Real World 101: Startup Weekend And The Value Of Experiences Beyond The Classroom


By Dr. Greg Bier


There has been an ongoing argument as to which is a better teacher: the classroom or the real world. That’s kind of like asking, “What’s more important, the foundation or the house?” The classroom, or foundation, is extremely vital; it’s what everything to come is built upon. But without the rest of the house, the foundation is just a hole in the ground.


Because of this, students should attend events, like Startup Weekend, where you can gain real-world experience and continue to build on the foundation you built in the classroom. Startup Weekend is a weekend-long competition where students and professionals alike can get a taste for what it’s like to be an entrepreneur, establishing the foundations for their very own companies from the ground up in just three days. By attending events like this, you can experience firsthand the benefits – and the necessity – of mixing what you learn in the classroom with your experience in the real world.



Not Everything Can Be Learned in the Classroom

The classroom can provide the tools, techniques, and templates to be applied during Startup Weekend. However, the classroom happens in short, one-hour sessions. Startup Weekend allows attendees to focus on a single project, without distraction, for an extended period. It provides access to mentors throughout the process, and it forces you to develop team-building skills, which are essential for developing a business model.


Participants have to quickly realize personal limitations and reach out to others who have the skills they need to fully develop their ideas. Startup Weekend allows creative juices and energy to flow without interruption. Because it involves the community, participants can meet with accountants, web developers, lawyers, and other experts. Startup Weekend melds classroom knowledge with the people, professions, and circumstances entrepreneurs will come across in real-world startups, in one weekend.


Making the Most of Your Experience: The Student’s Perspective

An important component to learning how to be a successful entrepreneur comes from outside the classroom. Most students feel the most important things they’ve done outside of the classroom include getting involved – and out of their comfort zones. It’s easy to be involved on campus. If you’re planning on being a true entrepreneur, your resume doesn’t really matter. Listing 12 organizations may impress a recruiter, but does it push you in the direction of eventually owning your own business?


Establish a solid network throughout the business startup world. Innovation is everywhere; you just have to find the right people. In your community, there are people just like you, who enjoy starting something from nothing. At Startup Columbia, students have had several friends who built relationships with others throughout the weekend that later developed into job offers. If a company is smart enough to look for sharp students at a Startup Weekend, they are most likely smart enough to offer positions where entrepreneurship skills can be utilized. And, for the student, getting experience in a business that once was a startup is crucial training for launching your own someday.



Responses to Startup Weekend

A consistent comment we’ve received from students is that they now realize how much work and thought goes into launching a venture. By participating in Startup Weekend, you may realize that students are not experts in everything – nor should they be. You need to network to find the people with the skills needed to join your team.


You may realize that you have a big idea, but you need help and fresh eyes to zone in on the details and solutions that solidify a startup. Students who have attended Startup Weekend agree it’s pretty cool to be involved with such an energetic group of like-minded folks who are willing to help each other learn what it takes to be a talented entrepreneur.


For example, one Startup Weekend event we witnessed paired a great networker with a strong developer. While the networker gathered good insights from other participants and people who might use the app they were creating, the developer was able to implement changes. It was a partnership between two key strengths; the two wouldn’t have met with success on their own, but thrived together.


Hitting the Books isn’t the Only Way to Get Good Grades

In many ways, students will begin to take classroom work more seriously because you’ll know how it’s applied in the real world after an event like Startup Weekend. You’ll ask more questions because you’ll have seen several groups during Startup Weekend struggle to define their different value propositions; you’ll ask more direct questions about how certain topics pertain to a specific situation. With so much real-world insight, you can form a clearer picture of what it means to be an entrepreneur and can focus your mind on the sort of obstacles you may encounter when trying to fulfill your vision.


The greatest benefit of Startup Weekend for students is that it gives you real-world experience while still in the classroom. You get to experience what it will be like when you’re out of school, with the tools available in the classroom to better prepare you for life after your degree is finished – whether that’s an undergraduate degree or an MBA.




Startup Weekend is like having a glimpse into the future of entrepreneurship. You can see a couple years ahead and get yourself fully prepared to start a venture. You have your goal; after Startup Weekend, you’ll have a better foundation to build your plan. Like the great Coach Herman Edwards said, “A goal without a plan is a wish.” Sign up for a Startup Weekend and start making plans.



Dr. Greg Bier is a Professor of Management at the University of Missouri. He leads the newly formed Entrepreneurship Alliance at the University of Missouri University of Missouri Trulaske College of Business. He is also a partner with Entrepreneur MO. Follow Greg on Twitter at @gregbier.



Photo Credits

Courtesy of Dr. Greg Bier | Startup Weekend

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