Editor’s note: WRAL TechWire Insider columnist Joe Procopio takes his nine-year-old twin daughters to Triangle Startup Weekend: Women for some inspiration. So did it work? Are they on track to become future entrepreneurs?
RALEIGH, N.C. – This past Sunday I spent the afternoon at Triangle Startup Weekend: Women. I went to hear the presentations, because that’s kind of my thing, and I went to catch up with and congratulate the organizers, because they pulled off one hell of an accomplishment.
I also went to support this particular iteration of Triangle Startup Weekend, as it sought to give more visibility to local women entrepreneurs while casting a wide net for the hidden potential that keeps falling through the cracks of our nascent startup community.
I saw a lot of said startup community there. I wish I had seen more on a rainy Sunday afternoon. But that’s neither here nor there. I’ve been over this — specifically in an article I wrote detailing the reasons why this event was good for our entrepreneurs.
So there’s that.
But the sneaky reason I spent my rainy Sunday afternoon at TSW Women was to introduce my twin 9-year-old daughters to a side of entrepreneurship that I can’t give them by letting them into my world or helping them start their own startups over the summer. This was a public Petri dish of real startup – live and actual company-and-product-building in a way only the 54 hours of Startup Weekend can realize.
At the end of three and a half hours (mostly sitting and listening), the experience wasn’t life-changing for my girls, but they got out of it exactly what I had hoped.
Sunday morning, I got them on board in a sort of a backhanded, but honest, way — letting them know there was an opportunity for them to go to “a cool startup thing.” Like I said, they’ve spent the last two summers creating proto-companies, replete with trial, error, and failure, so they knew the drill and they were familiar with the concepts.
But they’ve always seen startup from the vacuum — their ideas, their execution, my mentorship (and light angel investment). It’s a phenomenon not unlike what most first-time entrepreneurs go through, before they realize there’s a lot of other people doing what they’re doing and that interacting with those people could be motivational, if not flat out helpful.
Anyway, they were into it, until we got into the car and one asked what exactly they were getting into. So I explained it. There would be presentations of the products these people had invented and worked on all weekend. Then they’d get to help select a people’s choice winner, and some judges would choose another winner.
It wasn’t a kid thing. No clowns. No cake. No Capri Suns. There was grumbling, but a quick pit stop for some Sour Patch Kids and Kit Kat Minis was all the bribe I needed.
Meeting the VIP Female Entrepreneurs
When we got to the venue, the first person we ran into was Brooks Bell, and it just so happened that TSW Women was being held at the place she created – HQ Raleigh. I introduced the girls, and we took a quick tour of HQ. They got to see the offices of WedPics (I have a T-shirt, so they recognized that) and Mati Energy, whose window has a display of a pyramid of empty Mati cans.
“Wait. Do you mean the person who works in this office invented that soda?”
“Well, it’s tea, but yeah. Do you want to meet her?”
So I brought them over to meet Tatiana Birgisson after she spoke to the crowd about the Mati inception story. This was also fitting, as Tatiana’s story is, in a nutshell, the definition of startup: I saw a problem, I worked really hard to find a solution, other people found value in it, and now I’m working equally as hard to reach as many people as I can.
That speaks volumes as to why I brought the twins. They got to see this really cool thing, this big thing, this real thing, a consumer product that goes into stores and you can buy — and then they got to meet the person who built it up from nothing, working out of this small (but cool) space no bigger than their bedroom.
And they realized that they could be her.
(If they study hard and stay out of trouble and learn to make good decisions and blah blah blah – that all came later over dinner.)
As we listened to each pitch, they took notes. We discussed each company in the few seconds between each presentation. They had favorites, and one’s favorite won the people’s choice (Papila) while the other’s favorite won the overall (Smart Eats).
I told them they should be investors.
“What’s an investor?”
“It’s… we’ll hit that on the drive home.”
The program was impressive, but neither was it totally clean. There were a few ideas that were still just ideas. Others were better suited as non-profits or roots of civic programs. Some just weren’t scalable and/or sustainable. But that’s no different than any other Startup Weekend I’ve ever been to.
And that’s kind of the point.
As the second to last company made their pitch, I glanced at their notebooks. One, in particular, was using the left page to jot down her thoughts about the companies, things she liked, things she didn’t, and so on. But the right side of the page had a bunch of notes that didn’t connect to the presentations. That page had ideas I hadn’t heard, questions that didn’t relate, and drawings that didn’t match any of the products.
“What is that?” I asked.
“Oh. Those are ideas for my next startup,” she said.
Time. Well. Spent.
On the way home, one recruited the other to be her co-founder. We discussed what an investor is, as promised, and they pitched me hard. I wound up with 5% of the company for an undisclosed sum.
So look, if you have a daughter or a niece or a little sister, or if you’re a woman yourself, and you missed this excellent introduction to startup, and maybe you’re kicking yourself, I’ve got some advice.
Find the next Triangle Startup Weekend, or for that matter any other startup or tech event or program, and sign yourself up.
It was great to take the girls to a startup program that was attended by women at over 70%. But this wasn’t their first rodeo. As I said, they’ve been working on their own things, they’ve visited Automated Insights on several occasions, and they’ve been to other startup and tech events, most recently the Tilt videogame expo in Durham a little while back.
Just because it isn’t for women (or for that matter, kids), doesn’t mean they shouldn’t go.
See, TSW Women will be ultimately successful when it’s no longer needed, when all women see startup and tech as a viable alternative, and when they, like any other solid entrepreneur, throw caution to the wind and take on some risk.
Or statistically speaking, when every Triangle Startup Weekend is 40-60% women.
Editor’s note: Joe Procopio is a serial entrepreneur, writer, and speaker. He is VP of Product at Automated Insights and the founder of startup network and news resource ExitEvent. Follow him at @jproco or read him at http://joeprocopio.com