I was one of the organisers and a judge at the recent Start Up Weekend Education London. For those who have survived one of these 54 hours marathons you will know all about the heady mix of inspiration, frustration, elation and exhaustion.
In 2011 Night Zookeeper won the first ever London Start Up Weekend Education and then went on to win several other events including a place in the first cohort of companies in the Wayra’s London incubator. Since then the Night Zookeeper team of Paul, Mathieu, Josh and Buzz had been keen to organise another event as a way of contributing back to the UK edtech community. With the help of Deborah Rippol from Start Up Weekend HQ (and many others), they managed to plan and run this hugely successful event at Google’s London HQ, even though they had Wayra demo day just three days later plus BETT 2013!
On Friday night the 90 participants pitched 47 ideas, from which 15 teams were created and during which an astonishing amount of pizza and beer were consumed. On Saturday, the teams bonded, coalesced, pivoted and generally worked themselves into a frenzy with the support of 17 experienced edtech mentors. But to survive 54 hours takes more than pizza and beer, so high profile online caterer HouseBites were hired to provide two days of breakfast lunch and dinner. Not only was the food terrific, but as a tech start up themselves, the HouseBites team ended up being very active participants in Start Up Weekend Education.
On Sunday most teams stayed until 4am and were back by 10am to hone their ideas and to get ready for the all important pitch competition. Starting at 5.30 pm each team had just 5 minutes to explain their concepts and to survive 2-3 minutes of grilling by the judges. With changeovers, more beer, comfort breaks and a few technical glitches this session lasted almost 2.5 hours, although if seemed more like 30 minutes. Afterwards while the teams decompressed over beer and curry, the judges had to start earning their keep. Having several forceful personalities on the panel didn’t make this an easy task, but after 45 minutes we finally managed to agree the winners. It was then back to the main auditorium to announce the winners, thank the sponsors, mentors and organisers and for the important post-event celebrations to begin.
The winners of Start Up Wekend Education London 2013 were:
- Useedu (@Useedu) – educational and motivational content for screens/displays in schools. Team led by Stephen Lockyer, a deputy-head teacher
- Word Wars (@WordWarsEDU) – a competitive word game (based on word lists set by teachers) designed to address the issue of word poverty amongst K-6 students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Team included an inspirational Teach First teacher
- Eduudle (@eduudle) – MOOC aggregator with strong social and curation elements (think Spotify meets Expedia for HE).
Honourable mention – Musomic (@musomic) an exciting graphic comic book and music business that aims to promote literacy and creativity
Kumbaya (of sorts)
The world of edtech isn’t for the feint hearted and while I have a reputation for being blunt and unsentimental, I would have liked to give an award to every team for their sheer hard work and enthusiasm plus their ability to remain good humoured when few had more than 10 hours sleep over three days! The point of Start Up Weekend isn’t about forming a fully functioning start up in 54 hours, it’s about showing people they can be entrepreneurs and change the world (even from inside organisations).
Without the support of the international and our local sponsors there would have been no Start Up Weekend Education London. So thank you again to The Technology Strategy Board, OCR, Macmillan Digital, TWIG World, MediaCore, busuu.com, Cloud 66, Bootlaw, Plymouth University, the assignment report, Lucraft Hodgson & Dawes and finally Google UK. Similarly, the mentors who all gave up their weekend to support the event and teams, also deserve special recognition.
Long after the teams and judges had departed the Night Zookeeper’s and the indefatigable Edd Stockwell were still at Google cleaning and emptying bins, helping the HouseBites team shift their equipment, etc. This tiny team of tireless volunteers were the DNA of Start Up Weekend Education London 2013, without whom none of us would have experienced an unforgettable 54 hours.