Getting comfortable being uncomfortable at Startup Weekend Iowa City 2015

Photo via Startup Weekend Iowa City on Facebook
Photo via Startup Weekend Iowa City on Facebook

Startup Weekend Iowa City 2015 is in the books!

We had 65 attendees, 6 half-baked ideas, 7 tasty local meals, 1 team fall apart and then fall back together, and 8 solid final pitches.

There were moments – like seeing a 12-year-old mock up an app or hearing the winning team share what Startup Weekend meant to them – that reminded us why we do this crazy event in the first place.

Plus, we were one of four Startup Weekends happening across Iowa in one weekend – with almost 300 people involved (including mentors, organizers and judges), 213 of those fully engaged in a hands-on learning experience, and 26 new business prototypes pitched on Sunday night. (Stats here)

Startup Weekend isn’t new in Iowa – it’s been in the Iowa City/Cedar Rapids Corridor since 2011, and in Des Moines before that – but connecting the state in this way, through a somewhat-separate but also shared experience, feels like it might be a game changer. (Having all of Startup Iowa on slack, so we can all chat in one place, helps too). Major shoutout to our fellow organizers in Ames, Cedar Valley and Sioux City.

We were especially glad to have participants, organizers and mentors from the Quad Cities join us in Downtown Iowa City. We now have stronger ties to one of our closest neighbor communities and a bunch of new friends. It was interesting to compare where our two startup communities are in their lifecycles, and to see how we could both learn from each other.

So what did we learn?

Getting comfortable being uncomfortable

Chris O, who planned to spend his weekend coding but ended up leading the winning team through customer discovery and business model exploration.
Chris O, who planned to spend his weekend coding but ended up leading the winning team through customer discovery and business model exploration.

Our friend and mentor Andy Stoll told us, this is a central part of the experience of being an entrepreneur. Uncertainty is guaranteed, change is a constant, and you have to be ready to deal with it all – fast.

Our 8 teams definitely learned that this weekend. Almost everyone pivoted, like the team that went from a satirical think tank seeking “general smart asses” to a children’s book, or the one that went from a “mom app” for college kids to a CRM for your personal life.

And there were plenty of interpersonal struggles along the way. Working on a team of strangers is hard enough, but then Startup Weekend also layers on long days and intense deadline pressure. We also had some unexpected challenges, like the first snow of the season turning into a severe winter storm.

Several people bounced around between teams on Saturday, looking for the right fit. A few left in the middle of the day (note: not recommended).

But through it all, people seemed to be happy and having a good time. It might have helped that we had a few light-hearted concepts being developed – from a humorous political concept to a subscription service for adult products.

Throughout the weekend, every challenge was received as a learning opportunity. Even when things were tough, people stayed respectful and open-minded. They seemed to trust the process.

They found solutions – which is what entrepreneurship is really all about.

Welcoming diversity

Getting to know each other Friday night
Getting to know each other Friday night

Part of getting uncomfortable – and also part of finding the best solutions to real problems in the world – is opening yourself up to different ways of thinking.

We had lots of people from diverse backgrounds at Startup Weekend Iowa City (several of them traveled in from the Quad Cities or Cornell College). We had participants as young as 12 and as old as 71. We had several women-led teams (although our total participation was still far below 50 percent women – this is an area where Iowa has a lot of work to do, and we’re still working on it at Startup Weekend too). 

The teams with diverse backgrounds and leadership also seemed to be the teams that were having a lot of fun and finding some early success. The teams without diversity were more likely to fall into old patterns of thought – when really, Startup Weekend is all about breaking out of those self-imposed boxes.

Meet the teams:

First place:
Sexy Life: A monthly, date-night subscription box to help couples re-discover their relationships.

Second place:
TICLER: An app to help you maintain strong relationships with those you care about by providing reminders (call your mom!)

Third place:
Leksify: A mobile foreign language-learning platform, focused on vocabulary, that uses fun games to teach

Most Promising Opportunity – wins a free pass to Venture School!
Rock the Gift: A service to help online shoppers find unique, high-quality gifts

Corn Caucus: Engaging and empowering young people in civic life with humor and storytelling

Fashion Fit: Solving the problem of ordering the wrong size of clothes online

Passion U: A service to connect high school students with life coaches so they can discover their strengths and passions earlier in life

We Suck: An online forum for entrepreneurs to anonymously vent about their struggles 

So what’s next?

Startup Weekend is the spark that has started so many people in our community on their entrepreneurial journey (myself included) – and really it is just that, the start of a journey.

We’re hoping to see our teams again at…

Global Startup Battle. At least one has already applied! This is a fun online competition where teams can potentially win prizes. GSB, and the surrounding event of Global Entrepreneurship Week, was also the impetus to organize multiple Startup Weekends across Iowa in one go.

1 Million Cups. Happening weekly in three (ICR, DSM, CV) communities across Iowa, this is a chance for new entrepreneurs to present their ideas and get constructive feedback.

Venture School. This six-week program from the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center (JPEC) at the University of Iowa is a great next step for these ideas. They’ll dive deep into customer discovery and business models.

