Startup Weekend, Looking to Strengthen Communities for Entrepreneurs, Builds New Startup Foundation in Seven Cities

6/15/11Follow @curtwoodward

Startup Weekend, the create-a-company cram session that has spread worldwide in just a few years, is branching out in a big way. The Seattle-based nonprofit tells Xconomy it is creating a sister organization called the Startup Foundation, aimed at establishing a permanent hub for local entrepreneurial communities around the globe. The new project has backing from the Kauffman Foundation, and full-time staffers in seven cities who officially start work next month.

Startup Weekend CEO Marc Nager says the Startup Foundation is a natural outgrowth of the Startup Weekend phenomenon, which gives entrepreneurs 54 hours to organize themselves into teams and develop proto-companies that are ready to pitch investors for possible seed money. The nonprofit organization, headquartered in Seattle, has taken its events to nearly 200 cities in 65 countries since 2009, and is on pace to hold 200 Startup Weekends this year alone.

Nager and Startup Weekend CTO Franck Nouyrigat say that all those entrepreneurial bootcamps have shown that, while there are motivated entrepreneurs everywhere, there’s often not enough community infrastructure to keep momentum going after the weekend is over. Instead, the scene tends to be somewhat fragmented—held together by several key players, but not always fully united. “The startup community in general doesn’t really have that much of a voice,” Nager says.

The Startup Foundation hopes to grow that voice by building each city’s organization from the bottom up. The Foundation “fellow” in each city will start by conducting a high-level study of the entrepreneurial community: Identifying the institutional and individual players, surveying influential community members, and compiling a list of the area’s strengths and weaknesses.

That leads to a big summit, in which members of the entrepreneurial community vote to elect an advisory board of leading people to help guide the Foundation’s work. They also come up with recommendations for what the Foundation should pursue—improving outreach with government, building stronger ties to university students, training developers, reaching out to the media, and so on. The local staffer is then charged with raising money in their area to fund those activities, and making them happen.

The first wave of Foundation cities, starting work July 1, will be Seattle, Boston, Los Angeles, New York, Detroit, Des Moines, IA, and Sao Paulo, Brazil. In Seattle, the effort will be led by Jennifer Cabala, the former Seattle 2.0 CEO who is currently Startup Weekend’s chief marketing officer.

“The greatest validation is, we started having these conversations two moths ago with all the seven people, and they all said ‘Great idea,’” Nager says. “And we came back two months later and offered them a full-time position, and they all said, ‘OK, I’m quitting my job. I’m going to do this.’”

“You’re never going to get rich, you’re never going to get liquidity from it,” Nouyrigat says. “But it’s better to be helping people.”

Nager says the goal is for the local Foundations to be financially sustainable after 10 months— shooting to raise about $100,000 from local sources, with an ultimate goal of a $1 million foundation in each city. After a year, they’d like to have the program started in 50 cities, and say they have about two dozen already interested in getting a Startup Foundation started in their area.

That’s part of the power of starting from a base of meeting so many people through Startup Weekend in the past few years: “We’ve got this insanely unique insight into startup ecosystems around the world from the grassroots level,” Nager says.

“We don’t have all the answers right now. That’s why we call it a test,” Nouyrigat says. But, he adds, “We have a feeling it’s going to be huge.”

The Startup Weekend crew also has a book coming out this fall, which peppers the story of how the organization was founded and grown with case studies from different companies and events. The introduction was penned jointly by entrepreneur and educator Steve Blank and Carl Schramm of the Kauffman Foundation.

“We’ve tried to make it, more than anything, a community-based book,” Nager says. “Most of the content is directly from the community—our supporters, our attendees, our sponsors—everybody that has had an interest in helping us get to where we are.”

Curt Woodward is a senior editor for Xconomy based in Boston. Email: cwoodward@xconomy.com Follow @curtwoodward

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