Startup Weekend Stories: Eric and the super side project

Startup Weekend Stories: Memories, reflections and lessons learned from Startup Weekend events in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City, Iowa. 

Today we meet Eric Bailey, a designer, photographer, and front-end web developer. Eric is currently living and working in New York, but this story dates to Startup Weekend Cedar Rapids 2014. An idea that was a “super side project” (read: never gonna happen during work hours) for Sculpt finally got off the ground during Startup Weekend.

Then, that idea blew up. To date, Startup Stock Photos averages 50,000 pageviews per month and has been featured by the likes of Mashable, INC, The Next Web, and Entrepreneur. This is Eric’s recap. (Originally published on, more via Sculpt.)

Eric, the creator of Startup Stock Photos, as featured in a Startup Stock Photo.
Eric, the creator of Startup Stock Photos, as featured in a Startup Stock Photo.


Free stock photo sites are all the rage right now. Sites like Unsplash andLittle Visuals are bookmarked on my Chrome – I use them for everything. Like the open source movement, getting higher quality assets into the hands of people that are creating online is a wonderful, wonderful thing.

At Sculpt, I take a lot of photos, and we work with a lot of startups. So it was a serious joke when my CEO, Josh, and I were working late one night and he suggested I start a stock photo site.

“Call it Startup Stock Photos.”

“Okay. That sounds fun.”

So I bought the domain.

Startup Weekend Cedar Rapids was a week or so after that night. Between covering the event via social (Twitter/Facebook) and participating on a team, I set up a Tumblr and started uploading photos to the domain

And the response has been amazing. The site bounced around our regional networks for a few months before the fantastic startup community we have here in Iowa got wind of it. Huge thanks to Megan at Silicon Prairie News for her write-up, as well as Sarah over at We Create Here and Geoff at Welch Avenue.

It’s a constant joy to see my photos on other sites, and used by so many different people and companies.

Josh adds: “Because we love supporting startups. Because we hated the pictures writers licensed for their articles. Because we love bringing the Iowa startup community to the rest of the world.”

Here are a few examples – many more at

tumblr_ndyvpvMyyT1tubinno1_1280 tumblr_ndyve8fmFa1tubinno1_r1_1280 Startup Stock Photos stock2 Startup Stock Photos Startup Stock Photos

Find the next Startup Weekend in Iowa at!

Startup Weekend Cedar Rapids 2015: Meet the teams

Our 2015 facilitator, Max Farrell, corralled more than 40 ideas Friday night. Photo by Sculpt - find more on Facebook at
Our 2015 facilitator, Max Farrell, corralled more than 40 ideas Friday night. Photo by Sculpt – find more on Facebook at

The flurry of activity that happened Friday night – food, drink, games, pitches, and lots of post-its – has faded as ideas have come to the forefront. The teams of Startup Weekend Cedar Rapids 2015 are hard at work.

Teams got to know each other Friday night (Photo via Braden Kopf on Twitter)
Teams got to know each other Friday night (Photo via Braden Kopf on Twitter)

Saturday is largely about learning and answering questions – do you understand the problem to be solved? Really? Do you know what customers have that problem? Have you talked to them? And sometimes, the best learning moment is knowing when to walk away. “Our original idea, we invalidated immediately because of heavy competition, and our team wasn’t having any fun. It was bad,” said Brian Rupert, who worked on a team called Lunch Line before starting a totally new idea. “We switched ideas, and it switched the whole mood of the team – everyone is having fun, and contributing and being active. We can see the change, we can see the benefits.” Names, pitches and teams may change again and again before the weekend is over, but here are the ideas, as of now:

Career and Company

We talked to: Julie Troendle, an independent personal trainer The idea: Letting employers and potential employees “date” to see if they’d be a good fit. “It’s almost like a dating app for careers or jobs. Which means you’re not necessarily looking for the job you’re going to be with for the rest of your life, but looking at what you might want to be doing in the future.” Goal/challenge for the weekend: Coming together as a team – “It feels like we’re everywhere right now…Figuring out who we’re targeting, and exactly what problem we’re solving.” Personal growth moment: Being an introvert in a high-energy, close-quarters events. “That’s why I’m here, I wanted to learn about myself and how I would handle it.”


