In the spirit of Cal Poly’s “Learn By Doing” philosophy, students have the opportunity to develop a complete business this quarter.
They just have to do it in one weekend.
Startup Weekend is an international program that gives individuals approximately 54 hours to form teams and produce a functioning product with the potential to create a startup business. Individuals pitch ideas, typically for mobile phone applications or computer software, on which participants vote for and begin working on immediately after.
Business administration senior Chris Petersilge brought the program to Cal Poly for his senior project after attending a Startup Weekend in Northern California last summer. He said he was led to the event while working in Silicon Valley.
“I was kind of frustrated about the fact that people were talking about entrepreneurship and startups and Cal Poly, but they weren’t actually applying themselves and creating one,” Petersilge said. “I knew that (San Luis Obispo) needed it — I knew I was the right person to do it — so I just started working on it.”
Inspired by the Startup Weekend he attended, Petersilge said he applied to be an organizer and bring the event to San Luis Obispo. After being accepted, Petersilge put out an advertisement to recruit team members to plan the Startup Weekend. He found a team of four members, all from different majors.
Team member Kristin Kenney, a journalism junior who works on the advertising side of Startup Weekend, said working in a team with people from other areas of Cal Poly is a beneficial experience for everyone.
“They’re busy,” she said. “But I think they’re learning little things from me, and I’m learning things from them.
Months of planning for the event will end Friday evening when Startup Weekend SLO begins. Students there will begin working on projects at 7:30 p.m., and will only take breaks to sleep, eat and listen to mentors throughout the weekend. After what Petersilge said will be a “coffee-filled” three days, participants will present their completed products at 5 p.m. Sunday.
Community members who have experience with startup businesses judge the presentations, Petersilge said. All of the judges at Startup Weekend SLO have a background in investing and may choose to invest in a product students create at Startup Weekend.
Projects created at other Startup Weekends across the country went on to become funded businesses, and several are now fully functioning companies. Some have even been featured in the business magazine “Inc.”
But making a profit isn’t all Startup Weekend is about, Petersilge said. He said he wants people to be able to come together and learn, whether they succeed or fail.
“The weekend isn’t about getting investment money,” he said. “It’s about being able to sit down with a group of really exciting, fun, ambitious people and actually do something.”
Fellow team member and recreation, parks and tourism administration junior Eric Duarte knows all about failing at Startup weekend. In fact, he said he actually wants participants to fail.
“This event is about learning, creating, building and also reflecting afterwards,” Duarte said.
When Duarte went to a San Francisco Startup Weekend, an illness broke up his team.
“You take these opportunities of failure and you turn them into something else,” he said. “I went to work for another team. I just hopped onto their startup to continue going. So if you fail, you learn a lesson.”
At the end of the Startup Weekend, Duarte said, his original team went up and shared their story of failure. That presentation received the largest applause of any at the event.
“I want to fail again, to be honest,” he said. “You learn so much more from failing. It’s great, because how many times will a corporation you work for give you an assignment and say, ‘It’s OK to fail?’”
Despite his hope that participants will learn something out of failure, Duarte said with a laugh that he hopes the weekend, as a whole, will be a success.
“We’re not supposed to fail, participants are supposed to fail,” he said.
Startup Weekend begins at 6:30 p.m. on Friday with registration in the Advanced Technology Laboratories on campus. Student tickets are $40 and available online for designers. Tickets for developers and non-technical individuals are sold out.