People Ops Question: What is the single biggest People Ops mistake you see startups make?

By Sabrina Kelly, Techstars Vice President of People Operations

At Techstars, we define our mission in People Ops as the following: “We are strategic partners in building Techstars business by maximizing the value of our most important asset—our people. We attract, retain, develop, and support Techstars employees globally and aim to uphold our culture and values, in a manner that is inclusive to all.”

As VP of People Ops, I hear a lot of questions from founders. This series aims to answer the most frequent questions.

Q: What is the single biggest People Ops mistake you see startups make?

Hiring the wrong leaders and not course correcting soon enough.

Hiring leadership is hard at any stage, but there is a crazy amount of pressure on startup founders to hire them quickly. It’s really easy for founders to lose sight of the values that are important to them in these hires, due to pressure from the Board or other advisors on “who” and “what” is right for their business. This whiplash is amplified by the fact that they likely have a bunch of employees that need experienced leadership, and they are band-aiding that at the moment themselves.

Mainly, don’t ever make that hire unless you are 110% pumped to sit in the trenches with them.

My advice, as impossible as it might sound, is to take the time to get it right: be extremely thoughtful about the profile you are looking for, get alignment with your leadership team on how to interview, proactively source from diverse pipelines or hire a recommended agency to support. Mainly, don’t ever make that hire unless you are 110% pumped to sit in the trenches with them.

So, what if you do all of that and in six months you start to sense that it’s not working? As painful as it might be, you need to dedicate the time to figure out what the problem is—and if you find out it’s them, you let that person go as soon as humanly possible. It might feel like the company will crumble if you have to start over, but that pain is nothing in comparison to what can happen if you put up with the wrong leader for too long.


Want to #DoMoreFaster? Apply to a Techstars mentorship-driven accelerator today.

Startup Weekend EDU in the United States Becomes Part of the Techstars Family

We are excited to announce that as of today, Startup Weekend EDU in the U.S., previously managed by 4.0 Schools, will officially become part of Techstars.

4.0 Schools took over support for Startup Weekend EDU events in the U.S. as part of a transition during the merger between Techstars and UP Global over a year ago. During the transition, Techstars assumed support for all other Startup Weekend events, including Startup Weekend EDU events outside of the U.S.

Both organizations will work together to support Startup Weekend EDU community leaders during the transition, working with local organizers to continue to ignite local education entrepreneurship communities.

Early stage education entrepreneurs in the U.S. who worked previously with 4.0 Schools will be closer tied to the Techstars global ecosystem made up of tens of thousands of community leaders, founders, mentors, investors and corporate partners.

Startup Weekend EDU global initiatives will come together under Techstars’ Startup Programs team, who will service and support organizers, helping them to grow ticket sales, find mentors and judges, and connect organizers with local educators in their communities.

While Startup Weekend EDU will not be a part of 4.0 Schools’ programs, 4.0 is committed to continue supporting entrepreneurs and education ecosystem builders through their Community Catalyst, Essentials and Tiny Fellowship programs.

4.0 plans to invest up to 75k in scholarships for education ventures coming out of Startup Weekend events that align with their commitment to building schools, learning spaces and edtech.

Startup Weekend EDU events and community leaders in the U.S. will now be supported by the Techstars Startup Programs team that currently runs roughly 1,000  Startup Weekends around the world each year.

To date, Startup Weekend EDU has helped over 12,000 people across 36 countries play an active role in shaping the future of education through 54-hour events that give educators and others a launchpad to pitch their idea, develop a business model and product, and test it with users – all in one weekend.

Education companies that have come out of Startup Weekend EDU have included Vidcode, Emote, Literator, PenPal Schools, FANSchool, Trinket, CultureConnect and Juicebox.

You can find upcoming Startup Weekend EDU events at

Startup Weekend Lahore is Back – This Time Bringing Innovation in Education

Have a great idea to make this world a better place through the power of education? Startup Weekend Lahore is the place for you! With Startup Weekend Lahore Ed-Innovation, entrepreneurs now have a great opportunity and a great way to pitch their ideas, find like-minded people and collaborate with venture capitalists with a mission to empower the education system in Pakistan.

With Startup Weekend Lahore Ed-Innovation, the main aim is to help people learn about entrepreneurship and to create solutions for the problems in the world of education. Startup Weekend Lahore ED-Innovation brings together people of all skill sets and experience levels to collaboratively launch tools, schools and learning spaces that re-imagine the future of school and education more broadly. The event presents a chance for participants to rub elbows with people of excellence in their fields, in the form of coaches, mentors and guest speakers as well as forge partnerships with other participants whose skills can propel their idea to greatness.