We talked to: Brian Rupert, a web designer and developer The idea: “Using digital registration to make setup and collaboration at 1 Million Cups events better.” The team wants to prove the idea with a community event they know and regularly attend – 1MC – before moving to other events. Goal/challenge for the weekend: Getting a late start – this team spent Friday night working on a completely different idea called Lunch Line. They are working on customer discovery and hope to have a few features ready to test by Wednesday’s 1 Million Cups. Personal growth moment: Balancing a few different goals – Rupert is working on customer discovery, the vision, building the product and mentoring another team member. “Just making sure the vision is clear across the whole team. Just constantly verifying that we’re all on the same page. And since the experience Friday wasn’t super great, just making sure everyone is happy, and making sure everyone is doing what they want to do.”


We talked to: Stone McNamara, a high school junior at Cedar Rapids Washington and Iowa BIG The idea: “Empower is a platform for people to anonymously post what they need encouragement on, what they need support on.” Negative comments are filtered out by the community before reaching the original poster. Goal/challenge for the weekendThe tech side – the team of 3.5 (one person has to leave midway through the weekend) hopes to launch a website tonight and an app before the final pitches tomorrow. Personal growth moment: “I’ve definitely been more vocal – during BIG I’ve been told I don’t really talk that much. Here it’s an open work space, you feel comfortable sharing your ideas…Everyone has the same goal. Even though we’re in competition, no one is unwilling to help anyone else in their journey.”

Family Caregiver Service

We talked to: Connor Schulte of The idea: “The process of being a caregiver for someone with a chronic illness is really difficult – we’re trying to come up with a solution.” Goal/challenge for the weekend: Really identifying the right customer segment and their problem to solve. “To hone in on one problem we want to try to solve, and develop an MVP or some kind of prototype.” Personal growth moment: Working on customer discovery – with a design and development background, Schulte has been pretty task-focused at previous Startup Weekends. “I think it’s a great experience to have – it’s very important to any business, I’m glad I get o be a part of it this time around.”

Iowa Bike Bar

We talked to: Scott Swenson, director of the Kirkwood SBDC

The idea: “Offering Cedar Rapids an active, fun activity. A group bike bar – a  mobile bar with six seats, a driver, it’s interactive.”

Goal/Challenge for the weekend: “We hope to have validated a need – is this a product-market fit for Cedar Rapids. And validate, perhaps, a pricing model.” Bikes like this are available but they may design their own.

Personal growth moment: “I can pick up and learn things form the other coaches and mentors. I’m trying to improve my own coaching. Each one can have different input, which sometimes conflicts, and that’s ok. – it gives you that different way of looking at things.”

Perfect Night 

We talked to: Rebecca Sullens – Cornell college career advisor The idea: “Helping people find options for a night out.” Simple as that. While the original idea had to do with dating, the project isn’t just for couples anymore. Goal/challenge for the weekend: “Identifying the biggest pain point – generating and creating the method to survey people….How much do we want to start a business, or how much do we want to identify a problem that needs to be fixed, and start trying to fix it.” Personal growth moment: Switching teams mid-morning after the Lunch Line idea fell apart. “Changing your mind…finding a project you can commit to as it evolves, and finding out how to work with people when everybody has big ideas, and everyone wants to work together.”


We talked to: Mike Clancy, a teacher at Muscatine High School The idea: “Trivia crack meets the classroom. It’s targeted at AP exams. We wanted to be able to give teachers feedback on their students.” Goal/challenge for the weekend“The edtech world is inundated with products – making the message clear that our product is unique and solves a real challenge.” This team hopes to stand out through gamification and providing data to teachers. Personal growth moment: Diving headfirst into startup life. ““In my mind it’s simple – create the app, send it out – but there are a number of variables I never really considered,”

Social Runner / Fit Together

We talked to: Leon Tabak, a computer science professor at Cornell College The idea: “A lot of people like to go running – they see other people in the community, but they don’t know who they are, and they want some companionship in their activities.” Goal/challenge for the weekend: Plenty of alternatives for fitness and socialization. “There are lots of opportunities for how people could go out and solve this problem – how do we distinguish ourselves? How do we define our market more clearly?” Personal growth moment: The academic, getting a taste of entrepreneurial life. “It’s all a little bit different than getting together to do it for the experience…I’m very happy my students are here.”

