This past weekend, I participated in Startup Weekend EDU NYC. I arrived at AlleyNYC– a cool co-working space that houses companies like Lean Startup Machine and Brainscape- to a sea of people in different colored Startup Weekend shirts not quite knowing what to expect. This Startup Weekend ended up being the most educational (no pun intended) startup experience I’ve had in a while.

Day One

The event was kicked into gear with a pitch fire session where 51 people pitched their ideas in 60 seconds. The ideas covered a wide range of issues in education from student career exploration to professional development tracking for teachers. One company even wanted to create class curriculum for video games like World of Warcraft. Each person who pitched their idea was given a large Post-It poster with their name and teachers were each given three post-it stickies to stick on their favorite ideas. For 20 minutes attendees were able to talk to teachers and participants about their ideas to recruit talent and votes. The rest of the attendees cast their votes via text message. When time was up, Adam Stelle (COO of Startup Weekend) read the list of the top 20 ideas. My team was voted #2.

886979_317221108400001_853357981_oThe teams quickly divided themselves into separate working areas, whether in a conference room, yoga studio, or just cluster of desks in an open space. My team started out with introductions and discussing our skill sets and interests. The team quickly negotiated which role each person would play, and we discussed what our minimum viable product (MVP) would be. We immediately decided that we should try to build a working version of our MVP, a platform that would match edtech startups and teachers so that teachers could have access to the latest tech and startups could get much-needed feedback. We kept working until we were kicked out of the co-working space around 1:30 in the morning.

Day Two:

At 7:30am, after getting three hours of sleep on the facilitator’s couch, I was up and working on user experience designs. I spent the morning making several user flows and drafts of wireframes. In the afternoon, the team met up to discuss progress, walk through the wireframes together, discuss feedback, and set a plan of action for the rest of the day. After grabbing a quick lunch and some coffee from the kitchen, I created some graphics and a style sheet and started working on the HTML and CSS for the website. 69648_317220988400013_2054771678_n

By about eight o’clock that evening, I had finished creating the static pages. I was on my third Red Bull in a couple of hours and I still felt myself dragging. The team had another quick meeting as people around us started to pack up, there was tension and exhaustion mounting as we realized just how much we had committed ourselves to. The back-end developers still had plenty to build before the pages could be integrated. We all re-committed ourselves to really building the platform, despite even mentors saying we would be fine with just a few static pages, and continued plugging away.

Around 1:30am, the event organizers sent us packing. My team ended up going on an epic journey from venue to venue as we were on a the hunt for a 24-hour place with WiFi and outlets to keep working. As we worked place to place, our numbers declined until it was two developers and myself sitting in a café attempting to focus as we passed the point of exhaustion and the characters of late night New York City buzzed about us.

Day Three

By 7:00am, my two remaining team members and I were back at AlleyNYC in their newly unlocked building and we napped on the couches for a couple of hours before grabbing breakfast and coffee from the kitchen and returning to our workspace to keep hacking. Tension was really mounting as the 4pm deadline grew nearer. I could feel myself making mistakes and taking longer times to code things or fix problems than I normally would have. Just as the event organizers told us that time was up, the team made a final rally and pushed a working MVP live just in time for a demo during the pitch.

The 200-odd attendees and edtech community members crammed into a room to watch pitches. Adam opened the closing events by asking the audience: “Who stayed here past 1am?” (about a third of the room’s hands went up) “2am?” (Hands went down) “3am?” (A dozen hands left) “4am?” (A handful of hands raised and incredulous snickers rising from the crowd) “5am?” (Only my teammate and I’s hands were raised) “5am! Stand up! Round of applause for 5am. I feel sorry for the people sitting next to you.” The pitches started quickly after Adam’s introduction. Each team was given four minutes to pitch with a three-minute Q&A. After the pitches, dinner was served as the judges deliberated. Thirty minutes later, the results were in…

The Results

We won! After only five hours of sleep over three days, not showering, and having to build an application in a language I wasn’t familiar with, we built a real product and the judges loved it.

This Startup Weekend proved to be exactly what they were designed to be: hacking for 54 hours and walking away with a startup company. Even after participating in as many hackathons as I have, I wasn’t entirely sure it was possible, except for Zaarly folklore. We literally launched a company in a weekend. Not many people can say that.

As of March 6th (three days after Startup Weekend EDU NYC), at least three of BetaMatch‘s team members from Startup Weekend have committed to working on the company past the weekend and becoming co-founders. One of the co-founders returned home and bought a ticket for SXSWedu and flew out the night after Startup Weekend ended. The company currently has a few standing offers from accelerators around the country, and will be deciding how to proceed with the company shortly.