In one of Iowa’s lovely coworking facilities. Our Iowa City organizers are particularly attached to  IC CoLab and Vault Coworking but there are many more great coworking facilities across Iowa too. This is where the community goes to work.

Inspire, discover, build and pitch at Startup Weekend

Are you ready to build something? Startup Weekend Iowa City is your chance to test drive startup life in a magical 54 hours. You might create a team and work on an idea you pitched or you might join a team after being inspired their pitch, wherever the weekend takes you you’ll see the gamut of startup life.

In the weekend the team you’re on will dive into customer discovery. You’ll get outside the building to survey potential customers about the idea you’re working on and see if you’re solving a problem for those potential customers. You’ll Identify customer needs, validate ideas, and work towards Product Market Fit. It’s also important to keep an open mind the entire weekend, based on customer discovery your idea might pivot to being something completely different. If you think a pivot sounds silly keep in mind both Instagram and Slack started as out as games before becoming billion dollar startups in photography and team communication that they’re known for.

Your team will also work on a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) to show that your idea does have value. You might want to build the next Facebook competitor, but keep in mind you won’t be able to build the entire product in a weekend. It’s important to build a rough sketch of what your idea could be to show how that value could be created – Be it a simple WordPress site or a wireframe of how the idea could work. For instance when Dropbox “launched” it was a video showing how the service worked, the video garnered enough interest to become the product used by millions.

At the end of the weekend you’ll have a pitch to show off your teams to work to the entire group of Startup Weekend attendees and a panel of judges. You’ll want to show what your idea is in a quick manner for all to understand, who has the problem you’re solving (Customer Discovery), how you’re going to solve this problem (MVP), how you’re a better option than the competitors (Trust me, they exist out there), how you’re going to make money, and how your idea is going to take off in the future. For some final pitch inspiration check out Iowa’s own HowFactory and Men’s Style Lab at their respective Accelerator Launch Days.

To buy tickets to Startup Weekend Iowa City please visit our Eventbrite page.

Still on the fence about Startup Weekend Iowa City? We’ll be holding a Q&A Workshop on Nov. 10th in Iowa City and answer any and all questions you might have. Please RSVP here.

Iowa City too far away? There will be FIVE Startup Weekends in Iowa Nov 20th – 22nd. Find one close to you at

Startup Weekend Stories: Goquets, From Startup Weekend to the Iowa Startup Accelerator

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

Today we meet up with Shawn Harrington, a co-founder at Goquets which is currently going through the Iowa Startup Accelerator. Goquets originally hails from Startup Weekend Ames, and went through a few pivots before arriving in Cedar Rapids at the Startup Accelerator. Their story is a fantastic one showing how important customer discovery is.

Shawn, co-founder Lyndsay, and Beau the Bear at the Iowa Startup Accelerator.

What were your hopes and goals going into the weekend?

There were two primary objectives when I headed up to Startup Weekend. The first was to get back into building a startup, since I couldn’t wait to get involved again after a break from my first venture. The other objective was to start showing there was a real problem in the floral industry and that more people than just myself were being affected by it.

What was the most challenging part of the experience?

Just getting in there was the hardest part. I was sitting at my desk for my corporate job in Des Moines at 4pm on a Friday finishing up a long week. By 6pm, I was standing in front of a room full of people in Ames pitching my startup idea and recruiting the most talented people I could find to come work on it for the next 54 hours.

How has the experience impacted you after the weekend?

There were so many awesome people I had the chance to be around for the first time during Startup Weekend, including the other teams and mentors who were in the room with us. It was also my first time working with Lyndsay Horgan, my business partner and co-founder of Goquets. The experience led to us forming our company in January of 2014 and of course getting us to where we are today.

Advice I would give to someone considering attending Startup Weekend:

Keep your mind open. Don’t think it has to be your idea for you to participate on a team, and don’t think it has to be the sexiest of businesses. Some of the most successful people I’ve been around in the startup community grew companies you may not have originally thought of as having the most profitable or biggest opportunity in front of them. Try to analyze who in the room is solving a real problem and be ready to take part in moving forward from there.

Any other thoughts you would like to add?

Once your team is working on the idea, don’t think you have to over-develop and solve the problem in a weekend. It’s more important for you to gather and analyze as much information as you can as a team to prove that it can be solved and turned into a viable business. When you present on Sunday night, be ready to show the road map to what will make this a successful business beyond Startup Weekend.

Oh yeah, and don’t be afraid to leave the building! For us, we had to get out and interview as many florists as we could find in one weekend while following up on leads that came from within the room. Don’t rely strictly on google searches or one person’s viewpoint. Focus on building your business model as a team.

To buy tickets to Startup Weekend Iowa City please visit our Eventbrite page.

Iowa City too far away? There will be FIVE Startup Weekends in Iowa Nov 20th – 22nd. Find one close to you 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.

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.

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.

To buy tickets to Startup Weekend Iowa City please visit our Eventbrite page.

Iowa City too far away? There will be FIVE Startup Weekends in Iowa Nov 20th – 22nd. Find one close to you at

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.


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

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!

To buy tickets to Startup Weekend Iowa City please visit our Eventbrite page.