Sunday Dinner 

We talked to: Jonathan Bunjer, CEO of KASA Solutions The idea: “When you have a social gathering where multiple people are involved in bringing things to the event, dealing with the logistics of that…A central place that keeps track of that information.” Goal/challenge for the weekend: Develop a working webpage and test it on a few potential customers. Personal growth moment: His own business evolved from a need, so he hasn’t done a ton of customer discovery before. “You can have a great idea, but if nobody wants to buy your great idea, you’re out of luck. That can be kind of crushing at times.”


We talked to: Madison Gingery, a senior at the University of Iowa studying marketing and entrepreneurship The idea: “A fashionable personal security bracelet that will send help at the press of a button.” Goal/challenge for the weekendThe team is working on a minimum viable product (MVP) this weekend, but Gingery is more focused on finding teammates who might want to continue on after the weekend. Personal growth moment: Gingery is passionate about the problem she is trying to solve, and did a lot of research before the weekend – so opening her idea up to other perspectives was tough. “Communication – learning how to lead a group. I haven’t had a group of smart individuals lean on me to tell them what to do.”

Is Startup Weekend for me?


Guest post by Andy Stoll: After hearing the question ‘Is Startup Weekend for me?’ over and over, he wanted to share his perspective. Andy is a serial social entrepreneur and co-founder of Seed Here Studio, Vault Coworking and Collaboration Space and The Iowa Startup Accelerator. He is also a global facilitator for Startup Weeeknd.

I encourage a lot of people to attend Startup Weekend, especially those who are curious about entrepreneurship and startups. One of the most common reasons people tell me why they CAN NOT attend Startup Weekend comes in a few variations, but is essentially getting at the same thing. Their doubts usually manifest themselves in reasons such as, “Well, I’m not an entrepreneur or a business person,” or “I don’t know how to code, design or build websites,” or “I don’t really have any ideas to pitch.” 

The real concerns that they are often getting at are: 1) I am a novice, is it still really for me? 2) If I go and don’t know anything (or anybody), will everyone know that (and call me out as a fraud!)?

A big secret that entrepreneurs don’t often tell you is that every single entrepreneur, business owner and startup founder has, at some point, felt that they were not qualified, not prepared, and not ready to do what they wanted to do (and worried they’d be called out at any time as a “fraud”).

This struggle defines the journey of every entrepreneur: overcoming anxiety, charting a course through haunting feelings of uncertainty, persevering in the face of self-doubt. You can’t learn these skills from a book or a class, you can only learn them by facing the fears.

All entrepreneurs eventually learn to be comfortable being uncomfortable (at least most of the time), and for those that do, the rewards are immense: growth, fulfillment, self-actualization, the satisfaction that comes from building a team and the joy of turning something in your head into a real thing…

The journey is long, but it is, in the end, the reward.

Startup Weekend is designed to be a first step on that journey, the first chance to dip your toe in to the water of entrepreneurship and making your ideas happen. It is designed for EVERYONE to attend. I’ve seen people as young as 11 participate and as old as 84. I’ve seen grill cooks, accountants, corporate CEO’s, skateboarders, veterans, moms, retired school teachers, kids and ministers participate. Maybe you don’t code, design, or “have ideas” (though secretly everyone has ideas), that’s ok because there will be others there that do. Everyone has a skill that they will contribute to a team, whether its writing, leading, interviewing, cheerleading, pats on the back, drawing, researching or a plethora of other things needed for each team to succeed—everyone and anyone has something to contribute to a Startup Weekend team (and often times at Startup Weekend you’ll discover skills you never realized you had!).

Startup Weekend is designed to simulate the entrepreneurial journey in an incredibly condensed 54-hour period. It is, in my view, the single best way to try entrepreneurship with essentially no risk, to go down the path and see what it feels like. Feels is the operative word.

If you have doubts about attending, you’re nervous and worried that you are “not ready,” maybe you have butterflies in your stomach. That’s the first sign you are on the right path.

Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.

Hope to see you at Startup Weekend!

Find the next Startup Weekend in Iowa at!


Startup Weekend Cedar Rapids 2015: Meet Max

Max Farrell, startup weekend organizer (photo via Create Reason)
Max Farrell, startup weekend organizer (photo via Create Reason)

Max Farrell, serial Startup Weekender and co-founder of Create Reason, will facilitate Startup Weekend Cedar Rapids 2015!

He’s facilitated more than a dozen high-energy weekends throughout the Midwest, and first brought Startup Weekend to Arkansas and to high schoolers.

