startup to a panel of judges- industry experts like Niamh Bushnell, Dublin’s new Commissioner for Start-ups, and Anatoly Lebedev, Google’s Manager for Strategic Partnership Development.  Three teams were selected as winners and then we all went to the pub to celebrate a hard-earned pint before catching up on some much-needed sleep.  In my opinion, it was the perfect mix of entrepreneurship and Ireland.

At the onset of the Startup Weekend, we were advised to set some goals for ourselves about what we wanted to take from the competition.  Was our goal simply to win?  Considering that most companies that start at the Startup Weekend end at the Startup Weekend, it would probably be wiser to think more broadly.  What skills did we want to develop?  What relationships did we want to cultivate?  How did we want to grow?

I had three goals:

  1. Practice pitching- something, anything, everything
  2. Meet other people in Dublin passionate about startups
  3. Meet a developer interested in building something exciting

I was able to accomplish all of these goals in different ways throughout the course of the weekend.  I both pitched at the open mic night and also on behalf of my team on Pitch Night.  It was a stressful and thrilling experience through which both my team and Startup Weekend mentors like David Bowles and Richie Donelan helped coach me.  My team members at Utripia were wonderful to work with and it was terrific building relationships both with them and also with the other competition participants.  Now when I go to startup events around Dublin, I always see someone I know and plan to build on those relationships moving forward in the New Year.   It has also helped me feel more at home in Dublin because I know more people outside of the Mitchell and my programme at DIT.  Lastly, I met an awesome developer who I am looking forward to working with to build something extraordinary.

While I would have loved if my team had won the competition, I am proud of what we did accomplish together in 54 hours.  I believe that failure- especially fast failure- is good because I can move forward from this experience with the benefit of the lessons learned from the Startup Weekend.  I especially enjoyed learning more about the LEAN Startup process and about pitching.  I really appreciate the mentorship that my team received from industry experts like Gary Leyden, Director at NDRC LaunchPad, and Ed Fidgeon-Kavanagh, expert pitch deck design advisor and CEO at Clear Presentation Design, because it helped our team produce a stronger product and presentation.  Through the Startup Weekend I also had the opportunity to connect with Paul Hayes, a friend of the Mitchell Scholars Program, who hosted the panel discussion on Pitch Night and our delicious Mitchell Thanksgiving celebration.  A big thank you to Gene Murphy for helping me get a spot at the Startup Weekend.

So once again, Dublin has proved to be a great place for an aspiring entrepreneur to learn the ropes and get involved in exploring the industry.   I am looking forward to what comes next.

(photo credits: Catherine McManus @CatMcManus)

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