Over the last 5 years the education industry has had a huge wake up call. We realized that the way we educate ourselves and our next generation need to rapidly change. We want to bring together new innovators with new ideas, technologies and business models to bring our education a step further. Whether you want to found a company, find a co founder, meet someone new, or learn a skill far outside your usual 9-to-5, everyone is guaranteed to leave the event better prepared to navigate the chaotic but fun world of startups. If you want to put yourself in the shoes of an entrepreneur, register now for the best weekend of your life!

So mark your calendars for the 5th, 6th and 7th of August 2016 and start the brainstorming for a weekend that is destined to be unlike any other.

Our 5 Favorite Startup Digest Reading List Articles From Last Week

5 hand-picked articles from across the Startup Digest Reading Lists. Sign up to receive great weekly content on various topics from expert curators.


1. Bots won’t replace apps. Better apps will replace apps.

By Dan Grover

Digest: Artificial Intelligence
Curators: Bjorn Larsen & Nitzan Hermon

A WeChat product manager drops some realism on the over-the-top bot hype from Facebook, Microsoft and seemingly everyone else in tech right now. Read More

More from this reading list:


2. Going Dutch: 9 things we learned about the start-up scene in Amsterdam

By John Kennedy

Digest: Startup Communities
Curators: Julian Miller, Brad Feld & Shane Reiser

Here’s a great look at the Dutch startup scene and how they are capitalizing on their core competencies. Read More

More from this reading list:


3. Money, Race and Success: How Your School District Compares

By Motoko Rich, Amanda Cox, Matthew Bloch

Digest: Education
Curators: Aurelio Jimenez Romero, Vicky Guo & Deborah Chang

Let’s not forget the power of education technology to potentially equal the playing field for our most vulnerable students. Here’s what the problem looks like in the United States. Read More

More from this reading list:


4. Serial entrepreneur wants to inspire more Colorado angel investors

By Monica Mendoza

Digest: Angel Investor
Curator: Berg Moe

What Leslie Jump learned from talking with angel investors is that there are three reasons why they invest: To make money, because they themselves are entrepreneurs and have empathy for how difficult it is to raise money, and because they see the industry they worked in being transformed by technology and want to be part of it. Read More

More from this reading list:


5. Injured Sea Turtle Gets His Bite Back With 3D Printed Jaw

By Devin Coldewey

Digest: 3D Printing
Curator: Dilanka

Interesting case study in ocean conservation & 3D Printing: An injured loggerhead sea turtle has been equipped with a 3-D printed prosthetic jaw at a rehabilitation center in Turkey. Akut-3, named after the search and rescue team that found him, had been struck by a boat’s propeller and his jaw nearly destroyed. Read More

More from this reading list:


Sign up for these or other Startup Digest reading lists, here.

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.

5 stakeholders to consider when building an EdTech startup

Dublin’s first ever EdTech edition of Startup Weekend kicks offs on Friday. I thought it’d be cool to list out a few stakeholders to consider when identifying problems and building solutions over the 54 hour period.

Pupils and Student – This is usually the focus when looking at problems and solution in Education and that is not a bad thing as these are the most important stakeholders. So get to know more about pain points in the learning process. Get talking to students to find out more.

Teachers – These are also important stakeholders as they play an essential role in the education process. They do face problems in administering knowledge especially in a world where books just don’t cut it any more. You do want to talk to them too and see how to best build solutions to their problems.

Parents – Education and learning is not restricted to the four walls of the classroom. Parents are quite important when it comes to educating the child. They also determine the amount of resource that goes into a child’s education – tuition, books, games, apps, etc. So it’s important to have them on board when developing solutions as they are your most important customers.

Researchers – These stakeholders are often involved in determining the new trends, and technologies to be adapted when it comes to education. They also study current trends such as student performance, and do have plenty of data that can help in coming up with solutions. There are many publications online from researchers you don’t want to miss out on.

Government – This the last but not least stakeholder you want to get involved when developing an EdTech idea, solution, or startups. They provide funding and also make policies, so it is important to get them on board. The government also have pain points from an administrative point of view, and these are worth exploring for solutions.


Look forward to seeing you on Friday at the Bank of Ireland, Grand Canal Square. Last few tickets are still available here.

Coming Full Circle with Startup Weekend Portland: Global Startup Battle Edition

On November 13, I will be facilitating for the fifth time this year for Portland Startup Weekend, joining dozens in the greatest startup competition on earth: Global Startup Battle.

Each of my previous facilitations have been special in their own right:

My general style is to embarrass this poor woman.
My general style is to embarrass this poor woman.

This next event may surpass them all – Portland is and always will be my hometown. I was born in Oregon City and went to school in the Beaverton School District, graduating from Southridge High School. (I’d rather not say when because, well, I’m old.)