Full-time, he’s building Create Reason, which helps existing companies create and innovate.

Oh, and he’s also a rapper and a duck hunter. Read on for more about Max:

You said in your Tedx talk that hip hop was like entrepreneurship. What is entrepreneurship like?

Hip-hop is the most entrepreneurial genre. The movement from the Bronx became this multi-billion dollar global industry and the art itself encourages a streak of entrepreneurship. It’s a build from the ground up attitude and in order to make it in music, you have to make yourself heard and gain new fans (customers). Same as in business or startups. If you’re not creating what people want and not doing what it takes to creatively get your point across, you probably won’t be successful. It’s a beautiful thing.

Describe it for us – What was your first Startup Weekend experience like? Did you know what you were getting into? What kept you coming back?

My first Startup Weekend was in Kansas City in 2011. I drove down because I was curious about entrepreneurship and it seemed like a good way to get my hands dirty in “startups.” My current business partner was in school nearby and met me there. It shook both our worlds. We realized it was possible to build something from the ground up and that we could learn quickly and immediately execute. It was a huge shift away from the college mindset of learn all the time and then get a job. I kept going back because I learned an amazing amount from creative people in various parts of the country. 

I see you facilitated the first-ever high school Startup Weekend – how was that the same or different than an “adult” version?

Young people kick ass. Adults have a lot of jadedness / cynicism, but high schoolers, when treated like equals can do amazing things. Their minds are full of curiosity/ambition and many of them have talents that could exceed that of folks that work in companies today. The format was modified a bit to focus on forming teams from specific schools to make it easier to keep projects going after the weekend. The teams also had their pitches / ideas ready ahead of time. The experience sent a shockwave through the students that participated and the faculty that saw what the students were capable of. I’m pumped to see the ripples through the state’s education system.

What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned through your work with Startup Weekend? How have you applied it to your work with Create Reason?

Biggest lessons learned:

  • Ideas are worth acting on, not talking about
  • You can learn new things from the same process
  • People use products, not ideas. You have to create something that people can use and will pay to use. Ideas have a total value of $0
  • Execution wins the day

How I’ve applied these:

I’ve made sure to productize the offerings Create Reason can provide. It’s really tough to put things in boxes, but if people don’t know what they can buy, you can’t sell anything.

What super practical piece of advice would you give to first-timers?

For first-timers:

  • Don’t get stuck on your own ideas. Startup Weekend is about the experience, the community and learning. If your ideas aren’t selected, rally with some other folks and learn.
  • For students: please don’t tell us you have too much homework. You’ll be rubbing elbows with the parents of multiple kids and working professionals that are finding a way to make it work for the weekend, don’t come with that weak “homework” stuff.
  • No one is “above” participating. Too often I hear people say “I’m more of a mentor than a participant”. That’s bogus. I’ve seen CEOs/Founders jump in and participate in a Startup Weekend. They have a blast, wind up making great connections and learning something new themselves. 

One more thing people should know about you:

I rap good:

I duck hunt too.

5 strategies to make your ideas happen

This post is from Andy Stoll, a social entrepreneur and media producer. He is deeply involved with the Iowa Startup Accelerator, EntreFEST, and he co-founded Seed Here Studio, a media and marketing agency dedicated to building a stronger community of entrepreneurs and creatives in the Iowa City/Cedar Rapids area.

Andy Stoll at EntreFEST 2014.
Andy Stoll at EntreFEST 2014.

I have spent the better part of the past decade helping entrepreneurs and creative people turn their ideas into reality–almost daily I get the question, “I have an idea, now what?”

Here are 5 strategies to get you started on turning your ideas into reality:

1. Tell a lot of people about your idea

This at first sounds counter-intuitive and is often met with the response of, “Won’t someone steal my idea?!” The truth of the matter is 98 percent of the time, you are not the first person to come up with an idea, and in most cases, your first initial idea is actually fairly crappy (because it needs sharpening). In entrepreneurship, success isn’t built on being the first to think of an idea, but it has everything to do with how well you execute and build your idea into reality. Facebook, for example, was not the first social network, just the one that executed the best.

Why tell others about your idea? Because it will make it better. The act of sharing your idea will help you get better at talking about it. When you share your idea, you’ll find that people will offer you critical feedback and often times recommend resources to move your idea along (“You should talk to my friend Dave who….”).

