Athens Startup Weekend University: No talk, All Action!
...or how 2 office fires led to Athens Startup Weekend University
The first Startup Weekend dedicated to University students was successfully held in Athens last weekend and it’s time for a little reminiscence on how it came to be and a little more talk than action!
Startup Weekend, in case you don’t know, is a global non profit organization that holds weekend-long, hands-on experiences where aspiring entrepreneurs can find out if their startup ideas are viable. Having organized with the help of volunteers more than 600 events in almost 100 different countries Startup Weekend has gone a long way since 2007 (find out more on the startup weekend history)
Normally all startup weekends are open to all ages and globally there have been participants from 10 year old to 99. In fact in Athens the event has been held since 2009 in the Microsoft innovation center with great success.
We @niobiumlabs have a particular relationship with the previous Athens Startup Weekend event held on February at the microsoft innovation center. Niobiumlabs was a gold sponsor and the entire team was present at the event helping newly formed teams carry out their plans during the weekend. The event was really great and it had a great pace as everybody was preparing for the Sunday night pitches. On Sunday night while the teams were pitching their ideas our offices in the center of Athens were set on fire
— George Giannakeas (@gioris) February 16, 2012
With a bittersweet feeling we carried on trying to rebuild from scratch our offices and at that point the last think that we could imagine was that we would be organizing an event in the future.
And what does all that have to do with Athens startup weekend University you may ask, bare with me and i will explain...
" Things turn out best for the people who make the best out of the way things turn out. "
A month after the fire, Dr Tsakarestou approached me, Yiannis Doxaras and Nektarios Sligardakis from eresus to design and teach a university course on social media and entrepreneurship at the Panteion University of Social Sciences as part of the advertising and PR lab . In the course of the semester having addressed issues such as inbound marketing and social media as well as mobile marketing we decided to run a simulation of a startup competition within the class.
Starting with 1 minute pitches the 20 year old students formed teams,designed and refined their business plan over the course of 4 weeks
Having worked for a month on their plan the students were asked to pitch in front of a jury and to make it more interesting they were told that the final grade will depend on the pitching as well as the participation and effort they put in during the semester and not on a formal exam. At that point we were really enthusiastic about bringing startup culture in the university and really impressed by the progress the students made over the course of the semester ...and then it stroke as lighting.
After the final pitching night a student came up to me and asked me how she could meet a developer to help her implement the idea that she came up with …
Me and John Doxaras the following day where on our way to London for LeWeb and we were discussing the possibility of organizing something like a matchmaking event for students.
As luck had it the first person we run into as we were entering the conference was Deborah Rippol the european coordinator of Startup weekend.
As it turned out Startup weekend for the past month has been testing a pilot program organizing closed events in Universities where only the students of Harvard for example were able to participate. We told her that we should organize an event not for only one University but for all greek universities so that we can mix and match students with different backgrounds … 5 minutes was all it took ...Let’s do it!
A few days after LeWeb news came to me about the fire at Microsoft innovation center … well there goes our project I thought since Microsoft was the main supporter and co -organizer of the event. A few days after that i contacted Lydia Morezani one of the people involved in the previous concepts and she told me that their offices would not be available for several months since the damage was extensive, but they would be happy to provide any assistance as mentors, as did Spyros Kapetnakis and Stavros Messinis that were part of the organizing team the previous years.
— George Giannakeas (@gioris) August 3, 2012
So with less than 2 months ahead we started planning the event! we asked Lida Tsene, coordinator of the course we were teaching at the Panteion University to help us organize it and we set out contacting greek startups and universities to find some support for the event.
The greek startup ecosystem and the universities embraced the project and saw the potential!
Check out the sponsors at http://athens.startupweekend.org
So there we were, 120 students coming from all over Greece had the opportunity to share their ideas, form teams and develop a plan in order to promote and realize their business idea.
— George Giannakeas (@gioris) September 29, 2012
We started with the Friday night pitches and we heard some pretty interesting ideas
42 participants were brave enough to stand in front of their colleagues and just with their passion try to sell their idea... the pitch fire process is simple... 60 seconds no slides no music just you and a microphone
After the firepitch process the attendees voted for the best ideas and the teams were formed. The 15 teams consisted of University students coming from a wide range of scientific backgrounds, such as economics, development,arts, engineering and marketing.
Then, they immediately started planning their project with the assistance of the mentors. It was a very interesting and creative experience for all the students, as they had the opportunity to exchange ideas, combine their skills, work together and prepare a short presentation in order to promote their business plan.
In a weekend log process the students organized their presentations with the guidance of the mentors. Among the mentors were entrepreneurs, web developers, marketing professionals, angel investors and graphic designers. They helped the participants to transform their initial idea into a viable business model, and prepare their presentation.
The presentations took place on Sunday. Each team had 5 minutes to present its idea and the judges had 2 minutes to ask clarifying questions.
Among the judges were University Professors, entrepreneurs, web developers and journalists. Their main criterion in order to evaluate the projects was its viability, as they were looking for ideas that could work successfully in the real world.
3 teams were chosen as winners, yet all the participants were enthusiastic about their participation and they got to meet new people and, form teams, speak with the mentors, refine their interesting ideas and make new friends. For most students this was their first encounter with the entrepreneurial ecosystem and the startup scene.
The idea that came in first was Beeeasy a utility application that helps beekepers organize their production,
Besides the business aspect, in a symbolic way, this idea was the most meaningful and characterized the entire effort as we hope that this hive of busy entrepreneurs will move forward , collaborate and be part of this new bee swarm that will help Greece evolve.
Closing by quoting Kevin Kelly and his swarms....
Of all the endeavors we humans are now engaged in, perhaps the grandest of them all is the steady weaving together of our lives, minds, and artifacts into a global scale network. This great work has been going on for decades, but recently our ability to connect has accelerated. Two brand-new technological achievements—the silicon chip and the silicate glass fiber—have rammed together with incredible speed. Like nuclear particles crashing together in a cyclotron, the intersection of these two innovations has unleashed a never-before-seen force: the power of a pervasive net. As this grand net spreads, an animated swarm is reticulating the surface of the planet. We are clothing the globe with a network society.