Google Backs Startup Weekend, Tapping Nonprofit’s Global Network of Entrepreneurs
It’s already been a big year for Startup Weekend. Google wants to make sure the next two years are even more action-packed.
The Seattle-based nonprofit, which helps entrepreneurs create prototype products through intense 54-hour hackathons, is announcing a new two-year sponsorship deal with Google today. The amount isn’t being disclosed, but Startup Weekend CEO Marc Nager tells me that it’s the biggest corporate sponsorship yet for his crew.
And the deal involves more than just a check. Google is tapping into Startup Weekend’s global network—the nonprofit is on track to host more than 250 events worldwide this year—to hold developer workshops ahead of the weekend’s hackathons. Those workshops will run budding entrepreneurs through some common technical tools and platforms, from basic software development kits to building mobile apps, Nager says.
Nager says Google also is expected to participate in a “global scholars” program for entrepreneurs, welcoming promising folks from the global Startup Weekend network back to Google’s Mountain View, CA, headquarters for a week of collaboration with Googlers.
“Our mission has always been education, and I think we’re kind of taking the whole world of entrepreneurial education to a different level,” Nager says. “Our mission’s not to create startups. It’s to create more capable entrepreneurs.”
It’s easy to see why Google would be interested in this kind of partnership, beyond just a marketing boost for helping out the little guys. By linking up with an established entity like Startup Weekend, Google gets its people, products, and services in front of thousands of startup fiends around the world.
That could help it identify promising talent, companies, and ideas without having to build a new infrastructure, crucial at a time when technical talent is ridiculously scarce in Silicon Valley and beyond.
The Google partnership is just the latest example of major moves for Startup Weekend. The organization sprouted in 2007 in Boulder, CO, and quickly spread among startup junkies. Nager and Clint Nelsen purchased the organization from founder Andrew Hyde, brought it to Seattle, and converted the concept into a nonprofit focused on education.
Since then, Startup Weekend has exploded in popularity around the world, with operations in some 200 cities and thousands of participants cycling through the program. Some actual companies have been created at the events.
A critical supporter, the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, recently doubled down on Startup Weekend’s mission by making the program one of its affiliates. That won’t mean much for Startup Weekend’s core operations, Nager says, but it does allow the larger foundation to handle back-office necessities like accounting, legal, and personnel—along with supplying the Startup Weekend employees with health insurance for the first time.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation also recently came on board, supplying a $250,000 grant to support Startup Weekend EDU, a series of events aimed specifically at innovative ideas in education. The University of Washington recently hosted a Startup Weekend EDU, which saw visits from big-name investors and entrepreneurs, including Vinod Khosla and Mitch Kapor.
In just the past few months, Startup Weekend also has expanded its mission and footprint beyond weekend events. Its Startup Foundation initiative is aimed at bringing community leaders in several cities together to foster a strong entrepreneurial ecosystem; SW Next is a new project aimed at helping entrepreneurs build on promising ideas and teams after the 54-hour crash session is over; and Startup Labs, a sister organization headed by Nelsen, is creating a seed-stage investment fund and incubator-feeder system to help very early stage startups get their ideas going in a serious way.
“We’ve definitely got a core and now we’re branching out,” Nager says. “Everybody talks about creating curriculum, and curriculum is not a set of books on a shelf. I really think it can be a series of experiences, and you don’t have to go through a $40,000 or $60,000 masters program to have a chance of being a more successful entrepreneur.”