Q & A with Matt Helt - Startup Week Director, Techstars

Edmonton Startup Week is back and better than ever! With over 50 (mostly free) workshops, socials and presentations, Startup Week is the biggest celebration of innovation, technology and entrepreneurship the city has to offer.

It’s a place for Edmonton’s brightest minds to meet and mingle, for potential customers to try new tech products and for budding entrepreneurs to explore the city’s culture of innovation.

But did you know that Edmonton Startup Week (Oct. 15-19) is part of a global movement?

The brainchild of Andrew Hyde — a vagabond minimalist with a background in user experience and interface design — Startup Week was first held in Boulder, Colo. in 2010. The concept quickly expanded to cities like Denver and Austin, and eventually made its way to Canada (through Edmonton!) in 2014.

Now the event is hosted in almost 50 cities around the globe — from Caracas to Tehran — with the support of world-renowned accelerator Techstars.

Over the past decade, Techstars has invested in over 1,500 startups and produced over 1,000 companies valued at over $8 billion. It operates 44 accelerators across the globe, yet still finds time to invest in community building initiatives like Startup Week and Startup Weekend (a 54-hour event that focuses on turning an idea into a minimal viable product).

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As we gear up for our fifth Startup Week, the Startup Edmonton team caught up with Startup Week director Matt Helt to find out more about the event’s origins and why an accelerator of Techstars’ caliber places such an importance on community building.

Where did the idea for Startup Week come from?

Around 2010, [Startup Week founder Andrew Hyde] was seeing this dynamic where there were lots of conferences for entrepreneurs and startups, but they had a really high ticket fee. A lot of them were over $1,000. And if you're an entrepreneur and in a startup, you usually don't have much money. So he came up with an anti-conference — where the community could come together and self-organize.

The first event was in Boulder, Colorado. Then it started to grow from there. Now we're up to close to 50 cities around the globe.

Why do you think the concept caught on so quickly?

There are a lot of professionally run events out there, and they've got great content. But usually, if it's professionally run, there's a profit motive behind it, so it isn't that grassroots, volunteer-led situation.

What are some of the benefits of putting on a Startup Week?

One of the most powerful things is the community building aspect of it. Historically, entrepreneurs have felt like they are alone, there's no one to support them. With startup week, it's instant community.

You'll have a lot of people who will come to the event and will say, "I thought I was by myself. Now that I know I have this tribe of startup founders around me, it's going to make it a lot easier."

Why is a sense of community so important to the foundation of a startup ecosystem?

When you have community around you, you're less likely to fail. You're more likely to stick with it because rather than give up, you can lean on your community. Also, in many cases, you feel like you're accountable to your community.

Entrepreneurship is extremely difficult. There's a reason that there's only a 10% success rate. But when you see that there's people who are going through the exact same thing that you are, you're more likely to push through and make your startup a success.

Why would an accelerator of your caliber be interested in these grassroots community building initiatives?

The thing that Techstars recognized about three and a half years ago was that they had two pieces of the stool. They were missing the third leg. While they were doing a great job of helping startups grow and accelerate their business, they wanted to give back to the community.

Techstars believes startups can thrive anywhere. You don't have to be in San Francisco or New York or London. You can, in fact, grow your startup in the city that you're currently in. You just need a community around you.

What does a successful Startup Week look like?

It's so broad because we have events that are 100 people up to 20,000 people for the week.

Continuing that community, making sure people feel connected and included — that's the real power.

Also, you'll see startups that come out of it. People meet their co-founder; they come up with an idea and six months down the road, there's a real viable business there, simply because there was a connection made during Startup Week.

This interview was edited and condensed for brevity and clarity.

For a full schedule of Edmonton Startup Week events, visit: http://www.edmontonstartupweek.com/.