Startup Weekend Tampa 2016: A well-oiled machine

It’s 12:31 am on Monday, November 14, just hours after we wrapped up one of the most incredible Startup Weekend events I’ve ever facilitated.

This was my first time in Tampa, FL and the organizing team was incredibly accommodating and made it easy for me to jump right in and immediately get to work prepping for the kick off on Friday night. With 90+ attendees checking in, and 60+ of them pitching an idea that night, this was the largest event I’ve facilitated to date. With the event hosted in a (haunted) historic theatre, it set the stage for creative and out-of-the-box thinking.

With my personal spin on the classic icebreaker Half Baked, we forced friendships with an activity called Snake Oil — similar in concept, but choosing words from a deck of cards, and the twist is we’re pitching to specific audience card picked by an organizer. This ended up with some of the greatest fake companies building products being pitched to: spies.

After loosening up the attendees a bit, we started the pitches. And let me tell you — there were a lot. We were hitting 40, 50, 60 pitches, and they kept coming. I want to say we ended at around ~75 ideas. Then, we let the voting begin. After 15 minutes, and a couple of drinks, we boiled it down to an outstanding 16 teams with some really, really great and original ideas. Then of course, the work began.

Over the next 2 days, we saw what we usually see at Startup Weekend events — teams break up, then merge into others, start new ones, pivot their ideas (sometimes more than once). But the most important aspect is, they were all working, incredibly hard. You can usually tell by a number of things:

  1. How early they started their customer validation tests.
  2. The types of questions they’re asking the mentors.
  3. The amount of sticky notes and empty Red Bull cans in their areas.

Sunday rolls around and we sat through tech checks and an initial round of presentations, giving feedback on their business models, tips on presenting, and what to expect from the judges. We took a break, then started the big show.

2 hours and 30 minutes.

That’s how long it took us to get through all 16 pitches. It was definitely one of the longer judging processes I’ve gone through as a facilitator. Entering deliberation, you could tell the judges were torn between winners, and some even surprising myself and most of the organizers. We let the judges finish over tacos from the food truck parked outside, and wrangled everyone into the auditorium to present the winners.

3rd place: CozyCore — an instant heating pack for your core targeted towards outdoor enthusiasts and sport fanatics (like Green Bay Packer fans)

2nd place: Re-D Printing — imagine taking all the soda bottles and plastic material you recycle everyday, and turn it into fuel for 3D printers.

1st place: VoCal (Vote Local) — there’s a perception that voting only matters at the presidential top, when really it starts with your local school board and city council. Know the candidates, forums, and bills being passed that affect you directly in your region.

I’m almost at a loss for words about how flawlessly this event was executed from start to finish: everything from food being delivered on time, quality mentors being available and utilized for advice, and even the after party centered around a live art show. As a told the team, I’ve never seen a more well-oiled machine putting on a Startup Weekend event. They should be proud of their work, and representing not just Techstars and the Startup Weekend brand, but the entire Tampa Bay startup community.

Having left with one or two (or a dozen) new friends and even connecting attendees with resources back in Texas, I definitely picked up a thing or two from this group on running successful events. I’ve never been to Florida for a significant amount of time, but I wouldn’t mind coming back to hang with this crew. You guys were amazing.