Iowa City too far away? There will be FIVE Startup Weekends in Iowa Nov 20th – 22nd. Find one close to you at

Startup Weekend Stories – Levi Bostian

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

Today we meet Levi Bostiana software engineer interested in Linux and open source. After graduating from the University of Northern Iowa in December, Levi has taken the plunge to work on his Startup Weekend Iowa City project, Me2, full-time. “So really,” he writes, “Startup Weekend changed my life.” Read more on his blog – ‘Startup Weekend Iowa City 2014 – the greatest weekend of 2014.’

Levi, enjoy Startup Weekend Iowa City 2014.

What were your hopes and goals going into the weekend?

At first, I found it as a great excuse to program all weekend on a cool project. I wanted to have a lot of fun building a business idea with a group of people who love entrepreneurship like I did and that is exactly what I did.

What was the most challenging part of the experience?

I was the only developer on my team and I was just starting Android development at that time, so completing a prototype of an app in a weekend by myself was pretty challenging for me. I did not concentrate too much on the business/marketing side of the business that weekend, I worked with our designer, Brian Rupert, closely the whole weekend trying to get a prototype done we could show the judges Sunday. It was so exciting when I got the speech to text part done on the app. I was pretty proud Sunday having a prototype completed.

How has the experience impacted you after the weekend?

I changed my work habits after the weekend. I had no idea you could get so much done in a weekend like I did at startup weekend so I changed up my workflow a bit to be more productive. I also fell in love with the community in the Cedar Rapids/Iowa City area and attended events in the Cedar Rapids/Iowa City area whenever I could to see the community again.

Advice I would give to someone considering attending startup weekend:

It is the funnest weekend you will have all year. When startup weekend comes to town, it is time to drop all your plans and go. Catch up with some old friends and make new. On Friday, you have no idea what you are going to be doing all weekend but on Sunday, you and your team are really close and so proud of what you get done. So rewarding!

To buy tickets to Startup Weekend Iowa City please visit our Eventbrite page.

Iowa City too far away? There will be FIVE Startup Weekends in Iowa Nov 20th – 22nd. Find one close to you at

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 Weekend.

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 CANNOT 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 into 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!

To buy tickets to Startup Weekend Iowa City please visit our Eventbrite page.

Iowa City too far away? There will be FIVE Startup Weekends in Iowa Nov 20th – 22nd. Find one close to you at

Five Startup Weekends coming to Iowa in November

Startup Weekend Cedar Rapids 2015.
Startup Weekend Cedar Rapids 2015.

Startup Weekend has been in Iowa since 2009, touching hundreds of lives, but for the first time community builders from across the state are collaborating to bring multiple events to fruition at once.

Five Startup Weekends will happen Nov. 20-22 in Iowa, including Council Bluffs, Ames, Cedar Falls, Iowa City (that’s us!) and the Quad Cities.

As organizers, we’re thrilled by the chance to increase connections and opportunities across the state. For this special collaboration, teams will be able to videoconference with mentors from across the state and learn alongside more fellow entrepreneurs.

Some background: Startup Weekend is an exciting event that begins with participants pitching ideas on Friday evening, and then forming teams around the most promising concepts. These teams spend the weekend creating a business model, developing prototypes and seeking their first customers. The event culminates with presentations to a panel of local judges and mentors Sunday night.

Several notable Iowa startups have found their initial idea at Startup Weekend, including:

  • CareDrop, a support network for non-professional caregivers nationwide and current participant in the Iowa Startup Accelerator (Startup Weekend Cedar Rapids 2015)
  • Fanstreamm, a mobile sports ticketing application and graduate of the NMotion Accelerator (Startup Weekend Cedar Rapids 2014)
  • Goquets, a quick and easy way to order beautiful flowers and current participant in the Iowa Startup Accelerator (Startup Weekend Ames 2013)
  •, a health tech startup that pairs fitness tracker data with health coaching and graduate of Techstars (Startup Weekend Iowa City 2011)

These five cities will also be part of the Global Startup Battle, happening in 200 cities around the world during Global Entrepreneurship Week. The winning teams from each city’s event will compete in a global video pitch challenge to see who created the best new idea.

Long story short: You want to be there.

Get your ticket today!

The next generation of Startup Weekend Founders

Startup Weekend has touched the lives of hundreds of people in the Corridor the past few years. And now, we want to spread that impact even farther.

Remember walking into the doors of your first Startup Weekend? Coming in not knowing what you’ve gotten yourself into. Being overwhelmed by a large reception area filled to the max with people just as crazy as you, all ready to build the best big thing together. Remember putting your heart and soul into this one idea with a team of builders the whole weekend? Then when Sunday night came you presented your new business to an audience and wanted so badly to take home first place. All the amazing people you met, all the beneficial lessons you learned, all the experience you gained….

…want to give that experience to someone else?

As a past participant of Startup Weekend Cedar Rapids or Startup Weekend Iowa City, you are now a “Friend of Startup Weekend”. And now, we need your help to support the next generation of Startup Weekend founders.

What you can help do:

We <3 Startup Weekend. We want to share this great experience with everyone in the Corridor. See you November 20 – 22 in downtown Iowa City.