So I posted a couple of things from the Bellevue Startup Weekend, but I was too busy to go into any depth or detail. The Weekend is over now, and I've caught up (a little) on my sleep, so it seems like a good time for a trip report.

Startup Weekend is an opportunity for people with a business idea to meet folks who might be able to help them develop it into an actual product. For $99, SW provides a venue, seven meals (dinner Friday and all three meals Saturday and Sunday), and coaching.

Friday evening is dedicated to meet-and-greet and initial pitches from anybody who has an idea. The ideas I saw presented ranged from "WTF, really?" through "been there, done that, but now we're IN THE CLOUD!!!" to "Holy crap, I have to get me a piece of that!" Not every idea was profit-oriented, which surprised me a little. After the initial pitches, each person who presented stands by a sign with the name of their idea and talks to anybody who wants to learn more, and each participant, whether they pitched or not, votes for the ideas that interest them the most. The top N* vote getters are allowed to recruit members for their teams and continue to pursue and develop their ideas. (There is a backup rule where, even if you don't get enough votes to get "official" sanction, if you can recruit at least one other team member, you can continue working and will be allowed to present a pitch to the judges at the end of the weekend.)

Late Friday night, Saturday, and Sunday morning and afternoon are devoted to developing the idea for all that you are worth, and assembling a pitch for the judges, who are experienced entrepreneurs and venture capitalists. The judges pick the three top ideas and there are small prizes, the cash value of which probably do not add up to the initial ticket price. "But that don't matter" (Vincent Vega), because just about every project that managed to recruit a team got coaching and advice from the serial entrepreneurs roving the halls, and several of the teams went from idea all the way to a here-it-is-you-can-touch-it product in the 54 hours, and a couple even made actual sales. (Actual sales, it turned out, were a BIG plus with the judges.)

Tshirts, beer, and snacks abounded all weekend. So did hard work, active collaboration, and a level of energy I don't recall seeing since early days in NT.

I'd heard of SW before, but had zero experience with them and really didn't know what to expect. My pie-in-the-sky for the weekend goal was to find a cool startup and get them to hire me. Turns out that was unrealistic, because only new ideas were allowed at the pitch meeting; nobody with actual funding was presenting, and funding was not an allowed result of the process. The goal of SW is to teach people what they need to pull together in order to pitch their business to VCs later on.

After they brought the weekend to a close and kicked us out of the venue, most of the teams, even the ones that didn't win, even the ones I thought were particularly D-U-M dumb, were actively making plans to continue their collaboration going forward.

Reading back, I see that I have not mentioned what I did at SW. As it happens, I did have an idea I could have pitched, and based on the other ideas that were floating around and which got community interest, I probably would have gotten some traction, but (thank you, screaming introversion) I couldn't actually bring myself to stand up and be counted. No matter. The idea I did end up working on (even though it was somebody else's) is meatier, more interesting, and will require more skill, hard work, and expertise to bring off, and has completely changed the priorities for my job search. (Now I'm looking for shorter contracts to hold down the fort while we work in the background to get ready to look for funding for the startup.)

No, I'm not ready to share details, and I will likely evade the questions you ask me in person as well. ;)

The upshot, though, is that Startup Weekend was extremely inexpensive for the value it provided, and I feel strongly that, if I hadn't found a project to work on at this particular instantiation of the program, I would have gladly signed up for the next one.

*where N is a number not previously announced, but based on the judgment of the SW staff (our staffers cited a "sharp drop-off" in votes around the thirteenth idea)