From inspiration to entrepreneurship in just 54-hours. That was the ambitious goal over the weekend of October 2–4 for many creative and highly-motivated students from the Blackstone LaunchPad & Techstars network schools in Texas. Altogether, more than 100 students from across the University of Texas System — Austin, Dallas, Rio Grande Valley, El Paso, and Permian Basin — signed up to participate in the very first virtual LaunchPad Startup Weekend in 2020.
“I had an amazingly fulfilling weekend. Everything I learned this weekend will stay with me. I hope I can participate in future events with everyone and this program.”
— Briana Wright (UT Dallas, ‘22)
(Three LaunchPad Startup Weekend events also took place during the month of October, hosted by Temple University, the University at Buffalo, and the University of California, San Francisco.)
Over the course of the weekend, our staff and student organizers from the LaunchPads at UTD and UT Austin and our experienced Techstars Startup Weekend facilitators, Susan Moring and Lee Ngo, worked tirelessly to translate this traditionally in-person event into a 100% online experience leveraging Zoom and Slack.
Friday: Kickoff & Team Formation
Friday night kicked off with a Keynote Fireside Chat with Carolyn Rodz, founder of Hello Alice — (the first machine learning technology to help business owners find their path by matching them to personalized opportunities and resources). The chat was moderated by Jackie Ros Amable, Managing Director of NextCorps — a nonprofit catalyst for entrepreneurship and innovation.
The two women talked about topics ranging from “How do you explain what you do to your grandma?” to “What’s the best advice someone has ever given you in both life and business?” — setting a tone for the event that encouraged embracing experimentation and failure.
“Having failed and succeeded in entrepreneurship, I learned, frankly, more from the failures at the end of the day.” -Carolyn Rodz
After the Fireside Chat, the event continued with Half-Baked — a fake pitch competition (based on two randomly submitted words) designed to get those creative, out-of-the-box entrepreneurial juices flowing. The first place winner went to “Bread for Bed”– self-explanatory and because “everyone sleeps better with a full stomach.”
After the warm up, teams pitched real ideas to work on over the course of the weekend. After voting, students formed teams and were off to the races. By the end of day one, seven teams were created with ideas ranging from a mini online department store to a stress-relief brick-and-mortar business, to an inspiring female-focused career and mentoring marketplace.
Saturday: Lean Canvas, Customer Discovery & Pitching
Students started Saturday with a Lean Canvas and Customer Discovery workshop presented by facilitator Susan Moring. She covered the importance of talking to prospective customers and how to leverage tools such as thinking through customer archetypes and the customer ecosystem.
This session was followed by several hours of customer discovery interviews with friends and family. The teams then spent time refining their ideas, thinking through business models, and even prototyping their potential products or services.
At that point, the all-important Startup Weekend mentoring began. For two hours, participants met with various community members from the UT Austin and UT Dallas startup ecosystems including:
- Sophia Johnson, Coordinator of UT’s Inventors Program, UT Austin
- Lesley Robinson, Program Manager of the Kendra Scott WEL Institute, UT Austin
- Nina Ho, Director of the LaunchPad UT Austin
- Jessica Vittorio, Managing Attorney of the Law Office of Jessica Vittorio
- Ashland Viscosi, Founder of Creatives Meet Business
- Rachel West, Director of Business Development at REVTECH Ventures
Saturday’s program continued early in the evening with a Pitch workshop presented by Director Nina Ho. She covered the critical points of pitching for both content and delivery.
(Check out the version she gave to UCSF’s Startup Weekend below.)
Finally, participantsspent the remainder of the night (and wee hours of the morning) getting ready for final pitches!
“I met some incredible people who put in a ton of effort and were very supportive. UT is such a large university, and it was great to have this experience to meet new people that I wouldn’t have otherwise.”
— Julia Singer (UT Austin, ‘22)
Sunday: Final Pitches
On Sunday morning, the organizers kicked things off with a flexibility-pushing, stretch session. (And participants thought LaunchPad Startup Weekend was just going to be about expanding their brain!?) Teams spent the remaining time finalizing their pitches and practicing with organizers as their pitch coaches.
For the culminating event, our judges were distinguished female entrepreneurs from across Texas: Claire Aldridge (AVP of Commercialization and Business Development with UT Southwestern Medical Center), Florence Lowe (COO of Synerzip), and Tracey Altman (Principal of Altman Consulting).
The final teams that competed were:
- The Job Project: A talent and mentorship marketplace designed by and for female professionals in every industry.
- Calm Chaos: Like a smash room, but with yoga, meditation, art therapy etc. to teach calmness in the midst of chaos.
- Experience for All: Matching pre-med students with jpbshadowing opportunities to gain experience and distinguish themselves in preparation for medical school.
- Pitch & Pair: A user-friendly social hub catering to new entrepreneurs who are ready to network to build their team.
- Hang It: An online apparel tracking and storage app that helps you store links to the perfect dress or pair of jeans while you wait for that super sale.
- StudyHustle: Help connecting people who are seeking other who want to study together — when and where a user is ready.
- Sage: A community of ‘adulting’ content creators, who want to give advice on everything from opening a checking account to buying an interview outfit.
As pitches wrapped up and the judges’ questions came to an end, it was time for awards and prizes (graciously sponsored by the Kendra Scott WEL Institute)! The audience favorite was to Pitch and Pair, 3rd place went to The Job Project, 2nd place went to Study Hustle, and 1st place went to Sage!
A huge congratulations to all of the students who participated! The LaunchPads at UT Dallas and UT Austin are excited to continue supporting you on your entrepreneurial journey!
“It has been a great experience – from growing my entrepreneurial knowledge, to working with the team, meeting other students, and arriving at insights to implement with my own business. Getting to know and getting to work with others has been great.”
— Alejandra Jimenez (UT RGV, Master’s ‘22)
P.S. Still can’t get enough of Startup Weekend? Check out our facilitator Lee Ngo’s take on his experience: 10 Reasons Why a Virtual Startup Weekend is Better Than In-Person (and 3 reasons why it’s not).