How Startup Weekend Tulsa Energy Edition helped start a revolution in how business problems get solved and how new startups are formed.
Startup Weekend has a long and rich history in Tulsa and the upcoming Startup Weekend Tulsa Energy Edition is an exciting addition to the growing list of world first events held here. How we got to this point and how we started this revolution is a great story in itself.
November 13th, 2009 – The first Startup Weekend in Oklahoma kicks off in Tulsa bringing together an incredibly diverse mix of energetic aspiring entrepreneurs ready to conquer the world. In one weekend that event practically revolutionized how entrepreneurs in Tulsa think about starting a business. The energy and excitement was off the charts, as people broke free from the shackles of dated approaches to entrepreneurship.
Subsequent Startup Weekends were incredibly effective at introducing lean startup methodologies, human-centered design, open source software and other great tools and techniques for efficiently launching startups throughout Oklahoma. In addition, the world’s first Maker Startup Weekend and the world’s first Civic Technology Startup Weekend featuring the Raspberry Pi helped pull an incredibly diverse mix of folks into the Oklahoma startup ecosystem.
Despite all of this success, one of the things we started to see is that even though entrepreneurs were doing a great job at launching startups at Startup Weekend, they weren’t always doing a great job at picking sustainable ideas. Oftentimes entrepreneurs were solving problems that did not exist or were chasing the proverbial golden goose by trying to be the next Twitter or Facebook. Additionally, we were not seeing many of the tools and techniques used at Startup Weekend growing into the mainstream business community. We started to ask how could we nudge entrepreneurs towards more real world opportunities and how could we position Startup Weekend tools and techniques to have a broader influence beyond tech entrepreneurs.
January 29th, 2015 crude oil prices dip below $44 per barrel reflecting a 60% decline from 2014’ s high of $115. Perhaps more alarming oil was now under $50 per barrel, a price below which it is considered to be economically unrecoverable in America. Like clockwork this triggered a series of energy industry layoffs shedding more than 100,000 jobs in the US. Considering that 20% of jobs in Oklahoma are directly or indirectly related to the oil and gas industry, layoffs of this magnitude are serious business.
Using the motto, “look for opportunity in adversity,” it didn’t take us long to see we were sitting on the perfect opportunity. It was time to focus the magic of startup Weekend on the Oklahoma energy industry and see if we could nudge aspiring entrepreneurs to focus on real world business opportunities that could help a struggling industry.
But the magnitude of our challenge was not lost on us. We knew we couldn’t just announce a Startup Weekend Energy Edition and expect the pieces to fall into place. This event would be unlike any event we had produced. How could we connect all the dots? How could we do an event focused on the energy sector and get participants to work on real world ideas that could truly make a difference? Our challenge was further complicated when we realized that the folks who work in the energy sector don’t often attend Startup Weekends even in Oklahoma.
After some brainstorming, we had a bold and innovative plan. Step 1: Build a broad coalition of partners for the event. Step 2: Informally nudge tech entrepreneurs together with folks from the energy sector. Step 3: Generate an understanding of challenges and opportunities in the energy sector. Step 4: Help tech entrepreneurs understand the challenges and opportunities in the energy sector. Step 5: Help energy professionals understand the power of the tools and techniques available to tech entrepreneurs.
In the first step we recruited a broad set of partners that included every major organization in Tulsa that is either a proponent of entrepreneurship or directly engaged in supporting entrepreneurs. Out of the gate these organizations were able to leverage their networks to help us deliver a homerun on our entire vision.
For our second step we organized a happy hour event where we mixed tech entrepreneurs with energy professionals in a social setting. This informal mixing allowed us to better understand the pieces of the puzzle. Among the things we learned was that there was a language barrier to understanding energy industry terminology and lingo.
For our third step we setup an online Energy Industry Opportunities Survey that we sent out to multiple organizations involved with the energy sector. This survey served multiple purposes. Most importantly it allowed us to identify trends about opportunities in the energy sector. It also allowed us to identify energy professionals that would be interested in getting involved with our event in various ways including serving as panelists in Step 4, as mentors or judges at the event or even to participate as an attendee.
Our fourth step was our most unique and groundbreaking step. In order to disseminate what we learned through the survey, we organized an event called Reverse Pitch Night, where panelists from the energy sector talked more in depth about opportunities and “pain points” in their world. After the formal panel discussions all panelists were invited into round table discussions with aspiring entrepreneurs and additional folks from the energy sector.
For the fifth step we held a special edition of Tulsa’s monthly web developer tech meetup where we had a series of talks about tools and technologies that teams could use at Startup Weekend. This event was very effective at pulling energy professionals into the world of tech entrepreneurs and allowed us to introduce all of the great tools and technologies that have made previous Startup Weekends so successful.
April 24th, 2015, we are T minus one week and counting to the main event. We have garnered lots of media attention and have heard some great ideas that people are planning to pitch. It is on track to be an incredibly exciting event. In fact there is so much excitement we are already talking about how similar Startup Weekend Editions events will help start a revolution in other industries throughout Oklahoma.
So how will your next Startup Weekend help start a revolution in your community?