I’m kind of a fangirl for Startup Weekend. Imagine an event that brings together some of the brightest entrepreneurial minds in your community and gives them the chance to bring their best ideas to life. The energy is almost palpable, and watching quick pitches transform into actual plans is incredible. (Can you see why I’m in love with it?)
Startup Weekend is an international organization, and cities around the world host local events year-round, one weekend at a time. My team at Influence & Co. has hosted our local Startup Weekend for the past five years, and through it, we discovered an untapped opportunity for our own company’s innovation.
We realized that hosting an internal Startup Weekend-style event could help our employees turn their best ideas into plans and actions that drive our company forward. So we hosted our first "Mini Startup Weekend," inspired by the official organization, at our 2015 company retreat. Not only did it allow employees to pitch ideas, but we were able to form realistic plans and decide on which ones are worth implementing after the event. It went so well that we’re planning our second event at our retreat this month.
Related: How to Inspire Innovation Among Employees
But it’s not only about new ideas — the process itself is valuable, too. Participating in these events can help your team in a number of other important ways:
It promotes collaboration across departments. Most of the time, new ideas come from people within the same departments, which often limits the impact of those ideas to just those departments. The cross-department collaboration of a Mini Startup Weekend promotes stronger teamwork, more efficiency and better ideas.
It shows employees that their ideas matter. Employees who feel that sharing their ideas is akin to yelling into a black hole won’t be inclined to speak up about areas within your organization that need improvement — and that stalls everyone’s progress. Hosting (and actually implementing ideas from) internal Mini Startup Weekends shows employees that their ideas are important and worth asserting.
It’s fun! If your team is full of driven, intellectually curious individuals like ours is, this exercise will be fun. Some of the best feedback we received about our retreat, which included a talent show, a field day and an open bar, was about the part of the day that required the most mental stimulation: Mini Startup Weekend.
These events are designed to pave the way for innovation, something we experienced firsthand after our first Mini Startup Weekend. We started with 20 initial pitches from employees, which we narrowed down to 10 action plans and eventually four product and process innovations that have measurably improved our company.
Related: How to Get Employees to Generate Great Ideas
One of my favorite ideas that we implemented is our public content profiles. We now create profiles for our clients that showcase all the content they create. What began as a 60-second pitch evolved into a substantial value add for our clients.
What to consider as you plan your own event
I recommend hosting your Mini Startup Weekend during your company retreat when your employees are out of the office, unburdened by daily tasks and ready to try something new.
But because you’re not going to spend an entire weekend on this event, you have to shorten the standard 54-hour timeframe. We dedicate nearly half a day (about four or five hours total) during our retreat to this event. However much time you allot, the exercise should follow a pretty simple order of events: pitch ideas, form teams, develop plans and present final ideas.
Consider breaking up your event by pitching ideas in the morning and developing those ideas later in the afternoon. That allows time for teammates’ thoughts to brew while they take part in other fun activities.
During pitches, everyone who wants to share an idea for improving the company has 60 seconds. Afterward, your company should vote on its favorite ideas and form teams around them. Each team works together to flesh out an idea and gives a five-minute final presentation that includes an audience Q&A.
Judges will then select the top three plans by weighing the proposals’ effects on the company’s resources, efficiency and client lifetime value. When you return to work after your retreat, you can meet with the winning teams individually and lay out plans for implementing these ideas.
Related: The 'Entrepreneur's Obligation': Investing in Your Startup Ecosystem
Your employees are some of the best sources of company innovation, and Mini Startup Weekends give them each a unique opportunity to pitch the big ideas that can change how you operate. Plus, it encourages your team to work together, challenge the status quo and remember that each member is an integral part of your company’s future and success. Host your own event, and you’ll see why I’m such a fangirl for Mini Startup Weekends.
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