StartupWeekend at VeloCity.

I’ve spent the last couple of days at StartupWeekend at UW’s VeloCity residence. If you look closely you can see me near the back in green shirt and jeans, arms folded, listening intently.

I’ve watched about 50 students pitch ideas, form teams, write code, describe target markets, and explain how they plan to generate revenue. Actually, I’ve been witness to an incredible directed energy, albeit one fueled by copious amounts of pizza and Red Rave energy drink.

I was invited by the Director of VeloCity, Jesse Rodgers, to mentor these students, along with some other smart folks (I’m not that smart, but I hide it well).And these students have patiently indulged me in doing just that. I’ve had the great pleasure of sitting back and hearing their ideas, and getting to throw back the occasional nugget of wisdom from my vast and varied career – the experience of a more experienced person (as they’ve frequently pointed out with great humour, they are somewhat younger than my own kids).

And the fact is, I’ve had more fun in the last few days than I’ve had in years. These are kids who are throwing ideas out so fast that it is difficult to process them. Some are variations on existing themes, but some are radically new ideas. But the energy is more than palpable; the building fairly hums with the sense of creativity within.

Jesse introduced me to them by joking that I was there to crush their dreams, to inject a dose of reality into their plans. And for a couple of ideas that has been the case. But for others I’ve found myself getting caught up in the pitch, suggesting even further potential markets and tangents for the future. I can see ideas that can not only get funded, but with the potential to win their markets. Rather than crush their dreams I’ve found myself increasingly caught up in them.

I’ve often commented that Waterloo is a community of mature companies – great products but sometimes short on innovation. However, after the last few days I realize that I’ve shortchanged the town. There is tremendous energy and innovation here. It’s just hiding in a nondescript little building in the southwest corner of the UW campus.

If you didn’t get the opportunity to get out to StartupWeekend I suggest that you make the time to get over there and find out what they’re up to soon. And if it’s something in the water you should figure out how to bottle it as quick as possible.

To that students of VeloCity, my sincere thanks for putting up with me as I intruded on your creative process. Thanks for teaching me a lot this weekend, and I hope I was able to return at least a little bit of the favour.

Update: Apparently I’ve mistakenly promotedJesse; he is actually one of two Associate Directors. I am thinking to myself though that I’m pretty impressed that he could motivate 50 or so students with just some pizza and soda. If even one successful company is created as a result I’m thinking that he might be in high demand. Just imagine if ten succeed. :-)

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