Startup Weekend Women’s Edition: Lessons Learnt from 54 Hours of Creative Heaven

Two reviews of the recent Startup Weekend Women's Edition, by Lachimi Tiwari and Sarah Martin.

 Lachimi: I worked in start-ups years ago, but I wanted to learn what it was all about today.  I came across an article in The NextWomen about Startup Weekend Women’s Edition and I signed up for it. Part of the drive to encourage more women into startups, the event took place from 14th – 16th September 2012

With an interesting format, the weekend was about giving you 54 hours to pitch, team up, build a product and present it to a panel of judges!  The event aimed to give us the experience of how it would feel to be working in a startup.  And yeah, even though it was called Women’s Edition, men were invited too. 

There were a good sprinkling of non-techies and developers but only a few designers - and we had over 60% women, which was amazing! 

Excited, nervous and apprehensive, initially I was wary – this was not going to be a conference.  I was going to be stuck with these people for the next 54 hours – I didn’t know what to expect.  As I mingled, I realised that there were people more nervous than me.  Why?  Because most people were there to pitch an idea.  Thankfully I wasn’t.  I found myself telling them to just go for it because they had nothing to lose.  It wasn’t like they were pitching to an investor, everyone here was in the same boat. 

Almost everyone pitched an idea.  It was inspiring; because a few more people who were just that extra bit nervous found the courage to deliver a pitch.  Everyone was then given a chance to walk around and vote for their top 3 ideas.  The top ideas were selected and we worked on them for the weekend.

I found myself gravitating towards the ideas that I would like to work with.  Having met the pitchers, I told them whatever happened next, I would like to work them on their idea.  For many pitchers, when someone came up to talk to them about their ideas, it was amazing to see their faces light up because they received the validation they were looking for.

By the 2nd day, I felt like I had flown across 3 time zones.  I hadn’t slept a wink – I was so juiced up!  What was interesting was that I couldn’t even sit down, I just wanted to work on the idea and with the team! 

After having caught up on some sleep, here are some of the lessons I learnt from this weekend. 

Lessons Learnt... 

1. Market research is pivotal

Someone has already thought of your idea, but it doesn’t mean that they may be doing it YOUR way.  That was one of the best pieces of advice I got this weekend. 

You should ask everyone around you about your idea.  We only had 54 hours but we went out on the street and asked strangers for feedback. 

If you’re passionate about your idea, make sure you have asked as many people as you can what they think about it and whether they would buy into it. 

2. You don’t always end up with the idea you started with. 

I would recommend co-founders join a team with an open mind.  You will be pitched an idea which will be attractive in the beginning, but by the time it goes to market, you may not be so excited about it. Always remember you were passionate about the product and the general idea of it and not hold that against anyone.  

3.  It may take a million iterations to iron out a business model

My team and I kept going around in circles because everyone brought different experiences to the table and thought of different barriers to entry.  This may be the most challenging aspect you will face when starting up.  Make sure you get as much advice as possible.    

4. Jump at Every Opportunity to get Advice

We had access to the following individuals who gave us their valuable time to talk to us about our product and our concerns.  

  • Nick Holzherr, CEO, Whisk
  • Maila Reeves, UK Editor, The Next Women      
  • Avid Larizadeh, Co-Founder & COO, Boticca
  • Mihai Mifteianu, President, The Cronian Group
  • David Randall, Head of Operations UK & Ireland, airbnb

It was priceless.

5. Be willing to embrace a new culture

Throw away everything you know, especially that corporate and/or public mentality.  The startup community does not function the same way as anything else out there. 

Authenticity, Honesty and Humility is the order of the day.  Be prepared to think differently when working in a startup or pitching your ideas. 

6. Startups Love Startups

There are no enemies here.  I loved the fact that I was helping other teams with surveys, personal feedback and even with their product name!  Can you imagine what an economy filled with start-ups would be like?

I woke up one morning 2 weeks ago suddenly realising I wanted nothing more than to work with startups.  Many think I’m mad but I love the drive, the passion, the high of working on something you own, a piece of your own flesh.  I wouldn’t recommend this experience to everyone.  It’s not for the faint hearted, and as Dana Al Salem, CEO of Fanshake and Co-Founder of Yahoo! Europe said – “you have to be a bit nuts to want to be an entrepreneur”. 

All I can say is I went to find my footing but I found my voice.

See the bottom of the article for more information about Lachimi. Over to Sarah Martin, for her event write up:

Sarah: As I entered the Startup HQ I was greeted with a warm smile, the feeling in the room electric, the buzz enthralling and the sense of community and support for those there indescribable. What I loved was that not everyone there was from a business background, but they were all ready to throw themselves into the world of entrepreneurship for 54 hours, to work with a team of strangers to turn an idea into a reality.

This is what entrepreneurship is about. It is about people coming together, acknowledging they have different strengths, working together, guiding, supporting one another to turn dreams into a reality.

This is where you'll find people with a heart, a passion, not necessarily a head for business but who recognise that by combining skills and characters the world really is your oyster.

Many of the businesses being plotted were Social Enterprises an indication of the heart of the startup community. More and more entrepreneurs are setting these up. One of the ideas featured at the StartUp Weekend was an online mentoring programme for children in developing countries whereby the mentors could be found globally. This idea looks to continue after the weekend. An example of the creative talent which is waiting to be unleashed on society, is illustrated by a Custom Marshmallow Company, providing marshmallows in bespoke shapes and flavours for every occasion.  This team also plan to stick together so watch this space.

By the end of the weekend, the teams exhausted and exhilarated set about returning to their normal daily routines. However, an interesting fact to note is that 30% of the teams are usually together 6 months later. To me this is evidence of the roaring success of these events. If you're interested in entrepreneurship but haven't got a hair brained scheme up your sleeve then why not attend the next StartUp Weekend event. Check out for more details http://startupweekend.co.uk/ 

The place to be for budding entrepreneurs. 

Lachimi Tiwari - Born in Singapore, a social scientist turned geek, Lachimi has been on a self-discovery journey since she has been in the UK.  Having worked in 2 startups before, Lachimi is now hungry to get back to her startup roots, a place where she thrives best.

In her 1st startup she worked in the Tech Team at not-for profit organisation, Hindi Centre Singapore which offers Hindi Classes for students from 4 years to adults.  Her 2nd startup role was in StarHub, a large Telecomms startup in Singapore, managing bids and vendors and in project management roles in the pre-launch phase.

Lachimi took a detour and joined the education sector, researching older people and technology in Scotland and as a business analyst, managing assessments on student record systems.  She also serves on British Computer Society’s West London Branch as Publicity Officer and as Committee Member for the British Computer Society Women’s Special Group.

Lachimi is passionate about startups, empowering women, issues around the ageing population and women in technology.

Sarah Lockhart-Martin founded Ladies at 11 after becoming disillusioned with networking groups for female entrepreneurs. Whilst running her health and wellness business Sarah was looking for an organisation  that was full of dynamic, change making entrepreneurs, with big goals.

As there wasn't one available she set up her own and Ladies at 11 was born.

Why the number 11? The group meets at 11am but there is a much deeper meaning too. The number 11 in numerology is a master number meaning vision, fulfilment, balance, inspiration, honesty which underpin the philosophy of Ladies at 11. 

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