Leading up to the event, I’ve been thinking a lot about this concept of “home”, especially as I’ve recently claimed a new one after moving to Seattle.

ARVE Error: id and provider shortcodes attributes are mandatory for old shortcodes. It is recommended to switch to new shortcodes that need only url

(Among many of my new responsibilities is crushing lip sync contests during Seattle Startup Week.)

Pittsburgh: Where I Found Myself (and just a few months before 30 – whoo!)

Before moving in August, I lived in Pittsburgh for three amazing years. I had just married my brilliant (and crazy-tolerant) wife, and other than striving to be the best husband possible, I had no idea what to do with my life … until I discovered Startup Weekend.

From that intense, eye-opening 54-hour experience, I launched my own ed-tech community, which was admitted into an incubator, received seed investment, and even found customers. I continued to volunteer and organize for SWPGH six times, launching its first education edition in February of this year.

A blizzard was going down outside. We don’t care in Pittsburgh.

Above all, I made friends who simply “got it” – people who came from the Startup Weekend world as well, and knew how to “give back” in the Brad Feld sense. When we weren’t organizing in the Pittsburgh community, we’d go on an Eat ‘n Park run or watching Silicon Valley on HBO On-Demand. It was grand.

Friends. Also, Startup Weekend volunteers. Coincidence?
Friends. Also, Startup Weekend volunteers. Coincidence?

I truly considered Pittsburgh my home until two opportunities opened up for me and lured me back to the West Coast: briefly serving as east coast regional manager for UP Global before its acquisition by Techstars, and now joining the mission to transform education, technology, and entrepreneurship with Galvanize.

We're really into "the pineapple way" at Galvanize.
We’re really into “the pineapple way” at Galvanize.

Seattle: How I Quickly Thawed the “Seattle Freeze”

The move from Pittsburgh was … precipitous. I didn’t have the best chance to express my love and gratitude to everyone that did so much for me in Pittsburgh over the years (though I tried to cover as many bases again here). When I moved to Seattle, I was warned of the “Seattle Freeze” and heard it would take time for me to make friends.

ARVE Error: id and provider shortcodes attributes are mandatory for old shortcodes. It is recommended to switch to new shortcodes that need only url

That has not been the case … because of Startup Weekend. The first people I contacted were my former co-workers, who then introduced me to the local Seattle community leaders. Instantly, I felt like I found my family here, connected by a shared passion and experience to build community through entrepreneurship.

Never go mountaineering with Marc Nager. Trust me on this one.
Never go mountaineering with Marc Nager. Trust me on this one.

Recently, I was invited out to the Techstars Community Leader Retreat to get to know Portland’s Dina Moy and dozens of other organizers from the US and Canada. I came away with the trip with two impressions:

  1. I am completely down with the Techstars vision and rationale for why it acquired UP Global. Techstars may be the largest for-profit accelerator in the world, but it was originally founded on the mission to lower the barriers of entrepreneurship to the world.
    Supporting initiatives like Startup Weekend, Startup Next, Startup Digest, and Startup Week won’t really be profitable in the short run (why mess with a good thing), but in the grand design, these programs will cultivate both better startups worthy of support and stronger, focused communities that can support them.
    That’s the vision that Techstars and UP Global shared, and that’s why I’m willing to stay on as a community leader and global facilitator. The terms of engagement do not really change from a non-profit status (in fact, they never actually did when you discover the legal difference between donation and sponsorship). Why should our support of the community change because of it?
  2. We may come from different cities, but we’re all Startup Weekend nation. Every community leader had a story to share, and the rest of us listened. Whether it was a startup story or a Startup Weekend anecdote, we “got” each other. (The altitude may have been a factor.)

If You Can’t Find Your Community, Create It (and Startup Weekend can help)

Me (right) with my sister back in our old home in Beaverton, OR.
Me (right) with my sister back in our old home in Beaverton, OR.

I look back on the last three years of being a Startup Weekender and can’t believe how far I’ve come from my previous status as a graduate school drop out. I didn’t make a lot of money, win any major awards, or acquire any common materialistic milestones like a new car or house.

I did, without question, make a lot of friends, and unlike the ones I made before, these friends stay in touch and support me however they can without asking anything in return, and vice versa. I also traveled a lot to places I never thought I’d ever go to until I was “summoned” by people I never met before.

I have a problem with respecting other people's private space.
I have a problem with respecting other people’s private space.

Every time I go facilitate, I ask to crash on a couch or even on the floor just for the opportunity to bond with another community leader. Anytime a community leader asks to visit me, I prepare a spare room for them, no strings attached.

