Institute for Entrepreneurship Hosts Startup Weekend

February 2012

By Evan Weese for the Miami Student. Originally published February 9, 2012.

Miami University is set to host a pioneering entrepreneurial workshop the weekend of February 17 to 19. Open to all students, Startup Weekend MU is a 48-hour "how-to" for starting a business. For $25, participants will learn the start-up process, network with alumni and peer entrepreneurs and receive a course credit in an upper-level entrepreneurship class.

"Startup Weekend is a microcosm in 48 hours of all of those things you would do when you roll up your sleeves and go out into the field," said Mark Lacker, event organizer and professor of entrepreneurship at Miami.

More than 60 students are registered for Miami's experimental twist on a proven event.

Startup Weekend, founded in 2007 and based in Seattle, is a non-profit dedicated to educating entrepreneurs around the world. The organization held a total of 260 events in 202 cities and 67 countries in 2011. In November, both Google and The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation pledged global sponsorship.

According to Lacker, Miami's is to be the first Startup Weekend exclusively for students while offering course credit. Traditionally, events are set in metropolitan areas and open registration to anyone.

"We think we've figured out a way for it to work for a 100 percent student group," Lacker said. "By adding in course credit and adding incredible mentors, if a student has a business idea and they're not showing up to this thing they are missing out."

The activities, to take place in Benton Hall, will kick-off with student business pitches Friday evening, followed by a popular vote to narrow down ideas. Participants will then form groups to further develop the concepts and present a final product Sunday. Presentations will be judged on business model, customer validation and execution.

Over the weekend, three prominent alumni will address the participants, two will judge and 10 experienced entrepreneurs will mentor.

Miami's own version of the program came about from a conversation between Lacker and Nick Seguin, a 2007 Miami graduate and manager of entrepreneurship at the Kauffman Foundation.

A Startup Weekend affiliate, the Kauffman Foundation backs each event by providing not only a template for the seminar, but a facilitator to attend. The facilitator for Miami's inaugural entrepreneurial workshop happens to be Seguin, at Lacker's request.

Seguin, who has facilitated about 40 events, looks forward to the experiential structure that he said mimics the real world with its lack of parameters.

"It's the reality of life pressed into a few days. No one is going to tell you who to work with, what's a good idea, when to work, and when to sleep," said Seguin. "We need more real-world elements introduced in a university setting."

The Miami Institute for Entrepreneurship sponsors this year's Startup Weekend, recognizing the potential for entrepreneurial education to change at the school. According to Lacker, the current introductory class may be on the chopping block.

"Miami's entrepreneurship program is really pushing the envelope in terms of what entrepreneurship education can be," Lacker said. "You don't learn it out of a textbook. You learn it by sitting down and doing it and being coached by successful entrepreneurs."

In addition to the course credit earned by participating in Startup weekend, additional credit will be offered to any students looking to move their prototype into the launch phase after the weekend. Both of these courses are new to the department.

Despite the close ties to entrepreneurship, the event is open to all Miami students. Megan Purcell, a senior entrepreneurship minor and event advertiser, stressed the openness to all like-minded students interested in starting a business.

"I think what Startup Weekend is, for a university, is all students, no matter what your major is, getting that experience without having an entrepreneurship minor or major," Purcell said. "And I think it's relevant for anyone that wants to do anything business related."

In addition to class credit, networking opportunities and first-hand lessons on business start-ups, students will have the opportunity to receive seed funding. Miami's Student Venture Fund can lend any student up to $25,000 for a viable start-up.

"I have been looking forward to Startup Weekend since Mark first told me about it," said junior entrepreneurship major Brett Bielinski. "It is an incredible opportunity to meet like-minded people."