5 learnings and tips for organizing a Startup Weekend Youth

01/19/2019 | By Belinda Esterhammer

This post originally appeared on blog.up.co

It’s been a week since I facilitated the first Startup Weekend (SW) Youth at Cyberport in Hong Kong. We defined youth as students between 14-22 years (high school and university students).

20 student innovators showed up, 7 ideas were pitches and 4 teams were formed. With the help of our amazing organizers and 14 mentors, our attendees turned their ideas into startups in just 2 days. Our youngest participant was only 13 years old!

As we had to overcome several hurdles in the weeks leading to the event I wanted to share 5 learnings and tips for when you’re organising a Startup Weekend, Hackathon or Bootcamp for Youth:

Timeline - make it short and compact!

The usual Startup Weekend takes place from Friday night to Sunday night. With youth we were aware that some had curfews and of course parents wanted them back home at a reasonable time. With that in mind, we skipped Friday and offered a condensed version of Startup Weekend that started on Saturday morning.

After some icebreakers we jumped right into pitching and after team formation, the youth started to work. During lunch I held a workshop on customer validation and gave them a short overview of the lean canvas and highlighted that while they should think of all the points on a high level they should not spend too much time on the finances (due to lack of time and also experience). Our venue in Cyberport was outside the centre of Hong Kong and on weekends it’s quite deserted in that area so instead of sending them out to talk to customers we urged them to grab their phones and computers and get hold of as many people as possible with a minimum of 30 (which all of them accomplished). Afterwards, our mentors joined the party and were also able to help the teams to validate their idea and help with their problem statement.

In the evening we had 1:1 prototyping sessions, where Felix gave each team tips and tools for their startup. The next morning I held a quick session on pitching and the anatomy of a pitch deck and after mentor and pitch doctor sessions the final pitches started! Amongst the Sunday audience, we had several parents that joined us and it was so heartwarming to see their proud faces.

There is no perfect date - but some are better than the others

When organising the weekend we asked students from different schools what dates/months would work better than others and there was so much to consider…

From “busy exam time to public holidays” to “this month this certain school is out for field trips” there were many weeks that got eliminated quickly. We settled on January as it’s not a super intense exam month but leading up to the event we still had many students who couldn’t join because they had exams over the weekend (which some didn’t know way back in August). If we would have organised this event in summer we would have had the issue that lots of (international) students are out of town, on internships, summer school or (you guessed it) too busy.

Ticket sales

We were lucky that Cyberport was our sponsor and covered food, transportation and venue. Thus, we only wanted to ensure that students will show up and we have a little buffer for swags and extras so we tried to sell tickets for as low as USD10. Shortly after tickets went live some students contacted me and told me that their parents didn’t want to give them their credit card to purchase a ticket - they didn’t want to pay as they didn't understand what SW is or some said that it was too much to ask for. We considered these factors and made all tickets free. This is a general dilemma when hosting Youth editions - how much do you charge, do you offer tickets for free and how do you ensure that people will actually show up? More, how do you show to parents that this is a valuable experience for their kids? Another reason why we decided to offer free tickets is that in Hong Kong 1 in 5 people are living below the poverty line and it was really important to us to ensure that everyone was able to join.


Which leads us to the next point - accountability! Offering free tickets put us in another dilemma - what if the youth signs up but doesn’t show up? We had around 35% of no-shows. While some messaged me the days leading up to the event to give a heads up (homework, other commitments, sickness) most just didn’t show up. We understand that things can happen and sometimes even the best-laid plans don’t work out but it’s all about communicating it - it pains us to see food waste and luckily we were able to distribute all the food to mentors, participants and organizers to take home to their family or people in need. What I’d do differently for the next one? I’d follow the tip of Billy Naveed from Young Founders School and would ask the students for the emails of their parents in the sign-up form, email the parents to make them aware that their kid signed up for Startup Weekend and that a no-show would mean the parents would get invoiced. This will ensure that parents are aware of the date and helps us to hold the students accountable. In this edition, we had several parents who dropped and picked off their kids at the Startup Weekend and it was great to see how they encouraged their kids.

Preparing a Youth edition is not an easy task but very rewarding.

Have FUN!

We were just blown away by the confidence, learning curve and determination of the students and many pitch desks and pitches were better than those from “grown-ups”. It was so much fun to learn and build with the students, we all felt a little bit sad when the weekend was over but we are also very thrilled to see what some of these bright minds will accomplish one day.

Overall, organising a youth edition is not an easy task and thanks so much to Cyberport for the sponsorship including hosting us in their new Cyberport Entrepreneurship Centre. Thanks to The Academy for the Talented - The University of Hong Kong (HKU) for the grand prize - the winning team received scholarships to join their International Symposium on STEM Education which aims at bringing 100 students around the globe to HKU for academic exchange in summer 2019. The prize was presented by our judge Dr. Joseph Ping-Hung Chan from HKU.

Also thanks to our judge Billy and Young Founders School for offering all students a fast track to their Weekend Bootcamp in Hong Kong. Thanks also to our third judge Rita Li from Junior Achievement Hong Kong for helping to promote the event and spread the word.

Thanks also to all mentors for coaching our teams and last but not least a massive drumroll for the amazing organizers and event volunteers (Keith, Data, Felix, Vicky, Divya, Janae and Michelle) - thank you all for showing up!

Got any further questions? Comment below or drop me a message belinda@startupweekend.org