Getting excited about Hofstra’s ‘Startup Weekend’

Weekend warriors: Participants get busy at a prior Techstars Startup Weekend event.
By GREGORY ZELLER //

A marathon business-development exercise with a global lineage will give Long Island entrepreneurs a commercialization crash course, with two feet on the accelerator.

Hofstra University is scheduled to host Startup Weekend Long Island, a Friday-to-Sunday event uniting developers, designers and non-technical business types for 54 hours of product-pitching, business-forming and other commercialization essentials, with a healthy helping of mentorship and networking.

The April 21-23 event is part of the Startup Weekend series presented by Techstars Central LLC, a global ecosystem of mentorship-driven accelerators and community-based programs. The idea is to give aspiring and experienced entrepreneurs, developers and designers – as well as non-technical talent, such as business-formation attorneys and financing professionals – a sandbox to pitch ideas for new apps and products, and then business-development teams to work on the best ones.

Hofstra University Entrepreneur in Residence Aaron Foss, who was instrumental in bringing a Startup Weekend to the Hempstead campus, said the Techstars event was the ideal platform to help meet the obligations of his post.

“We’re supposed to get students excited about entrepreneurship,” he told Innovate LI. “I felt this was a good way to do that.”

The thought occurred in October, when Foss – named one of Hofstra’s first six entrepreneurs in residence in March 2016 – attended a Techstars Founders Conference in Ohio. The conference united several business owners who traced their entrepreneurial roots to Techstars, and the buzz surrounding the Startup Weekends was high, according to Foss, the entrepreneur behind uber-successful robocall terminator Nomorobo.

“Everybody was just so excited about them,” he said. “They were talking about how much fun the events were, and some were saying how they’d gone back and done four or five of them, and were strategizing about hosting them in their home cities.

“That kind of excitement around entrepreneurship was very attractive.”

It certainly sounded like a blast: Participants gather at a Friday night mixer that includes a quick pitch-a-thon for anyone with an idea for an app, product or service. At the end of the so-called “Pitch Fire” round, the pitchers mingle and solicit support – “gerrymandering for votes,” Foss called it – before the crowd selects the top five ideas or so, depending on the number of participants.

The Pitch Fire winners then recruit a business-development team from the other participants – who usually include programmers, engineers, business-law students (and professionals) and other commercialization-related talent – and teams spend all day Saturday and most of Sunday developing their products and business plans, to be presented at a late-Sunday Demo Day.

Foss was hooked and started the ball rolling, but quickly found that bringing a Startup Weekend to Hofstra would require much strategizing indeed. The main hurdle: existing Startup Weekends already on Techstars’ New York City schedule, with organizers asking the entrepreneur in residence “why they should have this event on Long Island,” he noted, “when the city is just a few minutes away?”

Aaron Foss: Excitable entrepreneur.

Leveraging the organization’s primary objective – to make entrepreneurship opportunities available to everyone – Foss made a masterwork case for the Long Island innovation economy.

“I said, ‘Yes, we are relatively close to New York City, but nobody is hopping on a train to go back and forth into the city all weekend,’” he recalled. “‘But if we bring it out here, we’ll fire up the Long Island startup community for sure.’”

The entrepreneur in residence then detailed that community, highlighting the region’s major scientific R&D facilities, numerous business incubators and accelerators, crowded co-working spaces and networks, Hofstra’s Center for Entrepreneurship and similar efforts at several nearby institutions, all lifting a rising tide of Long Island-based startups and early-stage business expansions.

The “next question,” Foss said, was about program attendance. A minimum of 50 participants would be required for Startup Weekend Long Island to be considered a success, according to Foss, who assured Techstars that he’d personally connect with the directors of regional co-working facilities, his extensive media contacts and the leaders of the region’s many business-development programs to drum up interest.

“They got very excited,” Foss added, noting Techstars’ ultimate decision to add a Long Island event to its global Startup Weekend schedule wasn’t about his selling job, but a testament to the Island’s entrepreneurial spirit.

“I think it speaks very highly about the Long Island startup community and what we’ve been able to do here,” he said.

Through March 15, Startup Weekend Long Island had 15 registered participants, including Hofstra University students and outside entrepreneurs. Foss said he was confident he’ll put enough butts in the seats, and noted that the Hofstra campus is fully prepared to accommodate an event of any size.

“Because it’s being held at Hofstra, if we get more people, we can expand into a bigger space,” he said. “We can easily handle 100 or 150 people.”

If necessary, Techstars will even send out a veteran coordinator of Startup Weekend NYC events to help handle the masses.

“We’re getting lots of support from Startup Weekend,” Foss said.

Tickets to Startup Weekend Long Island range from $99 to $149, with early-bird admissions, scholarships and Demo Day-specific opportunities available. Tickets include weekend-long admission, guaranteed stage time for the Pitch Fire event, meals and a full smorgasbord of mentoring and networking – plus automatic membership among the 200,000-plus members of the global Startup Weekend Community.

Innovate LI readers can use this link and promo code “INNOVATE” for $10 off each ticket.

There are no “winners” at the Sunday night finale, according to Foss, who said the Startup Weekend marathon is “not really competitive, more about the love of the game.”

“It’s very similar to going through an accelerator program,” he said. “In an accelerator, you come in with an idea and over three months you listen to mentors and take in feedback and develop it.

“The Startup Weekend does exactly the same thing,” Foss added. “But it compresses an entire accelerator program into three days.”

In that way, the event is also a good primer for entrepreneurs who may be considering a business accelerator program, he noted, in addition to “demonstrating your skills and entrepreneurial excitement.”

“Is it going to pop out the next billion-dollar startup?” Foss said. “It’s possible. But what I really love about Startup Weekend is giving the community a reason to get excited about entrepreneurship.”


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