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Start-Up Weekend Groningen: Talent supporting talent

A developer, a marketeer and an investor walked into an office space. No, that’s not the start to a joke, it’s the start to Start-Up Weekend Groningen. With our young, well-educated population, the TopDutch region is a breeding ground for new entrepreneurial talent. But what happens when you put some of the brightest and most hungry into a room together for 54-hours? A weekend of fun, creativity and potential new start-ups.

Photo: Mark Vletter

Once a year, a team of successful entrepreneurs and creatives organize the Start-Up Weekend Groningen for the rising talent of the TopDutch region. Its premise is simple, yet challenging: Think-up, develop and pitch a new start-up in three days, over 54 hours.

From pitch to prototype

On Friday evening, the event kicks off with pitches from the participants, each with their own great idea for a start-up. Their peers then vote on the premises that they believe are the best, or most viable, and the top-scoring ideas are announced. This year, there were 14 ideas chosen to take further, and teams were formed around these, with the participants choosing which idea fits with their passion and skillset the most.

What comes next is two days of hard work, mixed with a bit of hard play: Typical TopDutch work/life balance style. The teams are put straight to work on developing their idea into a feasible business plan, and are mentored by existing TopDutch success-stories through coaching and workshops. Finally, on the Sunday evening each team can pitch their prototype, demo or presentation to a panel of judges. This year, the judges were Alfred Welink, serial entrepeneur and former chairman of the employers’ federation VNO-NCW; Anna van Nunen, co-founder and former CEO of the foundation Innofest, which allows start-ups to use festivals as living labs for sustainability; and Claudia Silvie van den Pol, the young CEO of multinational Apollo.

There can, of course, only be one winner. The teams were judged on three pillars: validation, execution and design, and the soundness of the business model. The top team was announced to be ‘B. HIVE’, a prototype match and chat app that brings together business professionals and entrepreneurs to aid each other with their business needs.

Photo: Mark Vletter

Supporting an interconnected ecosystem

However, winning is by far not the most important thing about Start-Up Weekend Groningen. What makes the event special is the mix of talented people from all different walks of life, with different skills who come together and build meaningful relationships with each other. These connections are hugely important to the development of the TopDutch start-up ecosystem according to Luuk Hartsema, lead organizer of the Start-Up Weekend Groningen: ‘It’s not just exchanging business cards but connecting people in the mindset of “give first” …seeing if you can help people’. He sees it as a mission to ‘create a space where friendships are being fostered’ because friends know each other’s talents and pitfalls, and understand what they can do for each other.

Photo: Mark Vletter

And it’s not just connecting with fellow fledgling entrepreneurs, the Start-Up Weekend Groningen also helps bring together bright young talent with bigger corporations in the TopDutch region. Luuk gives the example of one new TopDutch entrepreneur, who’d just founded his start-up in the maritime sector. He’d arrived at the event on a whim, but found himself having an even more rewarding time than he’d expected, after connecting with the successful and well-established business cluster from the region Groningen Seaports, who were one of the supporters. ‘It’s about doing things you’ve never imagined yourself to be possible’ explained Luuk Hartsema.

It’s not just exchanging business cards but connecting people in the mindset of give first.

Luuk Hartsema, lead organizer of the Start-Up Weekend Groningen

One weekend to the rest of your life

Photo: Mark Vletter

The skills, connections and self-development gained from the Start-Up Weekend are, however still an amazing jumping-off point to start a thriving business after the weekend. One great example is TopDutch social-entrepreneur Wilbert van de Kamp, who set up Omapost as a result of the Start-Up Weekend. Omapost was originated to tackle loneliness in older people, and bring young and old members of the family together by mixing of digital technology (common place in the younger generation) with analogue media (more accessible for many older people). Grandchildren can take the images they are sharing with the rest of their friends and family through social media, and convert them into postcards that they can send to their grandparents, or other people in their lives, keeping people connected in the digital age.

Since Omapost started in 2014, they’ve since expanded internationally, and work in connection with big businesses to tackle loneliness on a bigger scale through corporate social responsibility campaigns. A great example of what happens when you mix hungry young TopDutch talent, innovative thinking and the support of a well-connected ecosystem.

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