Minding the Borderlands

Mark Koester (@markwkoester) on the art of travel and technology

Thoughts on First Startup Weekend Taipei: Part 1

After three years of living in China, including over a year of startup attempts, talks, realities and disappointments, I think it’s time to start trying to verbalize more of what’s happening in the China / Asia business and tech scene as well as my relation to it. With that said, I’d like to offer up a few scattered thoughts on Startup Weekend’s arrival in Asia as well as a few numbered suggestions for improvement.

For those that don’t know: Startup Weekend is an event where entrepreneurs, marketers, developers and passionate folks get together to pitch and create businesses over a hectic weekend.

 First Startup Weekend Taipei, China: Thoughts 

Earlier this summer I attended that Chicago Startup Weekend. SW Chicago added a new twist by incorporating for the SW event with SPARK Chicago. After the final pitches and decisions Sunday evening, the three winning teams from Chicago Startup Weekend were then given three more days of development with local shops and an ultimate winner was decided. This twist made it more competitive and somewhat different than traditional SW events.

A couple of days ago, I had the pleasure of attending the first Startup Weekend Event in Taipei. For anyone familiar with Chinese culture and society, there were some cultural questions like “Will anyone dare to pitch?” and “How is the team formation going to go?” Fortunately, these two questions went off without a hitch. There were 20 pitches in English and Chinese, and teams seemed to form without much trouble initially.

One interesting note on both of these was the fact that many Taiwan participants came rather prepared with long-developed ideas and some set groups. This, of course, led to some rigid voting and team building since some people had already decided. Personally, I made a strong effort to talk and mingle with all of the people I could at SW, but I cannot say this was the norm. So, next time:

 #1: Encourage more interaction between groups, because it isn’t simply about your idea and your group but about developing all ideas and meeting and mingling with all groups. 

Another interesting comparison with the Chicago Startup Weekend was the evolution of original pitched ideas and the final products. One of the important tenants of Startup Weekends and Startup ventures in general is the “pivot,” taking your original idea and adapting it to fit a better need or product. SW Chicago was an amazing show of taking an idea and “talking it out.” Mentors and participants spent a considerable amount of time and energy trying to find the exact turn, the specific twist that takes an okay idea into a crystallized potentiality. Quite a few of the teams took their original “feeling” for a business need and turned it into an entirely new storyline.

Compared with SW Chicago, a surprising number of the final presentations and projects at SW Taipei were almost exactly the original idea, except fleshed out with some code. A few of the original ideas, while interesting, probably needed in my opinion the gentle push towards a better product for a more tangible need. It is hard to say why this evolution of the original idea did not happen as markedly in Taipei, maybe it’s cultural, maybe it’s just this time. So, next time:

 #2: Encourage the evolution of an idea, encourage the “pivot,” because only by twisting and turning an idea do we eventually reach a truly workable business solution. 

Only by encouraging change (especially in China) without the loss of face or image are we able to reach ideas, project and products worth investing it.

Overall, it was a great experience and extremely positive for all of the groups, young entrepreneurs, developers, etc.

I was happy to have had my small part and look forward to the coming versions of Startup Weekends around the Mandarin-speaking areas. You’ll probably see me there!

Those are just a few thoughts for now. I have a small list of ideas I’d like to share. Hopefully I’ll have time in the coming days to get a few more thoughts up on SW Taipei and improving Startup Weekend for China and Taiwan.

All the participants, members, organizers and judges gather at end of long weekend.

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