2. Surround yourself with other creatives and entrepreneurs - born at Startup Weekend Cedar Rapids. – born at Startup Weekend Cedar Rapids.

It has been commonly said that you “become the average of the 5 people whom you surround yourself with.” I take that to mean, “If you want to be a dancer, hang out with 5 other people who are dancers.” The same holds true if you want to be an entrepreneur.

Also, by surrounding yourself with creative and entrepreneurial people, you will learn to dream bigger and push harder, while meeting other people who may help you along your journey (and it’s often a longer journey than you expect).

3. Expose yourself to specific strategies to be innovative

In the last decade two leading methodologies have emerged to help put into words the actual process of “innovating” and making ideas happen. The Lean Startup Methodology and the Business Model Canvas are two of these strategies that are taking the startup, creative, technology and business worlds by storm (trust me, Google them), spawning books, conferences, evangelists, workshops and thousands of more successful innovative companies. The best thing about these methodologies is that they can be learned.

4. Try and fail, a lot

Also, counter to most logic, if you want to get good at making ideas happen, you first have to be bad at making ideas happen. Though I certainly don’t wish failure on anyone, failure is often the best teacher.

5. Attend a Startup Weekend

The good news is there is a single place where you could do all of these things mentioned above for very little money and very little risk! Startup Weekend is likely the single best ways for you to “try” entrepreneurship and try to make an idea happen. The risk is minimal (a little bit of money and a weekend of your time) and you will come out of it with new ideas, new friends, new knowledge, and I almost guarantee you’ll be fired up even more to take action on your ideas!

Find the next Startup Weekend in Iowa at!

Startup Weekend Stories: Sarah, new in town

Startup Weekend Stories: Memories, reflections and lessons learned from Startup Weekend events in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City, Iowa. 

Today we meet Sarah Dunlap, an Iowa City transplant by way of Portland, Ore. She owns ApplePOPDesign, a web design and SEO/SEM firm. She saw Startup Weekend as a way to get plugged in to a new town: “Since I was new to the area, I thought it would be neat to meet others in the community and work on a new project.”

Sarah dunlap


What were your hopes and goals going into the weekend?

I wanted to meet others in the community. I also thought it would be interesting to see how others operate and see what it is like to work on a start-up project with other people. Most of the projects I’ve worked on have been solo projects.

What was the most challenging part of the weekend? Were there any unexpected moments?

I think the most challenging part is working with people you don’t know very well especially if you are new to the area. You have to figure out how to work as a team in a short amount of time. It is exciting to spend the weekend working on something and see it come together so fast. I really was surprised at the amount of work all the teams were able to accomplish in one weekend.

Advice I would give to someone before attending startup weekend:

It is important to have a direct conversation very soon after the weekend to discuss as a team how the project is going to continue.

Find the next Startup Weekend in Iowa at!

Startup Weekend Stories: Jesse, hacking for good

Startup Weekend Stories: Memories, reflections and lessons learned from Startup Weekend events in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City, Iowa. 

Today we meet Jesse Lane, a corporate employee who started showing up at events like open coffee longing for a side hustle. Two Startup Weekends later, he’s participated in multiple initiatives that mix social good with technology, and found the perfect project in Agropolis, an indoor farming service. He writes: “I hoped that I’d come out of the other side with a decent idea to keep working on and maybe a few people to work on it with me.” Members of the team are still working on the idea.

The Agropolis team at Startup Weekend Iowa City 2014. Team lead Jesse Lane is holidng the plant.
The Agropolis team at Startup Weekend Iowa City 2014. Team lead Jesse Lane is holidng the plant.

What was your involvement (if any) with the local startup community before the weekend?

Before my first one (Cedar Rapids last March), I had been attending the Open Coffee meetups for a few months trying to figure out how to introduce myself since I didn’t have anything in particular I was working on. By my second (Iowa City last October) I was much more involved in the community with 1MC, lunches, etc.

I wasn’t at all sure what to expect the first time so I didn’t have any hopes or goals. For my second weekend I hoped that I’d come out of the other side with a decent idea to keep working on and maybe a few people to work on it with me.

The idea:

My first weekend the idea that was pitched was some app/community/process to address the numerous “zombie” homes around Cedar Rapids left by the flood. By Sunday night we pitched an app we had built that would allow a user to report a home and have it logged to a database. That project kept going for a couple months and then petered out after talks with the city fizzled and the team dispersed.

