From a Two-Day Event to Your Next Great Product

Startup Weekend participants have 54 hours to develop and launch a new product. One meetings-related group recently tried something similar. Could your association benefit from such an event?

Late last week the April issue of Inc. magazine made its way to my desk. As I was flipping through the pages, I got sucked into Eric Markowitz’s article “How Hard Could It Be?” The piece offered an insider view into a Startup Weekend that took place in California. What is this? Well, as the article describes it, “part-business-plan-competition-part-hackathon-part-cultural-phenomenom.”

More than 36% of weekend startups are still going strong after 3 months, and about 80% of participants plan on continuing working with their team or startup after the weekend.

In its most basic form, here’s how it works: People typically pay $75 to $150 (less for students) to make an attempt to launch a startup in 54 hours. It starts with open-mic pitches on Friday, where attendees bring their best ideas and try to convince others to join their team. Over Saturday and Sunday teams focus on customer development, validating their ideas, and building a minimally viable product. Then on Sunday evening teams demo their prototypes and receive valuable feedback from a panel of experts.

According to the Startup Weekend website, more than 36% of weekend startups are still going strong after 3 months, and about 80% of participants plan on continuing working with their team or startup after the weekend. Some of the benefits that attendees gain from the two-day-plus process? Professional development, networking, the opportunity to learn a new skill, face time with experts and thought leaders who give advice and support over the weekend, the ability to join a global network of Startup Weekend entrepreneurs, and so on.

Sounds a whole lot like the benefits associations want attendees to walk away from their meetings with, right? But could this idea of at 54-hour Startup Weekend work in the association sphere?

Well, turns out one group gave something very similar a try a few months back. In February, the Chicago Area chapter of Meetings Professional International hosted its first HackMPI, a 48-hour hackathon for the meetings and event industry, before its MPI TechCon conference. The goal was for participants to build an app that would push the meetings and events industry forward.

Here’s how the process worked at HackMPI: App ideas came ahead of time from attendees, MPI members, and the event industry at large; were streamlined and refined; and then presented to teams of developers to use as influences at the beginning of the hackathon. A 48-hour coding marathon commenced, resulting in a presentation and voting at both HackMPI and the TechCon conference.

What makes HackMPI even more interesting is that the idea came from one of the MPI chapter’s members, Kyle Hillman, CMP, who pitched it to the chapter’s board leading up to the event after observing some hackathons in the past.

“It seems like a logical step for the meeting industry. If we’re going to do a tech conference, we should add an element of real tech. We have six products here that have never existed in our industry, and in time could be products we’ll be using in a couple of years,” said Hillman in an article posted on MPI’s blog.

Here are two examples of what apps came to fruition:

  • OKMercury, a take-off of the online dating site OK Cupid’s algorithm, matches suppliers and planners based on questions and answers.
  • Swagger, a trivia-based app that can be customized for suppliers and destinations.

As another incentive to participants, each day they were able to meet with tech and entrepreneurial professionals to get advice on their app ideas. Winners were awarded with more than $3,000 in cash prizes, free hotel accommodations, and tech gadgets.

But the meetings industry isn’t the only one that could benefit from using experts (whether members or not) to help develop and build the technology their members and prospective members need. And for that matter, associations don’t need to use the idea of a Startup Weekend to create just technology tools and products. Maybe putting people in a room together for 12, 24, 28, or 54 hours will generate a great idea you and your colleagues would have never thought of. How do you think your association’s industry could benefit from the idea of a Startup Weekend?


Samantha Whitehorne

By Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editor-in-chief of Associations Now. MORE

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