A year ago I would not have known anything about Startup Weekends or most of the terms I’ll be sharing in the short series I’ll be writing over the next few days in anticipation of DC Startup Weekend EDU.  As a teacher and administrator, I wasn’t connected to the world of startups; I had to climb a steep learning curve when I began working on an edtech startup. I’m hoping to make this process easier for other educators joining the EdTech movement, especially those who want to participate in the new Startup Weekend EDU strand. If I could learn what I’ve learned this past year, so can any other educator.

My next blog will share some Ed Tech terms, but I thought I’d start with some basic tips for first-time educators participating in a Startup Weekend EDU:

  1. Let your teacher and administrator friends know that you may be contacting them over Startup Weekend to try out some ideas. It’s great to have access to educators when you are validating your team’s idea. (More on this in tomorrow’s blog.)
  2. Let your students, friends, family know that you will be largely unavailable during Startup Weekend. You won’t have time to do any grading, prepping or responding to anyone with lengthy emails. You’ll be surprised by how much you throw yourself into the work your team is doing!
  3.  When you pitch your idea, make sure to state clearly that you are an educator. It adds credibility to your pitch. Some developers and others will specifically choose to join a group with an educator. For more tips on crafting your pitch, see one past judge’s advice.  *You do not have to pitch an idea! Some educators like to join teams for their first Startup Weekend experience.
  4. If you pitch an idea and pull together a team, then essentially you are the team leader and will be expected to facilitate conversations and workflow. Do not simply assign people tasks; take the time to find out what skills people bring and also what they were hoping to get out of the weekend. Most people enjoy the creation process, so be open to your idea transforming. Your team is not there simply to provide free hacking and design work (more on hackers and designers tomorrow!).
  5. Don’t assume that the audience or your team will be familiar with educational terms or even what’s good for students. Many non-educator participants really want to learn from your experiences as much as you want to learn from them. (See tomorrow’s blog for a glossary of ed tech terms.)
  6. It will be appreciated if you let other teams know that you’re happy to provide educator insight if they get to a point where they’d like feedback from someone in the field.
  7. Take full advantage of the mentors who stop by while your team is working. Use these “interruptions” as a chance to practice and fine tune your pitch. The mentors have a full range of experiences so take advantage of their different areas of expertise. Some will know the education space, some will be from foundations or venture capital firms and some will be successful entrepreneurs who want to remember what it was like when they were in startup mode. Don’t be surprised if some of the advice you get conflicts with each other–their advice depends on their experiences.
  8. Be prepared to experience a full range of emotions—at one point, you may feel like you’ve just created the next Facebook, only to feel downtrodden later that evening when you believe your business will never get off the ground. It’s all part of the cycle of turning an idea into something viable.
  9. Make connections with participants, organizers and mentors. A significant piece of the Startup Weekend experience is meeting folks interested in Ed Tech. Take advantage of the great wealth of expertise that attends these weekends.
  10. And most importantly, have fun!