The University is hosting its first-ever “startup weekend” in hopes of providing business-minded students and aspiring entrepreneurs a forum to test ideas and learn the basics of developing and marketing a product. The event, formally called “StartupWeekend of Central Connecticut,” will begin on Friday, Oct. 2, and end on Sunday, Oct. 4. It is sponsored by the Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship (PCSE), but will be run by the organization StartupWeekend.
The weekend will consist of idea-pitching, product development workshops, and other activities, some of which are competitive. Prizes for the winning teams vary from free legal advice to several months’ worth of free incubator space.
Makaela Kingsley, Director of the PCSE, commented on the nature of the organization and the event they are orchestrating.
“StartupWeekend is an international organization that provides a framework for doing an event like this,” Kingsley said. “It’s a two-and-a-half-day intensive learning experience where students, professionals, community members come together, pitch ideas, form teams around some of the best of those ideas, and then literally build the framework for a startup over the course of that weekend. Some of these startups go on to become real, functioning companies. Others, it just becomes an incredible learning experience for the people involved.”
Yekaterina Sapozhnina ’16, founder of the Wesleyan Entrepreneurship Society, is pleased with the way in which the event is designed.
“It’s really great because you come in with zero experience, or tons of experience—[people] come from all different states and different cities, so it’s generally people from all over [who] gather for this event,” Sapozhnina said. “It’s very inclusive and it’s a really nice way to get some experience with building, like, thinking through a business model and about markets…. It’s kind of like a Hackathon, a high-pressure environment where you only have a couple of days, so people don’t sleep much, really work hard, and it’s very high pressured.”
Kingsley recalled attending a similar event last year, and described her thought process for deciding to bring the event to the University.
“I went up to StartupWeekend Hartford last fall and met with all the teams and got to see the event in progress, which is really why and when I said, ‘We should do one of these at Wesleyan,’” Kingsley said. “I just thought the experience was unique and influential for these students and…I’d like to see what happens if we do it here and more students get to participate, because going back and forth to Hartford is very challenging. So, if we did it here on this campus, it would open it up to more students.”
Alex Garcia ’17, a member of the winning team at last year’s StartupWeekend Hartford, described the experience.
“We built a peer-mentoring application geared towards community college students, since they don’t have a residential life like we do here at Wesleyan, and Goodwin College President [Mark Scheinberg] was there, and he offered money on the spot for us to implement it at his college,” Garcia said. “This summer, we did a bunch of trials just to see how students interacted, and…we have a ways to go in terms of finding the right balance of student engagement and connecting them to other students to work with.”
Garcia further commented on the makeup of his team, emphasizing the benefits of such events for drawing in students from a wide area.
“We have a team in Hartford, Penn State, and at Wesleyan,” Garcia said. “That’s sort of the beauty of StartupWeekend, it’s not just one college bubble, but people from all over… Currently, most of the efforts are happening at Penn State right now since a lot of our development team is there.”
Sapozhnina added that such condensed competitions are more beneficial for some rather than others.
“Yeah, I think it matters from where you’re coming into this,” Sapozhnina said. “If you just want to get your feet wet, you haven’t really participated in lengthier business competitions before, it’s a superb way to see how what kind of ideas are out there, what kind of trends are happening in the market right now, what kind of steps are required to go from one [idea] to execution to a minimal viable product… It’s very entry-level, so it’s great if you’re just starting out and it’s good if you have an idea you’re not very attached to and just want to see what happens.”
Kingsley stated her hopes for the event, expressing hope that the event would draw a diverse array of schools.
“One hope is that it will be a chance for entrepreneurs or aspiring entrepreneurs or creative people from Wesleyan to connect and work with similar students from other schools,” Kingsley said. “…we’re working hard to get students from other liberal arts schools that are more similar to Wesleyan… I also, most simply, just want students to have that experience of what it’s like to go from pitching an idea to seeing the product that you might develop over the course of two-and-a-half days. It’s not just a lot of learning, but also a lot of fun.”
Tickets for the weekend cost $25 for students.