For the entrepreneurship-curious, Startup Weekend provides some training in how to turn that business idea into a fully-developed enterprise. | Monterey County NOW Intro

Linda D. Garrow

Tajha Chappellet-Lanier here, thinking about my friends for whom business ideas flow like water. I, on the other hand, have never been adept at capitalizing on my interests or talents, which could generously be interpreted as an objection to the idea that all interests and talents should become economic enterprises. More realistically, though, I think it’s indicative of a very different way of thinking.

But let’s say you’re someone with a bunch of business ideas. What comes next? Turning an idea into an actual enterprise requires skills you may not have yet—but ones you can learn.

Techstars Startup Weekend, a Cal State Monterey Bay-hosted event of which kicks off tonight, is one place to learn those skills. “It’s an opportunity for people to get an immersive experience in starting a business,” says Brad Barbeau, executive director at the Institute for Innovation and Economic Development, and a professor of entrepreneurship at CSUMB. At 54 hours, it’s a pretty time-efficient crash course.

The weekend begins Friday night, when attendees pitch their ideas to the group. The group then selects around a dozen of these ideas and forms teams to work on them and turn the idea into a full-blown proposal. What’s the difference between a business idea and a business proposal? “Typically a business proposal is far more developed than a business idea,” Barbeau says. Importantly, it has gone through a validation process where the creators have interviewed potential customers and found that someone, somewhere, would be willing to pay for this product or service. Throughout the weekend, teams will have access to mentoring and guidance from experienced coaches. By Sunday afternoon, the groups will have created, and will present, a proposal.

This is CSUMB’s 10th year hosting Startup Weekend, which is open to both students and (for a fee) non-students. It’s also the second year that it will be held virtually, which Barbeau admits is less than ideal. Still, he’s looking forward to greeting this year’s cohort of the entrepreneurship-curious. Every year brings new ideas, and over the decade there have even been some success stories. HeavyConnect, a Salinas-based agricultural compliance software company, has its early roots in a Startup Weekend. More recently Seeds4STEM, a nonprofit providing supplemental STEM curriculum (science, technology, engineering and math) for kids, got started.

But Barbeau says the success of a Startup Weekend isn’t measured in companies so much as people. “It’s partly about what businesses can get started out of it, but it’s more about getting entrepreneurs started,” he says. They might go and start a completely different business than the one they worked on during the weekend intensive—but now they have some practice, and some of the tools necessary to get it off the ground.

By the time you read this it will be a little too late to join this year’s Startup Weekend. But think about it this way—you (and I) now have approximately 365 days to perfect that business idea. For inspiration, you can tune in to watch the demos (starting at 4pm on Sunday, Jan. 30) here.


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