Who among us cannot say that we’d like to attend an event where Unicorns are invited? That unique opportunity presented itself on this past Friday night with the first Seattle Startup Weekend Maker Edition. Unlike previous Startup Weekend events, where participants dream up a product or a service and a business plan, the Maker Edition version was about creating a tangible prototype. Coca Cola, one of several key sponsors, kicked in a team of industrial designers to help”imagineers” take their visions to the touchable phase, and other firms donated raw goods.
In the uber-cool (but non-air-conditioned) design studio MakerHaus, about 80 people gathered on a hot Friday night to pitch ideas, choose teams, and get down to the business of serious 54-hour prototyping. After a complimentary buffet dinner, facilitator John Morefield stood up to introduce the rules of engagement. The judges were looking for ideas for products that would make the grade with customers, he told the crowd. Their fledgling creations needed to work, to be scaleable for production, and be well-designed. “Put it on your head! See what it does,” he said, urging prototypers to throw everything they had into the weekend. He added that SWME was ready to put its sponsorship where its mouth was to support creativity: the evening would end with the teams behind the winning ideas making their shopping lists, which organizers would use to assemble the starting materials. “Kind of a beer run for technology,” he mused. The pitch people lined up to lob their ideas.
Solutions were hawked for a sweep of problems ranging from the first world to the intensely low resource settings – from better wine coolers and cat habitats to sleep disorder detectors and low-grade, easy-assembly shelter kits for African rural dwellers. With attendees from as far away as Taiwan, at 75 participants the event was the biggest startup maker edition yet (the first event in San Francisco drew a pool of 45). Pitchers were as varied as the ideas – engineers, entrepreneurs, and students. The youngest, 12-year-old Kayley Thompson, delivered her pitch for Cloudhouse, a smart greenhouse, with a degree of poise imaginable in a woman twice her age. It seemed not out of place in a room filled with creative enthusiasts. Dad Bernie, owner of a Bellevue electronics firm, was there to support his daughter. “This is the type of social activity that is tipping the scales toward women,” he said.
Each idea was jotted on a giant post-it note and votes registered by the number of attendee post-it votes each collected. Winning pitchers called for teammates as the crowd flowed around them. As well as the participants looking for opportunities to use their skills, ten coaches – entrepreneurs who’d been part of successful startups – were there to support the teams with advice and hard questions. And those unicorns? Created just for Maker Edition, Unicorns are a special class of participant who have some established design cred and agree to attend classes on the use of Makerhaus’ 3-D printing and metal fabrication machines.
Put together in just two months, this particular event was organized by a volunteer staff of ten. Bonnie Mattson, a first-time organizer,
loves the Startup culture. “You get to push yourself in a way that you don’t get to at most day-to-day work,” she said. Mattson met fellow organizer Monica Houston at a Startup Weekend – Women’s Edition last year. After helping a team create a video science game for girls, she was hooked and jumped at the chance to help bring Maker Edition to life in Seattle.
Broch Stilley, one of her colleagues, was also passionate about the Startup ethos, particularly the “seat-of-the-pants” character of Seattle’s first Maker Edition. The sponsoring companies, he found, had been very generous in contributing materials. The organizing team had matched donations with their own sweat equity, and the rest of the team – Chet Kittleson, Bob Rowe, Adam Philipp, Joanna Lu, Gabe Pelegrin, Marion Desmazières, Hakon Verespej, and Monica Houston were in perpetual motion.
At the time when many people are kicking back for the weekend, the Seattle SWME folks were just warming up. They had a good 48 hours left to go, and little chance of much in the way of sleep. How did it all turn out? Check in with us tomorrow.