Reflections on Startup Weekend 2014 In the Greater Peoria Area

“What if we did something like the food version of AirBNB? You post what you’re having for dinner, and charge people nearby for a meal.”

This was the starting point to an idea that within 54 hours led to the 1st place prize for the 2014 Startup Weekend competition in the Greater Peoria region. Startup Weekend was hands-down one of the most exciting events I’d participated in years. Here’s my point of view of what happened and my take on the whole experience:

Day 1

- First things first, we preceded the event with an absolutely delicious catered dinner.

- The event started in the evening with all participants in a large banquet hall at Bradley University, and we were introduced to what Startup Weekend was all about by the coolest host ever, Kyle.

- We played fun ice breaker games to get to know people sitting near us.

- Everyone with an idea was able to pitch in front of everyone. My friend Haroon, pitched the food version of AirBnB.

- The best ideas were posted on a wall, and participants were able to choose the one they liked the most to work on.

- We then had access to the whole of Bradley University’s Foster College of Business to post up in classrooms and work on our ideas. Haroon introduced me to another participant, Kyle, and we decided to form a team together with several others in one of the classrooms.

- Within the hour we realized this idea wouldn’t work given how many health code violations it would face. Within the hour we lost most of our initial teammates interested in our idea.

- An insane amount of snacks and refreshments were available. We decide to take a break.

- The brain food helped. We decided to pivot and evolve our idea into a social networking platform for chefs to show off their culinary creations and for foodies to connect with these chefs to hire them for an at-home chef experience. Within another hour we had a new group of crucial teammates: Daniel the web developer pro and Harsh a sharp, business-oriented creative. We quickly lost track of time and were up past midnight working on what we dubbed, Chef Genie.

Day 2

- We all mozie in the next morning. Armed with an unlimited supply of coffee and delicious breakfast, we’re back at it. Danny was working on a website and Harsh on the logo and pitch deck. Fortunately Kyle had culinary experience and future aspirations, and he was on top of phone calls to food industry professionals regarding relevant legal matters to our business model. Haroon had the marketing plan locked down, and I was working on the business model and contacting a couple of chef friends I knew as well as a nutritional executive from one of the local hospitals.

- Local news show up to interview the Startup Weekend participants.

Look ma I made it.

- We had attorneys and business professionals available throughout the day to consult with which was invaluable for helping us fine tune our startup proposition.

- We attended workshops hosted by Startup Weekend on introduction to business model canvas and lean startups, both foundational concepts for anyone interested in pursuing an entrepreneurial venture.

- We continued to work on Chef Genie for the whole day and night.

Day 3

- Unfortunately I had a day job to attend to most of Sunday. When I had free time at work, I reviewed our notes and kept in touch with my team via text who were finalizing the pitch deck and presentation.

- Finally presentation time. Competition was fierce as everyone did an awesome job with developing and presenting their ideas.

- Judges reflect on all of the ideas.

- Chef Genie wins People’s Choice Award and Overall 1st Place.

The Rest is History

The biggest thing Startup Weekend taught me was sometimes you need to stop thinking about things and just do it.

We can truly be our own worst enemy, and it was mind blowing to see what could be done in less than 3 days given the right environment. Even if we hadn’t come in 1st place, everyone with the entrepreneurial spirit gains something just by participating.

1. Networking: How often do you get a whole facility filled entrepreneurs, business professors and lawyers (pro bono), software developers, and artistic creatives for a whole weekend? I’ve lived in Peoria most of my life but never had this opportunity. Startup Weekend allowed me to make new connections and lasting friends whom I’ve stayed in touch with since. As the old adage goes, it’s not what you know but who you know.

2. Knowledge: Throughout the weekend we learned so much through the interactive workshops on Business Model Canvas and Lean Startups. In addition, we met with successful local entrepreneurs and intellectual property attorneys who were invaluable in helping us refine our ideas and just all around cool people to meet.

3. Food and Goodies: Everyone got a goodie bag loaded with awesome stuff from vinyl stickers and mugs to vouchers for free visits to Peoria’s one and only co-working space, @TheNestCowork. All meals were catered or bought from delicious local eateries, and the crazy amount of snacks and refreshments were awesome to have.

Seize the opportunity.

Don’t have any formal business knowledge? Me neither.

Don’t know how to code? Nada.

Don’t know anything about graphic design? Hell no.

Don’t have an idea? Neither did I, but my team won.

These types of opportunities must be jumped on, and it’s that time of year again. Startup Weekend is back, and I highly encourage everyone in the Greater Peoria Area with an entrepreneurial spirit to participate next month.

Hope to see you there, good luck!