In the time before a once-in-a-century pandemic, attending an East Lansing Startup Weekend was a raucous occasion, replete with pizza, pop, and all-night work sessions. Since 2012, over a thousand students, community members, and mentors have gathered for one of the nearly two dozen East Lansing events—some participants coming from as far away as Montana. For 54 hours, Startup Weekenders would form teams around ideas, solve problems through collaboration, and, culminating in a final night of pitches, take home a year’s worth of frosted animal crackers.
Today, though, while Spartans work to keep one another healthy, the team behind the Burgess Institute’s East Lansing Startup Weekend has quietly reinvented the event. They’ve trimmed it down to 30 hours and transitioned work sessions into the virtual space. What remains offers students new ways of fostering community, connection, and creativity.
Startup founders are well-acquainted with change and risk. Entrepreneurs and their teams need to pivot quickly through shifting customer behaviors, evolving supply chain dynamics, and the countless other unexpected challenges thwarting their paths. With lean teams and finite resources, these brave souls place a high price on adaptability and high-risk appetites.
“East Lansing Startup Weekend is all about building confidence,” Aubrey Haase, the Burgess Institute’s events & projects coordinator, explained. “It’s a platform where students, no matter their major or college, can bring their ideas to the table. You work hard to see if those ideas are attractive to the marketplace. Startup Weekend is the starting point where you show yourself — and your peers — what you can do.”
Haase, a recent graduate from Michigan State, knows this program firsthand. She’s seen it as a participant and now orchestrates the event as part of her full-time role with the Burgess Institute.
“Now that we’re virtual, these experiences are highly refined and tailored for students. We match skills, knowledge, and interests with submitted ideas, teammates, and expert Spartan alumni mentors. As Startup Weekenders build their teams and jump-start the venture creation process, we want to help them continue growing. That’s why we’re here.”
Like SKOOP digital, BRITE bites, CAPNOS, and Erudis Games, successful student companies have emerged from East Lansing Startup Weekend experiences. Their founders took their companies from the event directly into the Burgess Institute’s Discovery program.
Brendan Wang (Supply Chain ’22), founder and CEO of CAPNOS, made the most of his experience. “East Lansing Startup Weekend is energizing,” he said, “it’s a weekend that truly embodies the entrepreneurial spirit. Startup Weekend gave me the confidence to turn my idea into reality.” (Hear more from Brendan on Hatchcast.)
Wang, now part of the Burgess Institute’s most advanced entrepreneurial track, Launch, marshaled a team around his product idea, which has grown into the CAPNOS Zero. “In 30 hours, you have to convince your peers that your idea offers value, get them as excited as you are, and together we execute. Market research, prototyping, customer discovery, and building a compelling pitch. These are skills every entrepreneur needs.”
How You Can Get Involved
For the 2020–2021 academic year, the Burgess Institute offers four East Lansing Startup Weekend e-sessions — two in the fall (October 2 – 3 and November 6 – 7, 2020) and two in the spring (February 5 – 6, and April 9 – 10, 2021). This fall’s sessions saw over 140 East Lansing Startup Weekenders attend the virtual events.
While the transition to the virtual setting heightens student involvement, East Lansing Startup Weekend is seeing a dramatic uptick in alumni who want to be part of the community as student-team mentors. East Lansing Startup Weekend depends on talented, experienced alumni from a broad range of backgrounds, from experienced entrepreneurs to venture capital investors to seasoned operators of successful startups.
“It’s incredible,” said Christopher Sell, the Burgess Institute’s director of alumni and entrepreneur engagement. “We’ve always seen alumni enthusiasm around these events,” says Sell, “but under non-pandemic circumstances, we would be limited to inviting alumni who live near the Great Lakes Region. Now, we’re seeing mentors join us from across the nation. It’s impressive seeing this energy and the positive impact on our students.”
“The last time I participated in East Lansing Startup Weekend, I gained confidence that I can build a business in just a weekend,” said Vigneshwer Ramamoorthi (Sophomore, Computer Engineering). “But, this time, with [the event being] all virtual, Startup Weekend broke my personal record! This experience proved to me that we can build a company in just 30 hours, irrespective of where you are. I would like to thank the Burgess Institute who made me believe that we can do great things even if we are living in this new normal.”
Spring 2021’s East Lansing Startup Weekend first session is already accepting registrations for its February 5 – 6, 2021 event. The deadline to register and submit ideas for this session is January 29, 2021. Interested in attending? Please visit: https://bit.ly/swelsprings1. Are you an alum ready to mentor? Reach out directly to Christopher Sell.