I’ve found my family, and we’re actually not that difficult to find.

Just look for the ones that “get it.”


Lee Ngo is a Seattle-based community leader and global facilitator for Techstars formerly based in Pittsburgh. He currently works as an evangelist for Galvanize.

NEXT High School Will Host Startup Weekend Greenville 2015

The inaugural Startup Weekend Greenville launched last October was hosted by The Iron Yard. This year we are bringing Startup Weekend back to Greenville the weekend of November 13th and there’s a new venue in town. NEXT High School has graciously agreed to host the community at their facility on 2000 Wade Hampton Boulevard. Their space is up-fitted specifically to meet our needs: open floor plans; flexible spaces; places to meet; room for serendipity; natural light; and plenty of whiteboards and EXPO markers.

You may be thinking, what is NEXT High School? Their mission is to prepare young people for life (after school). It’s an admirable aim because in today’s public education environments, there are only a few things in school that align with life outside of school. For example, after school, adults are rarely segregated by age; hardly ever take written tests; and typically only pursue knowledge that interests them or advances their career. That’s why the leaders of NEXT High School strive daily to prepare their students for life by challenging them to begin their life now.

Impact Over Everything

At NEXT High School, an Impact-Based Learning™ model is used for education. Impact-Based Learning™ at NEXT High School gives their students (Peers) the chance to create real-world value now by building businesses, non-profits, inventions, events, intellectual property, and more—while they are still students, and before they know that they “can’t” change the world.

We believe the mission and values of NEXT High School align wholeheartedly with the core purpose of Startup Weekend: to help people lead fulfilling lives and create value for society. By partnering with us in this endeavor, NEXT High School exemplifies a true community supporter, bringing people together for the benefit of economic growth within entrepreneurship. Together we’ll be supporting tomorrow’s forward thinking leaders in the startup community.

Learn more about NEXT High School.

Join Startup Weekend Greenville!

Startup Weekend Greenville

Stay tuned for more information about Global Startup Battle and how Startup Weekend Greenville is the first step on your journey.

Not sure what to expect at Startup Weekend?

INTERESTED in participating in the upcoming Startup Weekend Riga :
Global Startup Battle at RISEBA H2O 6, November 20 – 22
but not sure what to expect?
Here’s a simple diagram to show the five basic phases of a Startup Weekend.


Whether you’ve got an idea to develop or just want to contribute your skills to the Latvia startup community,

Sign up to become part of this event.

What on earth is a Startup Weekend?

I’m glad you asked!

A startup weekend is a 54-hour weekend event, during which groups of developers, business managers, startup enthusiasts, marketing gurus, graphic artists and more pitch ideas for new startup companies, form teams around those ideas, and work to validate and develop a working prototype, demo, or presentation by Sunday evening.

The concept of a Startup Weekend was first introduced to me by a colleague at Startup Mackay several months ago, however it was first Founded in July 2007 in Boulder, Colorado by Andrew Hyde. Startup Weekend is now run by Techstars.

Queensland has seen a recent surge of startup activity, with Cairns, Townsville and even the Atherton Tablelands hosting Startup Weekends.

On average, half of Startup Weekend’s attendees have technical or design backgrounds, the other half have business backgrounds.

Beginning with 60 second open mic pitches on Friday, 60 – 120 attendees bring their best ideas and inspire others to join their team. Over Saturday and Sunday teams focus on customer development, validating their ideas, practicing LEAN Startup Methodologies and building a minimal viable product. On Sunday evening teams demo their prototypes and receive valuable feedback from a panel of experts.

The winning teams are gifted with extremely useful prizes to help them on their path creating their new startup venture.

The Startup Weekend Organization is built around an extended network of hundreds of passionate, skilled, and empowered volunteers around the world. Every event is operated semi-autonomously, with all aspects of the event being planned and executed by a team of local Organizers. They provide a small, full-time Events team which provides ongoing support to each Event’s Organizing Team throughout the event planning process.

As a rule, in order to host a Startup Weekend, the organisers have to attend a Startup Weekend first – hence why I attended the recent Brisbane Startup Weekend at Steve Baxter’s co-owned River City Labs.

We are well on our way to bringing Startup Weekend to Mackay, we already have on board a great organising team, major sponsors, expert mentors, and a great venue.

Now we are looking for participants who are keen to learn, build innovative or disruptive new things, and meet interesting and motivated people!

The ticket cost is extremely reasonable, between $75 and $100 (less for students).  Your ticket covers seven meals, snacks, access to exclusive resources from our sponsors, and of course, all the coffee you can drink.

Examples of Startups created from Brisbane Startup Weekend include &

To join up or find out more, jump over to our website: