Got an idea for a business? Are you free September 7-9? Come pitch your idea at RVA Startup Weekend, http://rva.startupweekend.org, and after 54 hours of frenetic planning and pitching you may be on your way to realizing your dream!
RVA Startup Weekend is the latest addition to Richmond’s entrepreneurial scene. As part of a global non-profit organization, Startup Weekend has held over 400 events in 100 countries around the world in 2011. It’s an exciting opportunity for individuals to develop an idea, find a cofounder or learn skills to help start a business.
I’m grateful for the opportunity to participate as a mentor during this inaugural weekend event. Along with a dozen other distinguished colleagues in diverse fields, we’ll be available to coach and assist teams as they build their presentations.
I have a soft spot for events like this. They are great laboratories for innovative and creative thinking. In addition, they provide a forum to practice good techniques for fostering teamwork and ingenuity – techniques which are not only relevant for Startup Weekend, but for everyday life at established companies.
- Ideas gain traction when the story is simple and believable. Those who can tell a compelling story of how their unique idea addresses a real consumer insight will find themselves with volunteers ready to help. Creating belief is key. When people believe in an idea it becomes a cause and supporters will devote their energy to making the idea better and solving problems that interfere with its success.
- Tight time constraints can galvanize a team to rally around an objective and develop creative solutions. There’s simply not enough time to over-analyze and consider all available options. Time pressure is advantageous in that it forces a team to quickly create and debate possibilities, then rapidly find alignment on the best way to proceed. Once the train has left the station, don’t second-guess decisions.
- Check your ego at the door – it’s all about the idea. Generally speaking, when the ego shows up, creativity and engagement leave the room. Support your team’s idea, not your personal agenda. You’re not going to implement all of your ideas and suggestions, so don’t get offended if the team doesn’t like one of your proposals.
- Be cognizant of how you respond to the ideas and suggestions of your teammates. A useful technique, often employed in improv comedy, is the “Yes and…” method of building ideas. When someone introduces an idea or suggestion, try responding by starting your sentence with “Yes and… ”. This acknowledges merit in the idea and allows you to continue building on the concept. Conversely, be wary of starting your comments with “But…”, as this usually discredits or discounts the preceding idea.
- Those who abuse the role of “Devil’s Advocate” tend to be marginalized. It’s critical to consider why things might not work and plan necessary contingencies. However, in fast-paced project modes, slowing things down with excessive worst-case scenarios tends to frustrate the broader team. Generally speaking, with more speed comes more risk. If you’re not comfortable accepting this fact, your teammates may increasingly ignore you.
- Speed and pressure build camaraderie: “We’re all in this together.” In my past advertising career, I used to love new business pitches. The pressure and all-nighters were rough, but the team became so tight and supportive of each other. So, be a good teammate and give a 110% because you never know whom you might impress and what doors may open for you.
RVA Startup Weekend is sure to be a grueling and rewarding 54 hours. I’m looking forward to lending a helping hand to all the teams and participants. For me, this means asking a lot of good questions that help reframe people’s thinking and assumptions. There’s nothing more gratifying than helping someone see a challenge through a different lens. That’s usually when people get unstuck and discover creative solutions.
See you on September 7th!
Tony Vengrove is Founder and CEO of Miles Finch Innovation, a consultancy to help businesses improve innovation productivity and efficiency. Prior to this position, he spent 20+ years in all aspects of corporate innovation, including brand marketing, business development and innovation leadership with world-class ad agencies like NYC’s Saatchi & Saatchi and Fortune 500’s Altria Group, Inc. For more information, visit www.milesfinchinnovation.com.