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Ideas and Innovation

Startup weekend Melbourne – An outsiders perspective.

Startup Weekend has high ideals. Supported by the Kauffman Foundation “StartupWeekends are 54 hour events where developers, designers, marketers, product managers and startup enthusiasts come together to share ideas, form teams, build products, and launch startups!”.


Over the weekend of the 22nd June – 24th June it was the turn of Melbourne to host a Startup Weekend. The goal? To focus on building a web or mobile application which could form the basis of a credible business.

The outcome(s)? Energy high. Results low. Now, before you all reach for your keypads to tweet your sense of outrage, let me explain.

I was not a participant nor a mentor or judge over the weekend. However, I did attend (along with others) as a business leader and potential investor and witnessed the critical stages of the initial pitch and the final team pitch presentations. This, along with the usual networking interaction at such events, provided me with a unique perspective (an outsiders perspective) on whether or not the objective of the weekend (“the creation of a web or mobile application which could form the basis for a credible business”) had been achieved from any of the participants.

In any inventive (and commercialisation) process the ratio of attempt to success is slanted towards failure. Invention through to innovation (i.e. the exchange of some type of recognisable value for your invention) is a low probability endeavour where the truly successful innovations not only rely on effectively satisfying a market need but have a serendipitous aspect to success.

Indeed commentators including Ikujuro Nonaka (1991,p. 94 November–December issue of HBR) point out that “the serendipitous quality of innovation is highly recognized by managers and links the success of Japanese enterprises to their ability to create knowledge not by processing information but rather by “tapping the tacit and often highly subjective insights, intuitions, and hunches of individual employees and making those insights available for testing and use by the company as a whole”.

The Japanese experience has particular resonance to the objective of the Startup Melbourne Weekend of creating a web or mobile application which could form the basis of a credible business. My personal view is that no web or mobile application was created that could form the basis of a credible business. This in itself does not reflect a failure of the startup Melbourne weekend.

However, it does pose a salient proposition. Do movements and associated events such as the Startup weekend have the right objectives set? As a 54 hour event, should serendipity play a greater role? Organisers of the event would argue that, should a successful enterprise be created from one of these events then, serendipity played a large role.

Yet, serendipity is the accident of finding something good or useful without looking for it. The very structure of the Startup Weekend (54 hours, looking for web / mobile applications to form the basis of a credible business) combined with, the narrow participant demographic (the vast majority of participants were sub 25 years of age) leaves the event exposed or slanted toward, limited outcomes unable to find something good or useful. In this fluid, social, digital age, this is an outcome the organisers would surely wish to avoid. Ikujuro Nonaka outlined how successful Japanese enterprises delivered quality innovation (and the serendipitous nature of the innovation). Should this be ignored or embraced?

Subjective insights, intuitions, and hunches can play a vital role within a process or event. Indeed, your subjective insights, intuitions and hunches in relation to the article and the subject of the article, have allowed for serendipity too appear. My view is that something “good or useful” has appeared from the writing of and the reading of this article. So, focus that something “good or useful” on delivering innovation within your social network or ecosystem.

In fact, that focus can produce a “credible business”. One in which investment by business leaders and capital partners can be made which are keys stages in delivering innovation. Startup Weekend is a useful and important movement. How it will embrace the serendipitous quality of innovation will determine its own life cycle.

The views expressed here are the authors’ own and do not necessarily represent those of After the Words or any other associated group.

About Glenn Smith

High growth business leader, independent management consultant & investment manager, board member, entrepreneur. An entrepreneurial leader/executive with >20 years experience in, and preference for, high growth enterprises capable of leaving a commercial and social legacy. Specialties: strategy, innovation, commercialisation and investment execution (venture capital /private equity). This successful executive career has been built around being involved in and/or growing businesses at all stages of the growth cycle (listed and private), from existence (start-ups), to survival ($1B). P.S. Impressario, esquire, bon vivant, viticulturist and oenologist.


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June 2012
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