The second weekend I pitched a vague idea to hack a business model for vertical farming (large-scale indoor farming in skyscrapers). Sunday we pitched a small hydroponic tomato operation to provide year-round tomatoes to local restaurants. Today the idea has morphed into an, as yet undetermined, product to help indoor farmers optimize their operations. We’re called Agropolis and we’re currently going through Venture School to crystallize our idea.

What was the most challenging part of the weekend? What was the most exciting? Were there any unexpected moments?

The most challenging part of the weekend for me is always team dynamics. Both times I worked with large teams which take a while to settle on an idea and then take a bit more management to make it through. I feel that both experiences helped me be a better listener and collaborator.

How has the experience impacted you after the weekend?

I’d say it’s upended my life at the moment! I work a full-time job and have 3 kids and now I’ve thrown Venture School on top of that. If it weren’t for my wonderful fiance there is no way I could manage it all. She’s also recently started her own venture, New Leaf Redevelopment.

Thanks also to:

Dave Tominsky for drawing me into this community through the open coffees, his enthusiasm for entrepreneurship in the Corridor, and cajoling me into applying to Venture School.

You, Sarah, and We Create Here for keeping me up-to-date about my community and organizing community building events.

Finally, all of the friends I’ve made in the entrepreneurial community in the past year or so.

Advice I would give to someone considering attending startup weekend:

Go and pitch! The first time I didn’t pitch an idea (fear of public speaking) and I regretted it. The second time around I practiced and just went for it and it paid off.

Find the next Startup Weekend in Iowa at!

Consider Startup Weekend an investment in yourself

Startup Weekends are some of my favorite events for entrepreneurial communities. I have been to several throughout Iowa – sometimes in my day job as a journalist, some as a community volunteer, and one (so far!) as a participant. Every time, the energy is amazing.

Pitching at Startup Weekend Cedar Rapids 2014.
Pitching at Startup Weekend Cedar Rapids 2014.

I frequently recommend the experience to others, so I know there can be an element of hesitation. You get 52 precious weekends in a year – why would you want to spend a whole 54 hours with strangers, working hard on a totally unpredictable project?

It’s true that attending Startup Weekend is an investment – to some extent, with money, but to a greater extent, with your time.

But, at the end of the day, it’s an investment you’re making in yourself. It’s a decision to spend time on learning and growing.

It’s a chance to make new friends and expand your network. It’s a chance to stretch yourself professionally or be introduced to a new skill. It’s a chance to introduce that idea that’s been living in the corners of your mind to the rest of the world. It’s a chance to break out of your normal routine and refresh your thinking.

What do you want out of it?

With the mindset that Startup Weekend is an investment in yourself – I’d recommend taking a few moments to think about your hopes and goals for the weekend before attending. You’re putting in the time, what do you hope to get in return?

I went into my weekend as a participant hoping to meet new people, learn something new and be part of a team that built something functional and useful. I was overwhelmed with how great I felt about all of these things by Sunday night.

There are always a few people who don’t come back after Friday night. From what I’ve seen, these tend to be people who only want to work on their idea, so if it doesn’t get picked they have no interest in joining another team. (Personally, I wouldn’t recommend this option.)

Other people might come to Startup Weekend determined to be on the winning team. Or to really start a business (if you can do that with people you just met – more power to you).

Some people just want to build something awesome before returning to their day job on Monday.

All of these goals are perfectly legitimate. They could all also drastically change how a participant feels and acts. Keep your expectations in mind throughout the weekend to shape the experience you want to have.

Read more via We Create Here: Reflections on Startup Weekend Cedar Rapids

Find the next Startup Weekend in Iowa at!

Test, dream and practice at Startup Weekend

This article was contributed by John Schnipkoweit, CEO and Co-Founder at His company’s genesis began at a Startup Weekend in Iowa City years ago, before leading to an accelerator backed by Techstars and Nike and then back home to build in Iowa’s Creative Corridor.

