54 hours to launch: entrepreneurship on speed

Denmark’s growing ‘startup’ scene will be working overtime this weekend

 

Come happy hour this Friday when most of us are just leaving work for the weekend, a hundred or so strangers will be getting together in Frederiksberg for a 54-hour business marathon called Copenhagen Startup Weekend.

The event is part of a grassroots entrepreneurship movement begun by the American non-profit Startupweekend.org. In just four years, Startup Weekends have spread to more than 350 cities around the globe.

Denmark is one country that has really embraced the craze. Aarhus has had three Startup Weekends so far. Aalborg just had its first. And Copenhagen is hosting its fourth on November 18-20.

Alex Farcet, co-founder of Startup Bootcamp, a European business accelerator with locations in Copenhagen, Madrid and Berlin, organised Copenhagen’s first Startup Weekend back in April 2010.

“The people who take part in Startup Weekends are very special. They're not normal. For one thing, they pay money to work really hard on the weekend, developing business ideas with strangers,” he told The Copenhagen Post.

Startup Weekends begin with dinner and networking on Friday evening (and since the 450 kroner ticket includes food and drinks for an entire weekend, you could say that it pays for itself – if your idea of a party is working and networking like a maniac for a whole weekend). The opening dinner is followed by a round of 60-second, open mic business-idea pitches, affectionately called the ‘Pitchfire’.

When ideas are pitched on Friday night they are usually “pretty undeveloped”, said Gus Murray, an entrepreneur and lead organiser of Copenhagen Startup Weekend. But that’s only the beginning, he added. After the pitches, a vote is taken and the ten most popular business ideas are chosen. Business teams are formed and everybody works full out all day Saturday and Sunday, with the goal of presenting a finished business plan and working prototype to the crowd in a five-minute presentation on Sunday evening. At the end of it all, a jury of experts chooses the winning team.

 

Sometimes, it's not so much the idea but the way you pitch it that counts (Photo: Alex Farcet)

One key to its success is the strict quota of ticket types; organisers ensure that each Startup Weekend has the right balance of developers, designers, product managers, marketers, and other business heads to form effective startup teams. If your ticket type has sold out, you have to wait for the next Startup Weekend.

 

Experienced entrepreneurs and mentors circulate to give the teams direction and insight. The motto is “No talk. All action” – and the pace is lightning fast.

“It's really amazing what happens in a weekend. Ideas get pitched on Friday, and by Sunday, some people already have working prototypes. It's mind-boggling,” said James Digby, co-founder of the Amsterdam-based business accelerator Rockstart, and a Startup Weekend facilitator.

“If we could have this in corporate culture, we wouldn’t be having the economic problems we’re having right now,” he added.

Startup Weekend participants “leave with skills you can definitely apply to running a business,” said Murray. A few lucky teams have even left previous Copenhagen Startup Weekends with seed money in hand, he added.

Remarkably, although most Startup Weekend teams are strangers when they meet on the Friday nights, according to Startupweekend.org, as many as 36 percent of them are still working together to grow their business ideas three months later – proof that the weekends really build effective networks and create new businesses.

Farcet and Murray both say they have seen the local entrepreneurial environment – Farcet calls it “the eco-system” – grow by leaps and bounds since Danish cities began holding Startup Weekends. And they are not the only ones who have noticed.

As The Copenhagen Post reported last month, the influential tech blog The Next Web recently called Copenhagen one of Europe’s “startup hotbeds.”

Meanwhile, investor groups like Vækstfonden and the state enterprise and construction authority, Erhvervs- og Byggestyrelsen, see Startup Weekends as wellsprings for the next generation of high-growth businesses.

“Right now, it’s especially important for the Danish economy that we have a vibrant startup community,” Vækstfonden senior vice president Martin Vang Hansen told The Copenhagen Post. “The old, large companies are outsourcing more and more overseas. They're not creating jobs here. The net job creation will come from startups and young companies that can refresh the economy.”

But is the gloomy economic prognosis – with its predictions of stagnant growth, rising unemployment, and a new global recession – reason to worry for Denmark’s blossoming startup environment?

Farcet thinks not. “Recession tends to be a good time for entrepreneurship; startups that come out of a recession are better quality than startups that come out of a bubble,” he said.

“Besides,” Farcet added, “People who have lost their jobs are more likely to say, ‘Okay, I'm already feeling the risk, so I might as well just stick with the risk and go for it’.”

Copenhagen Post readers interested in attending the Startup Weekend receive a 100 kroner discount off the 450 kroner ticket price. Please use the discount code ‘cphpost’ when purchasing your ticket.

Factfile | Startup

A company in an early phase of development, with little or no operating history; most often associated with web- or mobile-based technology companies that are relatively inexpensive to start and scale up.

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