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Reflections on Organizing Startup Weekend: Library Edition

Over the past 5+ months I’ve been helping organize Startup Weekend: Library Edition with (from left to right) June Avila, Helen Kula, MJ D’Elia, (me), and Meg Ecclestone.

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Lessons I learned:

 

Hackathons just make sense. And are a ton of fun – Going into volunteering for this event my number one question in the back of my mind was “ok but why would anyone want to go to one of these things? I mean…essentially you’re just paying to work all weekend.” I couldn’t have been more wrong. Right away I saw how much fun and excitement there is at one of these events – ideas flying everywhere, truly dedicated people with skills that perfectly complement yours everywhere you turn, and particularly for this event a combination of professionals you wouldn’t normally see working together in large numbers. It’s convenient, fun, you learn so much about fields you previously knew nothing about, and yes you do work really hard all weekend but at the end you’ve created an MVP, made friends, conducted customer validation, pitched a great idea and gotten useful and immediate feedback on it. That’s just not something available outside of this type of event.

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These events are a lot of work for five people – even five “professional organizer” types like librarians. The other four organizers were going strong when I came on board, and even after working for months there was still a lot we could have done if we had had others volunteering with us. I think having a core, dedicated group is essential, but they need to be supplemented early on by others who champion other important tasks leading up to the event.

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A cohesive team is key – there’s no time to waste having unconstructive disagreements or dealing with people who aren’t pulling their own weight. We were incredibly lucky to all mesh together from the very beginning. Without even really discussing much delegation in detail, the five of us naturally fell into tasks that suited our strengths (or things that just needed to be done). We complimented each other really well, and I’m very thankful for that. I suppose my advice would be…run events with nice librarians. 😀

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It’s incredible what people will do for causes they believe in – I knew this one before Startup Weekend but I was still continuously amazed by the time, dedication, and effort the mentors, attendees, and volunteers put in to this event. They did some truly astounding things, but even the smaller tasks they all did demonstrated a level of care that was seen throughout the weekend. There’s just something about everyone pitching in to do something great that’s amazing.

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I’m not alone in being obsessed with pursuing a good idea – Attendees worked late in to the night on their projects, despite having to wake up early and get back at it each morning (the bacon helped, but still). Sometimes I find it difficult to find others who have this sense of excitement about making ideas into customer-validated reality – this passion that comes over you when you really believe in what you’re making. I absolutely love it (and I was a bit sad that as an organizer I couldn’t participate – next time!) and recognized it in the attendees over the weekend. That was a great feeling.

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What I learned about myself

Finally, the Weekend for me personally reinforced what I knew (or had guessed) about myself already:

  • I love the tech/startup/innovation community in Toronto. Dedicated, highly skilled, and they care about all the things I care about too. They’re go-getters, but they’re collaborative, too.
  • Organizing and putting on events/workshops/conferences/etc. aimed around tech, education, libraries, and anything in between is just what I’m made to do.
  • I love working in small teams of awesome people!
  • I’d like to start my edtech business at a Startup Weekend, for sure. It would be such an amazing opportunity.
  • I have to be careful about budgeting my time 🙂

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A huge thank you to everyone who attended, volunteered, mentored, judged, organized, facilitated, catered, sponsored, followed us on social media, and watched the live stream. The Weekend was one I’ll certainly remember forever, thanks to all of you 🙂

More about the Weekend:

Watch the live stream of the initial and final pitches on Youtube at youtube.com/swtolib.

Facebook: facebook.com/swtolib

Twitter: twitter.com/swtolib

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