Well it’s August 13th and it’s about 30 days until we kickoff our inaugural Harrisburg Startup Weekend. We’ve picked the perfect location at Harrisburg University – the facility is amazing and sports a spacious auditorium and well equipped meeting rooms. The auditorium is an audio-visual engineers dream – we’ll be live streaming the event on pitch night. You’ll have all the WIFI you need and you’ll be surrounded by some of the top startup entrepreneurs in Central Pennsylvania.

SW Harrisburg kicks-off Friday September 13th at 6:30pm.  There should be plenty of on-street parking in and along Market Street Harrisburg. There are a number of covered parking garages within walking distance including a garage attached to the university facility. We’ll have light refreshments ready for all who attend on Friday night. Be prepared for a varied menu as we’ll feed all of the participants and coaches three square meals on Saturday and two square Sunday. That leads me to our next topic- Preparation.

Preparing for Startup Weekend is really dependent upon how you’ve chosen to participate. Do you want to pitch an idea, build a team, create a product and show it off to the judges? OR would you prefer to be a team member where you can learn lean startup methods by building a business model canvas?

Let’s take the first case – pitching your ideas in under 60 seconds. Yep – you only have a minute – so if you’re coming to the table with your big idea you must be prepared. Practice it. Identify the problem you’ll solve, the technology or solution you’ll build and your view of who the customer is – pitch the value proposition. But do it fast. One caveat on pitching: the idea is out there, in the ether as soon as you’re done speaking. There are no NDAs, no IP protection – just you and an auditorium full of people who’ve heard your big idea and want to help build it. That’s the cool part of Startup Weekend: build a company over three days in an ad hoc setting where everyone on the team owns the idea, builds the product and amazes the judges.

If you’re there to participate and are  bringing your technical, creative or business skills to the table – well- awesome. You’re going to listen to others pitch and you’ll be able to choose the big idea you find the most interesting. You’ll have three votes – we do Roman Scoring. Choose your top three. The ideas that get the most votes will be allowed to form teams. At that point you can choose the team you’d like to work with.

How many ideas do we choose? We’ll that depends upon the number of participant attendees. A good rule of thumb is take the number of attendees and divide by 5. We like teams of 5 or more. Trust me you’ll need the bandwidth a team of that size will provide. It’s a sprint – no – it’s a drag race to the finish and you’re team will need to quickly form and norm with a clear division of labor and responsibilities. That’s the hard part.

Now for the harder part. You have only 2.5 days to build a Minimum Viable Prototype (MVP) and a business model. You’re idea should be demonstrable. So you have to come to the weekend with tools. If you’re a hardware or software engineer you better bring your toolkits. Choose a development style and technology that lets you rapidly build the MVP. Think Ruby on Rails – not C++. Think Makerbot or 3D printer – not injection molding.  If you’re a creative type bring your mobile computer, pad or phone with you and be prepared to innovate rapidly, iteratively and efficiently – you’ll have time to build a brand. If you’re a sales or marketing wizard bring your tools, slide decks and spreadsheet models along and be prepared to discuss Customer Segmentation, Product Market fit, Partner Ecosystems and Revenue Generation scenarios.

Get ready to move fast. The weekend goes by in a blink of an eye and then it’s pitch night.

Throughout the weekend you’ve been  thinking about your product’s message, the reason you’re it’s marketable, why this thing scales. So you’ll build a pitch deck, construct a demonstration of your MVP and you’ll have 5 minutes in front of a panel of judges to convince them that your team is the bomb. Poor choice of words – let me try again… You’ll have 5 minutes to convince the judges that your idea is worthy of incubation, acceleration and perhaps funding. That’s the goal. After you’re done you’ll be asked a few tough questions – it’s called the hot seat – s0 be prepared and practice the pitch.

Once all of the teams have pitched, the judges do what judges do: they judge, they score, they offer a bit of insight as to why they’ve chosen you the winner. And then you’re team, if selected first, second or third will receive a prize package. Seriously. First prize  this year will be 6 months of team space at the Techcelerator in Carlisle plus a bunch of other valuable consulting services and mentor support to help you commercialize your idea.  We’ll be announcing the complete prize package over the next couple of weeks so stay tuned.

You see, that’s our goal at Startup Weekend. We want to help entrepreneurs build a company in a weekend. We want to demonstrate to you that you can build it, you can build it fast and by using lean startup techniques you can increase the odds you’ll succeed. It’s one part contest, one part startup university and one part incubator.

I can’t wait to see you at Startup Weekend Harrisburg.