Taking the leap from a more structured environment to freedom and responsibility of entrepreneurship isn’t easy. When I think back to the day I quit my job and started a business, one of the things I most desperately wanted was a way to test the waters. You're already familiar with Startup Grind, which hosts monthly events in cities all over the world with the city's best founders and investors. Once you're ready to get your hands dirty in building something, there are a bevy of “startup intensives” that can give you the chance to try out the startup grind for a day, a weekend, or a week at a time. These events, held frequently throughout the year, can help you decide if starting up is right for you.
Just Starting? Get a Taste at Startup Weekend
If you simply want to dip your entrepreneurial toe in the water, consider attending a Startup Weekend event. These events, held every week in cities around the world, are easy to find and gain access to. Be prepared to pitch an idea for a company—or work on someone else’s idea if yours isn’t selected by the group voting process as a top team. Over the weekend, you’ll work with a group of strangers to create a new company and plan for its growth. By the Sunday night pitches, you’ll have a good understanding of some of the traits it takes to be a successful entrepreneur—the ability to work under pressure, lead a team and wear many hats.
Acquiring Customers? Do BizDev at Lean Startup Machine
If you’ve tried a few Startup Weekends and are looking to build on your entrepreneurial skills, or if you’re running a startup company that is in its early stages, try attending a Lean Startup Machine event near you. This weekend intensive is geared specifically at the identifying and building customer-driven products and organizations, as laid out by the work of Steve Blank and Eric Ries’s book The Lean Startup. You may not like hearing customer feedback, especially if the outcome is that they don’t value and wouldn’t pay for the product or service that is your great idea. But by finding that out now, rather than later, you can also begin to understand what problems your customers do have and avoid wasting time and money building things that no one wants to buy. While this event is also relatively easy to access, a thick skin and a willingness to talk to strangers are necessary to get the full benefit.
Have Technical Skill? Build Something at a Hackathon
Whether you’re a student or a professional developer, hackathons can provide you the time, support and freedom to build what you’ve always wanted to. While hackathons vary in length, intensity and focus, you can find a good collection of student-targeted events at Major League Hacking. If you’re in my neck of the woods, Hack Midwest is the banner event of the year. There are even distributed hackathons, open to the participation of anyone in the country, like AT&T’s Connect Ability Challenge. It’s also worth mentioning that these events often have a pretty attractive cash prize (not to mention bragging rights) at stake.
Maker or Inventor? Hack Hardware at Make 48
If using Arduinos to create your own home security system isn’t cutting it for you any more, you might want to try a weekend-long hackathon like Make 48. While this competition is based here in Kansas City, there are similar robotics builds, invention challenges and other make-a-thons around the country. If you get more pleasure out of creating physical solutions to problems than coding software, maker events like this offer a hands-on equivalent to a hackathon.
A Little Unbalanced? Jump on Startup Bus
Are you a regular ultra-marathoner? Do you take your coffee with the tears of children instead of milk and sugar? Does a Tough Mudder sound like fun to you? You just might be a good fit to try your hand as a buspreneur. Startup Bus is a 4-5 day startup intensive created by a team of entrepreneurs who had attended Startup Weekends, and at the end, asked themselves, “Could we do that on a moving bus?” If you’re invited to become a buspreneur (yes, the program is invite-only, and requires you to be connected enough to find former buspreneurs and secure an invitation from them), you will find yourself faced with all the challenges one might imagine trying to build a company from a moving vehicle: spotty and/or insufficient Internet access, limited resources, motion sickness, ice storms…the list goes on. But successful buspreneurs find a way to thrive in these environments, securing paying customers, raising seed money, and garnering national media coverage for a barely-hatched idea. It’s a crucible, but if startup life doesn’t seem daunting enough for you on its own, you may want to consider trying a trip on Startup Bus.
Regardless of how you learn about the startup lifestyle, getting a chance to try it out before jumping in with both feet can be helpful in many ways. You can make friends and begin to build a network of support to lean on when times get tough. You can start to understand the structure and process of testing and iterating quickly. And if you should decide that startup life isn’t the right fit for you? Your time spent dabbling in the startup world won’t be wasted-- you can apply you new understanding of how to make big things happen with few resources to any aspect of your career.