John Schnipkoweit of (Photo via 1 Million Cups IC/CR on Facebook)
John Schnipkoweit of (Photo via 1 Million Cups IC/CR on Facebook)

I attended the first startup weekend in Iowa City, only the second in Iowa. Now several happen throughout Iowa each year. I don’t believe that Startup Weekends create more companies – a common misconception, however they do let people experiment – a key part of what you do everyday in a startup. Its important for everyone to practice the process you go through in a Startup Weekend, but only the brave ones actually commit to attending. So my challenge to everyone, is what are you waiting for? Think a Startup Weekend is just for tech geeks? Entrepreneurs? Think again – everyone has a skill that will not only be useful at a Startup Weekend, but will actually be improved as a result of the weekend.

Not convinced yet? Consider these few examples:

Testing tiny

We’ve read and heard about various industries adopting lean methods – and there is a reason for that. It’s that we don’t know, what we don’t know. I bet we all do repetitive tasks everyday that fall into the “its the way its always been done” category. Just think about the impact you could have by taking a step back and testing tiny steps to make that task better? If you change something massive, you may not even come close to success – how do you know what to change/add/build differently, if you don’t test tiny?

Dream Big to be Great

Dream isn’t the right word – but its the closest feeling to what I want people to picture. If you don’t dream and have a goal set that is big, how do you know where you are going? Chances are, you’ll end up exactly where each of your daily tasks takes you – which is generally in a circle. Are you letting good, get in the way of great? I recently learned about Google’s OKR system (Objectives and Key Results), which requires an organization to set big goals. So big, that only 60-70% of them are actually achieved. If you hit all of your goals, that means you didn’t set them high enough, and you never failed. And failure is data, good data.

Practicing How to Make a Difference

We all want to make a difference – but how can one person change the world? I’m sure you’ve heard plenty of “everyone can make a difference” anecdotes before, but when it comes to successful startups, there are always a couple consistent themes – a key one, being with the founders. First, someone has to have the courage to leap and say, “let’s do this.” Second, someone has to be passionate enough to follow that first person. Third, the entire founding “team” must believe. When I say “team” – I mean founders, first employees, significant others, investors, customers and a community. And its not that they believe in the first MVP product, its that they believe in the team to build/test/deploy enough times to find the magic recipe.

Don’t Just Think About It, Do It

Think about these, and how experimenting completely out of context from your daily grind (home, job, family, etc) could benefit you? If its your first Startup Weekend, don’t default to what you are used to doing – can you be the leader? Can you be the passionate worker that inspires a movement? A Startup Weekend is your chance to find out. Everyone learns something different, but I’ll guarantee that you will start to see ways to do things differently and probably end up with some new friends as well.


Find the next Startup Weekend in Iowa at!

Startup Weekend Stories: Lauren, finding community

Startup Weekend Stories: Memories, reflections and lessons learned from Startup Weekend events in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City, Iowa. 

Today we meet Lauren Aguilar, a student at the University of Iowa who has been involved with multiple local projects along with her brother, Nico. Sometimes college towns struggle with a disconnect between students and residents, but Startup Weekend helped Lauren cross the divide – she found the community support to keep going. She writes: “We never stopped working on the idea! I’m actually graduating in May and I will be working on SPEEKO full time!”

Startup Weekend Iowa City 2014
Startup Weekend Iowa City 2014

The idea – pitch, please:

Friday night we pitched an “um” counting app. Saturday we added helping people get over the fear of public speaking to our value proposition. Sunday night SPEEKO was pitched and it is an app that records your presentation or speech meanwhile tracking volume, pace, and filler words to give you valuable insights into how you speak in order to make effective improvements.

My brother, Nico Aguilar, and the SPEEKO team went through the summer accelerator of Venture School (a six week program developed at the University of Iowa) and we are still working on this project.

What were your hopes and goals going into the weekend?

I had no idea what I was getting into! I just wanted to meet new people, see what all the hype was really about, and try to learn something out of it.

What was your involvement  with the local startup community before the weekend?

As a finance student at the University of Iowa, I really wasn’t involved in the startup community at all! I got involved with the student incubator through JPEC during my third year, but I had no idea that there was so much more. I remember people talking about events that were going on in the community (like 1 Million Cups and TechBrew) but I never went to them. That’s why I’m so glad I eventually did because the community I’ve discovered has been incredible. 

What was the most challenging part of the weekend? 

The most challenging part of the weekend was just focusing on one idea and sticking to it. When you get a group of creative people together ideas just never stop! It was really exciting to see the evolution of ideas from the Friday night to Sunday night pitches.

Find the next Startup Weekend in Iowa at!