Thoughts after the Startupweekend Kavala event


My thoughts after the Startupweekend Kavala, where I was one of the Mentors, are mixed, as my emotions. There’s something not right in the startup events’ scene, and only the 12% of startups’ event participants continue pursuing their idea. This needs to be fixed.

I feel to add value to the startups’ scene

Being a support resource, volunteer and ambassador for the startup activity since 2009, promoting best cases, writing content while in Stockholm, and mentoring many teams, I think to contribute a constructive feedback to all that work around this scene.

Coordinating for years global Innovation Awards for city solutions, healthcare, apps, and social good domains I’ve seen the highest calibre of organizers, mentors, participants, and judges. Some things must improve a.s.a.p if we want to really prepare the next-gen of business owners.

Startupweekend Kavala: a missed opportunity for local stakeholders

In a city of talent, which has a university and hundreds of ‘geeks’, Startupweekend Kavala brought together only 25 people. This number shows how distant is our public, municipal, business, education institutions from entrepreneurship.

In a city that risks to ‘die’ along its pensioners; fighting for a slight increase in tourism revenue I would expect that any creative event would be the great opportunity to connect, hear, discover, ανδ learn. StartupWeekend Kavala was the first event in the entire Eastern Macedonia & Thrace with an international character. What a miss for the city’s many stakeholders!

Learning for Techstars: in any startup event you do in those 150 countries make the utmost to break the silo of startup scene… and open-up to the wider society. There are schools, universities, chambers with ignorant or disorientated decision-makers, or young people who should be influenced by, for their future paths. Yes, why not, an open-day for schools?

Hats off, to Kavala event organizers

I’ve been by now to 19 startup events, from StartupLive up to Rome, New York, Stockholm and now in Kavala. I’ve never seen the professionalism, energy, and constructive feedback of a facilitator like Bernabé Chumpitazi Sedlacek (Startup lover & angel investor). He was there all the time, driving and coordinating with empathy and real interest.

He was accompanied by an excellent, supportive, polite, and willing organizing committee (they’ve worked as professionals, although they were volunteers): Maria Dinaki, Christodoulos Ypodimatopoulos, Christos Sotirelis, and Sophie Christakidou. I would recommend them anytime to undertake a full-line project.

Participants join with strong convictions

Most of Friday’s pitch leaders came prepared (and strongly biased) with their own pre-made idea. That’s not bad. But apart the validity and sustainability of those ideas (in real-life applications), the real problem was that they were holding back. The 3 out of the 4 teams kept on their initial rough model, without exploiting much of the given feedback to pivot or re-assess.

Strong characters you might say. The wrong approach I will tell you, for the business world where flexibility and constant change is the name of the game, in brands, marketing, logistics, sourcing, project & resources management.

I sense that the low-competence in business, economics, and real-life market understanding, is the outcome we pay nowadays out of the poor education and learning system that our youth goes through. If I was in my 20s sweet-spot, I would go to such events with a broad idea, yes, but full of open ears to alter and fix it through creative interactions with so many talented people from my team, my mentors, and judges.

Learning for whoever goes to a startup event: go there with openness, real desire to hear and understand, and don’t stick to what you believe; see it as a “seminar” that you’ll use in real-life. Love your rough idea. But primarily hear. Being able to hear and interpret is a great skill.

Limited end-customer view

The same old-issue. “I have a great idea“, “we’ll build an app” and recently “data analytics will...”. Hold your horses! In Startupweekend we witnessed the same old obstacle of young teams not being able to realize, that they should be working a model for some consumers, buyers, end-users out there… Think, aspire, visualize, interview, learn from these customers you wish to serve.

Fact: end-2016 among 90 million apps the average user downloaded 3! Think of the business model first and leave for later the access touchpoints. We live in Industries’ Transformation, not in an on-going app competition!

Learning to all E.U. Ministers of Education: a) introduce immediately to primary school lessons for “How Economy works”, “Professions and what they do”, b) impose to all Tech and Business universities the common lesson “Marketing & Technology” (indicative name) with tutors-entrepreneurs, and c) put redundant a.s.a.p. any university or college professor who still teaches Kotler’s 4P’s!

Progress will not be limited to computers, devices, apps. It will come by creativity and listening to people needs.

‘Me-too’ ideas

The participant’s pre-made biases and their lack of consumer worldviews, in turn, made the 75% of the teams working almost on ‘me-too’ ideas. They were trying hard, but no matter if you finally turn your idea into a startup, if you get financed, or even if you go in-house it’s of great importance to know (and research all the time) how markets (consumers and value-exchanges) work.

You have to have this never-ending passion to really understand “Customer First”. Go into details. Young talents are the only true Value creators today, but only if they serve people’s needs. [inlinetweet prefix=”” tweeter=”” suffix=””]Thomas Edison said once that “The value of an idea lies in the using of it”[/inlinetweet] (the value of usage, feedback, test).

More subject-matter expert Mentors

In Startupweekend Kavala we were more Mentors than the teams, but that’s not the issue. The challenge is how to fortify the reputation, the delivery, and the word-of-mouth of startup events with having more subject-matter expert-Mentors. Have both technical and (proven) business expertise:

  • Experienced entrepreneurs
  • Subject Matter Experts in a field (ie. Inna Boyadzhieva for crowdfunding-specific)
  • Startup incubators and accelerators (with a possible ‘bonus’ to invite new startups to their programs)
  • Startup attorneys (very critical area: youngsters don’t know the implications)

The best mentor profile in Startupweekend Kavala was Nikolaos Tsoniotis. Serial entrepreneur. Focused on Product Management for early-stage startups. A technical guy on ICT and an experienced professional with a career in an international company, now co-creating innovation in between EU-private-public sector. He was supporting the teams for the business model and on the tech critical issues.

Learning for event organizers: stick to 2-3 Mentors in the three critical areas (technical, marketing, and legal) where participants haven’t the faintest clue of real industries, segments, and consumer/buyer/end users’ cycles.

Brief event speakers, in advance

A lot of people, when invited to speak at such events, are inclined to speak about themselves and their offering. Wrong time, bad context. Startup events participants, who we all wish to help, aren’t there for you and your company; they need to learn “how-to” (practical marketing, coding, legal, distribution, research, development issues).

Learning: stick to maximum 2 speaking slots and brief in advance for every speaker. What do you expect, duration, etc. (yes, put some discipline)

Reasons for ideas (startups) failing

Nobody ever started a business intending to fail. It’s foolish to expect that all businesses could somehow succeed. Still, many successful and innovative businesses fail by not paying attention to big issues that they never trained for. Well, here’s your warning!

  • No real market need to be covered
  • Much tech bubbling, forgetting people, service, branding
  • The whole business is just an app
  • Not enough cash or burn-rates to survive macroeconomic cycles
  • Not the right partner, team, and limited people skills
  • Outcompeted (mostly due to improper start-phase research)
  • Pricing (user/customer adoption …key criterion)
  • Poor marketing, or at the wrong time and context

End-note: big “Thank you” #SWKavala

I was never a believer of “that’s great!” culture (it’s the sign of complacency that I’ve seen a lot in the corporate world). This is why, besides a big “Thank you #SWKavala, I give the above constructive feedback to all of us.

It aims to be a stimulus, to improve our support to youth, and develop successful and disruptive cases, if we are to stay strong and tackle the on-going Digital & Industries’ Transformation.

My country, Greece, is full of Talent, but opportunities aren’t there. We should change this!

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