Techstars’ journey to virtual Startup Weekends

Adapting to marketing conditions and learning to pivot are critical qualities of a successful startup. So when Techstars, the company that accelerates startups, suddenly found their successful Startup Weekend program canceled due to COVID-19, they had to adapt very quickly.

Lalitha Wemel, Techstars’ Regional Director of Community for Asia Pacific, shares how in a short period of time, Techstars took “an incredibly intense 54-hour experience that was meant to give participants a chance to understand what entrepreneur life is, and flipped it to be completely virtual.”

It wasn’t smooth sailing at the beginning, but eventually, they found the right tools and processes which enable entrepreneurs to successfully collaborate and hone their skills no matter where they are in the world. As we’ll learn from Lalitha, sometimes a disruption in the market like COVID-19 can cause a company to innovate in ways that help everyone in the long run.

What is Techstars Startup Weekend?

Techstars Startup Weekend is a 3-day experiential program where participants can engage and connect with other local entrepreneurs, pitch an idea, learn from experts and mentors in their community, and experience startup life.

By the end of the weekend, participants have usually determined if their idea has weight to pursue, they’ve created a rough business plan, and formed new connections. Thousands of successful startups such as Rover and Carousel have come out of Techstars Startup Weekends.

Learn more about Miro

Lalitha shares, “Pre-pandemic we were doing about 1,000 Startup Weekends annually in over 160 countries around the world.” These programs had been successfully running in person and helping entrepreneurs for the better part of 12 years.

When Covid hit, everything had to be moved online practically overnight.

A rush to recreate the weekend online

Techstars needed to figure out how to put on a virtual event that allowed for pitching, business model creation, designing, prototyping, and market validation, all in a warm and supportive team environment.

Lalitha explains, “We put together this guidebook trying to iterate and put our program online using an assortment of tools from a variety of sources. At the start, there wasn’t very much. Everything was so static.”

Techstars ran their first online Startup Weekend pilot called Unite to Fight COVID-19, and while successful, Lalitha admits the first iteration was “very bulky” and “it took so much effort to learn how to convert it.”

She continues, “Trying to emulate what happened offline online was too much. We did a few drafts of it, but it really wasn’t a great system.”

Static tools not only prevent things from feeling organic but also make the process of planning and executing tasks tedious and choppy.

An interactive and immersive solution

Lalitha shares, “I was talking to some Techstars community leaders and one of them based in Australia is the biggest Miro fan on the planet.” He told her how he used Miro for some of his programs and she decided to give it a try.

She explains, “As an experiment, I ran our 2020 team offsite through Miro. It was two and a half days and a majority of it was on Miro. It added intimacy and it made it more dynamic for our remote team based in seven different countries.”

As they did all of their activities like brainstorms, retrospectives, and wishlists, Lalitha noticed that everyone “felt really alert and really alive and very present.” She recalls, “Miro added this fun, playful element.”

After that positive experience, she started brainstorming how to use it for the Techstars Community’s existing programs. A base template was eventually created that other community members could tweak for their communities, which she says “helped them as organizers visualize the program so much clearer when it was all laid out in front of them on one board as compared to 25 different documents and resources scattered everywhere.”

Miro has reduced the amount of resources organizers need to run a Startup Weekend.

It has increased engagement at events, and “allowed a lot more fun to happen online.” As a result, Techstars wants to keep creating different iterations – one for organizers to run the event and the other for participants, whether they’re at an offline or online event – to use Miro as a guiding board for the entire process.

There is currently a Techstars Startup Weekend Participants’ Dashboard, which you can see below and explore here.

The board includes a Miro tutorial, it guides participants through the weekend, and keeps everyone on the same page, both literally and figuratively!

When you use a tool designed for collaboration and engagement, it makes participation more organic, it gives everyone a voice, and all ideas are preserved in one place to revisit and be built upon later.

Building thriving communities together

Techstars and Miro share a common goal to help build thriving startup communities. They do this by connecting startups, investors, corporations, and individuals, and giving them the insights and tools they need to succeed.

“Miro’s startup program gives young businesses access to our digital whiteboards and community so they can collaborate and thrive. We love investing in startups because they are the innovators of the future!” explains Jaïr Halevi, Startup Program Manager at Miro.

According to Lalitha, “Miro helps bridge the gap between in-person and virtual and adds something special to our programs.”

Organizers are now able to plan and run events more smoothly and participants use the rich, user-friendly platform to help them connect, collaborate, visualize, and build their startups.

What started as a solution for moving an event online has become a process that speaks to our world’s new hybrid mentality. Incorporating the right digital tools can enhance teamwork, create a space for new ideas, and build a strong community whether the participants are meeting in person or gathering remotely.

Interested in hosting an online Startup Weekend? You can check out the requirements here.

Want to learn more about the Miro Startup Program?

Check it out here!

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