ESTEEM Students Plan Successful Startup Weekend

Author: Stephen Ennis

Current Student, Stephen Ennis reflects upon another well-planned and executed Startup Weekend powered by ESTEEM.

IDEO co-founder, Dennis Boyle, sits with students as they generate ideas

Ask a dozen people for the meaning of entrepreneurship and you’d be fortunate to converge on a single definition. Entrepreneurship gracefully and subtly side steps a definite form. Whatever your view of entrepreneurship, have no doubt, it was alive and well in Innovation Park during Startup Weekend 2016. For 54 hours on the super bowl weekend, Innovation Park was abuzz with an atmosphere of innovation, initiative and collaboration. Want to see entrepreneurship in the wild? Look no further than Startup Weekend.

The dust has long settled, but in the minds of the attendees and organizers the invigorating sense of urgent innovation lingers on. Startup Weekend events are born and bred out of entrepreneurial spirit. Ten ESTEEM students led by Jenny Lardner began facing the organizational gauntlet in November. Despite the aid of centralized support material offered by the greater Startup Weekend organization, organizing a Startup Weekend event is no small feat. The ten ESTEEM students grappled with logistics, sponsorship and a menagerie of promotional challenges in the weeks leading to super bowl weekend 2016. Innovation, initiative and grit were absolute necessities for these ESTEEM students. Thankfully, the countless hours of hard work paid off for the organizational committee in superb fashion. Notre Dame Startup Weekend 2016 had a 91% approval rating putting it five percentage points higher than the international Startup Weekend average.

Participants enjoy a bite of food and great conversation at Startup Weekend - which was abundant in energy, innovation, and food!

The 2016 Notre Dame Startup weekend kicked off with the mercurial friend of Notre Dame and co-founder of IDEO, Dennis Boyle. Over 100 people from Notre Dame and the surrounding area graced the Greenhouse of Innovation Park to listen to Dennis’ design entrepreneurship focused talk. Of this initial surge, 50 stayed on over the weekend to form 6 teams - each working on unique, creative business concepts. The energy that built following Dennis’ talk Friday evening persisted throughout the weekend. Teams, aided by experienced mentors, tackled the business model canvas, conducted endless customer interviews and began to sharpen their focus on the final goal, a competitive pitch to a panel of experienced industry judges.

The general mission of Startup Weekend weekend is to lead attendees through the many stages of business concept validation. Those familiar with hackathons will feel at home at a Startup Weekend event. Teams are encouraged to hack together basic prototypes, perform extensive market research and pull together the broad aspects of a business plan - all this in less than 54 hours. The emergent effect of this atmosphere is a near feverish focus on delivering results in exceptionally short time periods. The Notre Dame Startup Weekend was no exception to the Startup Weekend effect: there were late nights, moments of exhilaration and or despair. Once more Startup Weekend shows its true being as both analogue and catalyst of the entrepreneurial spirit.

The Startup Weekend Planning Committee along with their facilitator and two SUW mentors

Mid-afternoon on Super Bowl Sunday a room full of green entrepreneurs from all walks of life, across generations, across disciplines began with individuals sharpening their pitches for the deciding moment of the weekend. In a classic display that entrepreneurship knows no bounds, Cole Kuiper, a Penn high school senior led his team, SimpleSpot, to victory. The final pitches included re-imaginings of travel agencies, urban planning, high heel shoes and sound suppression for sleep. In the case of SimpleSpot, the team put a collaborative space sharing spin on the ever popular AirBnB model.  There was a cathartic moment of release as the winners were announced one by one. Whether winner or no, each team looked back on the path walked and was proud of what they achieved despite starting with so little. Some teams have remained together and continue to build upon the foundations laid during the fateful Notre Dame Startup Weekend 2016.

For the ESTEEM organizing team, a better outcome could not have been imagined. The Greenhouse within Innovation Park was alive with entrepreneurial spirit all weekend long, approval ratings were through the roof and new connections, partnership and memories were formed to last long into the future.

Learn more about how impressed Startup Weekend Mentor, Wes Merrill was - when you check out the 5 Things he learned while he was here!