Graham Treakle is no stranger to startups. For the past two years, he has run operations for a startup called Pass the Plate, an app that makes charitable giving easy by helping users make and track donations to over 1.5 million nonprofit organizations.
With Pass the Plate in beta testing as of October 2015, Treakle is gearing up for a full launch of the product in the near future. Enter the Triad Startup Weekend, a 54-hour event for local entrepreneurs hosted at Flywheel, a co-working space located in Wake Forest Innovation Quarter. The mission of the Triad Startup Weekend is to support local entrepreneurs by providing the collaboration, resources and educational activities necessary for startups to get off the ground.
During the weekend, participants submit conceptual ideas to workshop—no existing startup concepts are allowed. Although Treakle couldn’t submit Pass the Plate as an idea, he decided to participate in the weekend to hone his startup skills.
“This weekend is terrific for entrepreneurs beginning startups,” said Treakle. “You can learn about the whole process in a condensed period of time by collaborating with other local entrepreneurs.”
After 54-hours worth of seminars, brainstorming sessions and product development and testing, Treakle walked away with four lessons he believes are essential for entrepreneurs:
- Make Connections
Connecting with other entrepreneurs is important. Events like the Triad Startup Weekend create an atmosphere of collaboration and excitement, which was also one of the reasons Treakle looked at tapping into the Innovation Quarter. Connecting with a variety of local professionals, including potential partners, coaches and community sponsors, can lead to more resources and better products. In the bigger picture, events like these help create a culture of entrepreneurship, making Winston-Salem an exciting place to live and work.
- Be Adaptable
Flexibility and openness is essential to a startup. At the beginning of the weekend, participants pitched their ideas for startups, and then picked only a handful to focus on for the rest of the weekend. Fleshing out these ideas required participants to be open to change. Later in the weekend, groups took a more developed version of a chosen idea to the streets for market research. The feedback from target consumers helped them fine-tune the concept. Throughout the weekend, the group’s ideas and concepts morphed as they completed each phase of the process. Treakle believes this quick process of refinement can accelerate product development, and even found some of the feedback about his group’s hypothetical product to be applicable to the real product he is developing.
- Seek Advice
Every entrepreneur should have good advisors: people who can give impartial advice on your ideas and products and who have experience in the startup world. The Triad Startup Weekend brought in “coaches” from the local community with their own successful startups to help advise the participants over the course of the weekend. Hearing from these experienced entrepreneurs—who are familiar with the ups and downs of the startup process—was invaluable. If nothing else, hearing the stories of others helps you realize the feasibility of your own dreams. They did it—so can you.
- Concentrate Efforts
The Triad Startup Weekend showed Treakle how quickly you can investigate the viability of an idea. If you are willing to invest some concentrated time, you can test out an idea for a startup in one weekend. You can develop a good base of information from a little brainstorming, a basic product idea, some simple market testing and good collaboration. A lot of people get hung up on fully developing an idea, but this weekend demonstrated that taking your idea through a series of strategic steps may be the boost a startup needs to get off the ground.
Treakle’s take-away was this: “Events like the Triad Startup Weekend provide important guidance for entrepreneurs at all stages,” he said. “Bring a good idea, or bring a bad idea—it doesn’t matter. The weekend helps you sift through the process of developing your idea and your startup.”