Startup Weekend returns to Hawaii today
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It is certainly an encouraging sign for Hawaii's innovation ecosystem that we've come to a point where we have two major hackathons unfolding at the same time.
The seventh Hawaii Annual Code Challenge kicked off on October 15, and is building up to its final Demo Day this Friday, November 5. (Register here.) But this weekend also brings the return of the quintessential startup hackathon, Startup Weekend, to the islands.
A mix of designers, developers, marketers, techies and community members will come together for three days of ideating, team forming, building, and pitching. The very first Startup Weekend was held in Boulder, Colo., 15 years ago, spreading quickly to hundreds of cities around the world—including Honolulu.
Under new management
The last scheduled local Startup Weekend Honolulu was abruptly canceled in 2016. Since then, the non-profit that managed the global brand was acquired by the Techstars accelerator program, and like everyone else, the initiative had to adapt and survive the pandemic—still managing to run a COVID-19 hackathon in 2020.
As events worldwide resumed, the local mantle for organizing Startup Weekend in Hawaii was assumed by the technology social enterprise incubator Purple Maiʻa, and housed under its FoundHer Hawaii program, an accelerator program tailored specifically to the needs of Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander, and Asian women and mothers starting businesses.
Of course, Hawaii has hosted its fair share of home-grown hackathons, and Purple Maiʻa just helped host the Hawaiians In Tech hackathon in July.
"We're kind of doing this already, so the question is, why do we need Techstars, what's the benefit?" Purple Maiʻa program director Keahi Selhorst tells me. "There are a lot of benefits."
"We're collaborating with a global brand, for one, but we're putting our Hawaii stamp on it—we're shaping how these businesses are forming and making sure they understand the perspective of the indigenous person," he explained. "This one in particular will also have a female entrepreneur component, so you will need to have a female-gendered member on your team."
In that respect, Startup Weekend Hawaii fits the global template of building an event series out of a theme.
"I know there's been female-led programs in other countries for sure, but I don't think they have a tremendous amount of events for indigenous women," he noted.
But Selhorst is quick to point out that Startup Weekend Hawaii is not just for women or Native Hawaiians. Insofar as that might be the assumption, he sees this event as an important way of welcoming the broader community.
"We've had events that might be more targeted towards Native Hawaiians, or trying to solve a specific community problem, but I don't know that we have had as many events where we're more open to the public," he acknowledged. "This is a way to be more inclusive, to grow our brand and grow our offerings."
In other words, would-be entrepreneurs of all kinds are welcome.
"Techstars and Startup Weekend is a broader brand, and so I think folks maybe feel a bit more welcome, even though we always welcome everyone—branding matters," he said. "We are an accelerator for small business, and I'm sure [FoundHer program director] Darien Siguenza would agree, small businesses creates jobs and economic opportunity—small businesses are the lifeblood of a community."
Organizers also hope to draw out newcomers to the islands.
"New talent or companies that have just transferred over here and want to be a part of the community, we want to reach out to them and have them introduce themselves to the larger community," Selhorst said. "Helping our entrepreneurs and small businesses, I think that's the best value they can offer."
The Startup Weekend recipe
The Startup Weekend model is well established, and Startup Weekend Hawaii will cover all the bases.
"Collaboration and networking is what this is all about," Selhorst said.
So if people show up on day one with a half-built or pre-conceived idea, they'll be encouraged to join another team. If pre-formed groups are coming in, Selhorst said they will probably try to break them up.
"You really can do this by yourself, without our help, so you might as well get the perspective and values from outside and bring that to your group later," he said. "Come in and gather other ideas and go back to your team stronger."
And if you're interested in participating but don't feel confident in wearing the "entrepreneur" badge, you're exactly who the event is built for.
"The TechStars Startup Weekend mission is really teaching people how to become entrepreneurs," Selhorst said. "There's courses in how to pitch, we've got mentors there to help out, we cover MVP (Minimal Viable Product) and the Business Model Canvas and things they might have never heard of."
A lot of people get stuck in the same place, he said.
"Some of the people, some of the companies I've been speaking to, they have ideas, but they don't know how to execute, and so this is a space for that," Selhorst said. "We don't anticipate billion dollar companies forming by Sunday, but at least we're moving the ball forward."
But if viable businesses emerge from Startup Weekend? Purple Maiʻa, FoundHer, and TechStars will certainly be ready.
"I think that's the hope, that these companies continue, and this event series is a pipeline for the Techstar accelerator—it's obviously not mandatory to continue, but this is their way of opening up the floodgates and casting a wide net," he said. "And not only is this a feeder into TechStars programs, but also ours as well."
The power of in-person participation
This is not a remote or hybrid event.
"Yeah, you gotta be here, for sure," Selhorst says. "This is a local event."
Still, organizers know that an entire weekend is a huge commitment, and that not everyone can stick around for every part of the program.
"It will be a bit different than the ones I've been to, where you're crammed in a building for three days, everyone ends up smelling funny, you spit out something, and then you have beers and everyone's happy," he laughs. "Quite honestly, we're focusing mostly on Saturday."
The program breaks down into pitching ideas and forming teams tonight at Hālau ‘Īnana in Mo‘ili‘ili, market validation and workshops on Saturday in Kahala, and Sunday developing and delivering the final pitch before a panel of judges back at Hālau ‘Īnana.
"Saturday, we're all going to visit the Treehouse in Kahala and have a class on how to create a pitch deck and make it compelling," Selhorst explains. "And then, since we're right next to the mall, folks can take their ideas, take their pitch decks, and go to the mall and ask regular humans what they think about this product or service."
Teams that make it to demo day will be scored by a panel of judges (including Chenoa Farnsworth of Blue Startups) and take home yet-to-be-determined prizes and bragging rights.
"And every participant has got some freebies coming their way, from sponsors, Techstars, and Zendesk," he said.
But Selhorst reiterated that the networking and community building is perhaps the greatest value Startup Weekend Hawaii has to offer.
"You're getting to be in this network, you're meeting VCs and people in the space, and so it's a perfect opportunity to test your idea, get it built, and get your messaging clear," he said.
"Friday, we open the doors right after work at 5 p.m., we've got food, we've got drinks—some non alcoholic—it'll be a long night, but it'll be fun," he added.
"Transform a rough idea to maturity in just 54 hours! A three-day weekend for entrepreneurs to pitch an idea (or join an idea that you are passionate about), find like-minded people, grow your network and learn new skills. Weʻll have workshops by experts in their field and mentors to help guide you and speed up progress. On the last day, pitch your startup concept to a panel and the public to get feedback—and maybe give life to your new startup!"
>>> Register here! <<<
Who is this for?
Entrepreneurs with an idea stage venture
We welcome all genders who are excited to support women and their ideas
You have an idea for a startup and want to get started but don't know how yet
Developers, designers, strategists
If you need a safe space to demo your idea
"Open to all founders, entrepreneurs, creatives, technologists with an idea on how to better our communities in Hawaii."
Photos courtesy Techstars Startup Weekend.