Using Startup Weekend to
Build Entrepreneurial Communities in Regional Centers.

“You know the rules…No throwing balls in the house!” She said after I tossed the ball up against the wall, granted it was higher than normal and over top of the TV. “Yeah! You might break the television” said Miss 14 looking up from the lifestyle program featuring on the free to air networks this Friday evening. A dinner of roast silverside beef and white sauce was settling on the insides but something else was driving me up and out of my comfy chair and down towards the home office. The talk over dinner had been around tomorrows dawn service for ANZAC day and where we might attend the remembrance service of those who had fallen in the Great War, World War One, so many years ago when landing at Gallipoli, on the shores of Turkey, so far away, eons from today’s world of Startup’s, Smart Watches, Smart cars and Unicorns.

What has brought me along on this journey that I should find myself here tonight, on ANZAC day eve; writing a last minute story about our upcoming Startup Weekend. It is a vertical theme SWEDU or Startup Weekend Education and this story, a last minute attempt to get to Spain for the Up Regional Summit. It’s last minute because we are so busy building, developing and planning for a new Co-working space, the first for our region. We are hard at work promoting a themed Startup Weekend, the first SWEDU for our State; and all the other obligations that go into feeding a family nine to five that the only time I have to write this is in the dying moments on the 24th of April.

I live in a regional center, it’s not a back water or a one hick town and since we have a Cathedral or two we are designated a city, at least by an old English definition. It’s almost a year now since I first started telling our local business community that I was setting out to champion for “The development and promotion of a vibrant Startup ecosystem on the Darling Downs through the introduction of Startup events and activities that generate an entrepreneurial community, for entrepreneurs, run by entreperneurs”. Quite a mouthful, yet it soon rolled off the tongue with practice and in no small part because I believed in what I was saying. Truth being that having discovered Startup Weekend and other activities like GOVHACK and Lean Startup Machine, I wanted them here, in my town (I mean city)

Some one had to do it…

Three town meetings in six weeks at the local Chamber of Commerce and I was thrice committed to making good on my statements. Events and activities I was promising, and these would create the population to make a co-working space a viable proposition. A co-working space would assist startups; events would be held in the co-working space and that would help grow the Startup community which would require events and activities. I know to some its a vicious circle I make…to me, it was music to my ears.

I knocked on doors around town of the business owners I thought might be interested and told them what I was going to do, “Startups, they said, they have no money I’m not interested!” And then the next day one would say “Startups, COOL! I have a couple who I work with, one is really busting out and making big bucks.” Seems it’s all in the mindset, many support services (web site developers and self proclaimed marketing experts) think Startups are penniless? When in reality, many Startups are well funded by folk who have the dollars and skills. They’re second time around’ers, they have done their twenty five years in a company, the kids have left home, maybe they have a package from their last employer and are looking to Startup! Equity in a property or two, make no mistake, they have money.

I attended seminars where I thought like minded people may be gathering, I read books, watched webinars, Startup Grind videos and told the people what I was planning. I joined Linkedin groups, created a Meetup group and on this journey, met some others; others who said “Good on you, I was going to do this once” and others that said “We tried this before and it failed” and they wished me well on my journey. “It would be different this time” I said, “things are not the same today as they were, not the same even as 10 years ago.” An old fashioned business enterprise center was not what I was preaching.

One day at a lunch time gathering, in fact it was the first outing for a local entrepreneur who was, unbeknown to himself, at that moment, creating something that was about to grow exponentially for himself. It was here that I met who you might call the ‘first follower’ for that ‘Shirtless Dancing Guy!’ I being the dancing guy and she, the first follower. Check out the video here if you don’t know the ‘shirtless dancing guy’ (ps. it’s a great vid to show if you’re a Startup Weekend facilitator.)

Leanne had just returned that previous day from San Francisco and a huge conference on Sustainable Brands, she was hung over from jet lag yet buzzing from the vibe generated by a big gathering of like minded people. Leanne had experienced the movement that was growing in San Fran of Startup’s, entrepreneurs, the sharing economy and the need to innovate; first hand. She recognized immediately the dude who was here dancing, and joined in, jet lagged and all.

A couple of coffee meetups and Leanne joined the movement as co-founder and we were off! A Startup Weekend was my plan and looking at things, we were about three months out from Global Entrepreneurs Week and the opportunity to run a Global Startup Battle was on. Let’s do it!

I had been reading Brad Feld (of TechStars fame’s) book on Building a Startup Community and the story of Boulder, Colorado; adopting principles from that manifesto and using them to start what will become our own Startup Ecosystem. We mirror a lot of geographical features of Boulder; we are a satellite city; we are on a mountain range; we have one university and we have a similar population.

Using TechStars (Brad’s plan) we executed regular meetings and meetup’s events that always happen no matter what. Every second Tuesday we have a meetup at the same local coffee shop ‘The Engine Room Cafe.’ I love that name…it makes me think that things are moving. Another activity we also established is the last Wednesday of every month Startup Meeting with special guest speakers on topics; close the the heart of the entrepreneur. These events and Startup Weekends are our weapons of choice and we are winning the war!

The first Startup Weekend in November 2014, a Global Startup Battle was a great success for our goal of growing a ‘Vibrant Startup Ecosystem.’ Remember the mouthful at the beginning? Support from our local Municipal Council to hold the event meant that they had their eye on us and what we were up to. When the Council came to observe the event, it gave them the confidence to engage with us to trial a co-working space in Toowoomba.

It seems the council had some funds parked for just such a trial space and now; they had found some people to drive it forward. Startup Toowoomba, the movement I started not six months earlier had found traction because of the Startup Weekend we ran.

Our upcoming Startup Weekend is a theme, Startup Weekend Education. SWEDU for short. Our town (I mean city) is an education center. It has many schools, probably more schools per capita than any other town (i mean city) in Australia as it services a huge area of Queensland and the farmer’s families that work the land send their children here for boarding. Many kids requiring an education equals many schools. Hence a Startup Weekend Education. But really, the true story here is what Startup Weekend has meant to this Startup community as a tool for growth.

Startup Weekend rocks and it’s associated activities are a major part of growing our brand new entrepreneurial ecosystem and today, today I started a new chapter, today I start my journey as a Startup Weekend Facilitator.

Spain, now getting there would be amazing. Our previous SW facilitator as told us many times; how amazing the last conference was.

Up Summit Madrid look out! When we say we are going to do something, we mean it!

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