By Renee DiResta (Associate, O’Reilly AlphaTech Ventures)
I went to Startup Weekend NYC in April 2011 and had an absolutely awesome time. From the start of Friday night pitches through the end of Sunday night demos, the energy and enthusiasm were off the charts*. Everyone was excited about what they were working on, which made the experience really, really fun.
Two Friday night pitch ideas really grabbed me. Both were related to early-stage capital allocation and the problems of getting funding to new entrepreneurs, which I’ve been thinking about a lot over the last year. One of the pitches was delivered by a developer (Matt), the other by a biz-dev person (Diane). The three of us had a conversation during the team-formation stage and decided to work together, and to focus on women entrepreneurs. My good friend Bitsy joined us as our designer extraordinaire, and so did Jon and Leland, two friends of Diane’s with long histories of success in business.
There were many pivots and idea refinements over the first day and a half, but we ultimately settled on building a community for very early stage women entrepreneurs: Chickstarter. Since crowd-sourced funding isn’t really possible in the current regulatory environment, we decided to create a competition that would reward the winner with access to mentorship, a possible funnel into an incubator program, exposure, and a valuable package of products and services to help reduce the expense-related barrier to entry. Our minimum viable product was a site for creating and uploading pitches, and a voting system that enabled the community to rate the ideas.
Matt built the site in Ruby. Bitsy and I constructed a flow, and did the front end. The business team set about validating the idea, talking to women entrepreneurs about their pain points. They also leveraged their incredible rolodexes, and contacted CEOs of major corporations to see how receptive they would be to the idea: to mentoring, to linking their corporate brand to the Chickstarter competition, and to donating products and services.
By 5pm on Sunday, we’d built the MVP and delivered our pitch.
I learned a lot this weekend, was inspired by ideas that I saw, and met some incredible people. It was also a confidence boost; I’d been hesitant about registering as a developer/designer, since it’s been so long since I did that kind of work in any real way.
This weekend made me realize that I’m capable of executing on an idea and building a rough prototype, and that it’ll continue to get easier as I bring back those skills. And I’m really, really excited about that.
About the guest blogger: Renee DiResta is currently an Associate at O’Reilly AlphaTech Ventures, where she researches emerging technology trends and supports portfolio companies. Prior to OATV, she spent six and a half years as a trader at Jane Street Capital, a quantitative proprietary trading firm in New York. Renee holds a B.S. in Computer Science and Political Science from the State University of New York at Stony Brook. Follow her on Twitter at @noupside and her VC firm at @oatv.