My first Startup Weekend Toronto

10/18/2014 | By Alison Gibbins

This post originally appeared on

I had an idea... but no clue what to do with it...

Despite two business degrees and fifteen years working in marketing, I didn't know how to take my first entrepreneurial steps.  As a thirty-something mom and full time government employee, I signed up for the 2nd Toronto Startup Weekend in June of 2011 with much apprehension and anxiety.

Before the event, I can remember scouring the Internet to find out what Startup Weekend was all about.  I found some early media coverage and a couple of blogs and learned that I'd have to pitch my idea and get enough votes to have my idea built over the weekend.  I read that there would be some networking before the short pitches so I created 8 powerpoint slides, shrink them down tinny tiny and mounted them in a View Master toy so that I could show the other participants my idea before I pitched.  It was a rather strange presentation method but I was able to engage with a handful of participants who encouraged me with smiles during my one-minute pitch. The pitch itself whizzed by so quickly and I was excited that I finally had shared my ideas in public.

When the voting was complete, the energy and excitement of finding teammates to help build the idea over the weekend was intense.  I remember having all these strangers come up to me saying, "Hey, I like your idea - do you need a back end coder/UI designer/front end guy" and thinking to myself that I didn't even know the difference between a front end and back end coder. [And what the heck was Ruby on Rails?!.. they asked if we could use it and I thought that they were referring to a jewellery shop on a train!].  That night I met 7 amazing people who built a business over the weekend and became life long friends, mentors, and partners.

Saturday and Sunday were a real blur of activity, ideas, and creativity.  I outlined the problem we were trying to solve and the team collectively came up with brilliant ideas to solve them.  It was a real collaborative effort, with everyone bringing a different skill set to the team.  We broke into mini teams of front end and UI design, back end coding and database set-up and customer validation.  Together we built a working website, with a back end database, and recommendation algorithms, all validated with an online survey and guerrilla style interviews on the street.

One of my fondest memories was late Saturday night.  Everyone was jamming away and a crowd had gathered around one of the team members.  I asked one of the spectators what they were watching and he exclaimed, "You have one of the best coders in Canada on your team - it's so cool just to watch him code!"  It highlighted to me how Startup Weekend brings people of so many backgrounds and skills together to achieve something so remarkable in only 54 hours.

The final pitches on Sunday were a blast.  We had formed a tight team and, since our product was targeted to expectant parents, we took a team picture of all of us pregnant (with balloons under our shirts).  One of the guys (thanks - Steven!) even pretended to be pregnant at the beginning of the presentation, which made the crowd chuckle and got the pitch off to a good start.  The five minutes went by so quickly and I was so proud of what we had accomplished together, even if we didn't win.  It was also amazing to see the progress of all the other teams had made and I felt thrilled to be part of such a wonderful, vibrant community of entrepreneurs.

The event itself was over, but the experience continues to this day.  I'm still in touch with most of the team members and one even became my co-founder.

By Alison Gibbins, Startup Weekend Junkie and part of the organizing committee for Startup Weekend Toronto - Internet of Things Edition on Nov. 21-23, 2014.  Tweet your Startup Weekend questions to me at @alivey or @startupwkndTO.