Keys for winning Startup Weekend from a back-to-back champ

Polina Tibets, Head of Due Diligence at Digital Knights

After a two year hiatus, Techstars finally revived its Startup Weekend in Berlin, which took place earlier this month. The intense, 54-hour event brings together the brightest minds around to create startups from scratch, and pits them against each other in a competition format. Students and professionals from a range of backgrounds participate - demonstrating that anyone can have a great business mind, regardless of background or expertise!

“Startup Weekend is a must-do for everyone who wants to be an entrepreneur. Shortening the experience from six months (usually) to one weekend shows if you’re ready for the role.” - Dinarte Jesus, co-founder and Grandpal team member.

I was eager to join this event for the second time (having first participated in June of 2016 in Monterrey, Mexico) simply because I love the notion that anyone can develop an idea and nurture it to solve global issues at scale. Isn’t that cool? The satisfaction of solving real life problems and making money out of it is absolutely exceptional and gives such a big thrill that I knew I had to be a part of it again. My team also won last year by the way (you can check out the winning product, Clean 2 Build, here), so I wanted to see if I could do it in Berlin too!

"Startup Weekend is a crazy experience. You arrive on a Friday evening, pitch an idea, and a team of random participants forms. I got lucky to have an amazing bunch of people work with me over this weekend." - Brian Daly, Network Catalyst at Techstars, and Grandpal team member.

The weekend went something like this:

Day 1: Meet, Pitch, and Team Up - In just a few hours most of the attendees pitched their ideas, created teams, and got ready to work.
Day 2: Learn & Work - Everyone showed up early and started cracking! Mentors floated around visiting teams and offered useful advice and direction.
Day 3: Present & Choose - Teams made final preparations and pitched onstage to a panel of judges. Judges included HTW Berlin entrepreneurship professor Heike Holzner, Global VP for SAP .iO Fund Alexa Gorman, and Zoi partner Wolfgang Baudendistel.

The pitching process drew out ideas like a social video challenge app and a modern garden design platform, but our team ended up moving forward to create Grandpal - a platform that allows family members to book and pay for social care by finding a ‘Pal’ in the neighborhood willing to invest quality time with their elders. We wanted to remind society how valuable our elders are and create meaningful social bonds.

After pitching our idea to the judges, I am pleased and proud to say Grandpal won! The judges thought that while this was a really good idea with a lot of value to a huge part of society, it was the only one with a social community angle and I believe this is what set it apart from the other great ideas presented. The judges decided it not only had the highest viability, but it also held the most potential for social impact in a meaningful way. All in all, winning the competition was without a doubt the best way to end a fun weekend full of learning, growing ideas, and thinking with different perspectives. Still, this weekend proves that it’s not about the ideas, it is about making them happen. The amount of satisfaction we all got by learning to work through real-world issues and the challenges companies face when trying to build solutions around them was amazing. I think this is the kind of learning that we all crave as entrepreneurs.

What I have learned:

The most important takeaway from Startup Weekend is that you need to bring an undeveloped idea and see where it leads you. That means you can’t have started to build a social following, written any code, or otherwise started to build your idea prior to the event. But there are still some things you can (and should) do that will help you out on the weekend and that are still in the spirit of the event.

How to prepare?

If you haven’t read it, then you really should check out The Lean Startup by Eric Ries, as many of the principles and methodologies that are utilized over the weekend are inspired by this book.
Get familiarized with the Business Canvas model, you will develop this further with your team on the weekend, but the idea is that you should have a basic understanding of the business model behind your idea, or how to create one.
Have an idea? Pitch it as a starting point! Don’t get married to it, it will evolve over the course of the 54 hours. Think about the Blue Ocean Strategy. Remember, being open to new ideas from your team members will lead to a better end result.
So your idea didn’t make it to the top or you didn't feel like pitching? Join a team that you believe in. Don’t chose an idea just because you think it might win. Observe the synergies after the pitch and talk to the individuals that presented, see what you can give to the people regarding the project.
Use the network! You are going to be in a room full of people from different backgrounds, embrace it and ask for contributions.

Creating a startup in 54 hours is super challenging and feels impossible, but we proved that it can be done with teamwork and perseverance. Can’t wait for next year and the chance to go 3-for-3!

Polina Tibets can be found mentoring and participating in various events in the Berlin startup community and elsewhere. To reach out for future events, reach her at or on LinkedIn.

2017 11 29 09: 27: 19 by Polina Tibets

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