I had just met my colleague, Sandy Rikkers, when I attended StartUp Weekend in Grand Rapids, MI last year. That day she wore her ‘Superman’ belt buckle. This struck me as unconventional and fantastic! You don’t see too many professionals walking around wearing superhero gear. Her group was chosen as a finalist to present their start-up idea to the StartUp Weekend judges. And, after all, channeling your inner-superman is never a bad thing. That belt buckle is the essence of Sandy and her attitude toward life. Fast forward one year later, just days before this year’s SUW, I sat down with her to ask about her experience at the event. Here’s the interview:
Denise: You were a participant in the Start-Up Weekend in Grand Rapids last year. Can you describe the process?
Sandy: January 2013 was my first direct experience with Start-Up Weekend. To tell you the truth I had never really heard of Start-Up Weekend (SUW) prior to meeting Paul Doyle, CEO and Founder of VerifyValid (a company started at StartUp Weekend a few years ago). Basically, a bunch of strangers with various skills, experience and expertise come together. Someone first pitches an idea then the group works on it and leaves with something viable. The group may even leave with the foundation to really start a business, this is not what they teach in business school (or at least when I attended). Since my background is marketing, operations, analysis, training and customers I figured I would end up lending my help to some fascinating idea outside of my own.
Denise: Tell me about your idea called Scanimal:
Sandy: The idea was an innovation on a current device, the implanted microchip for dogs and cats. Thousands of pets are lost every year, and if a person who found a loose pet could quickly tell if the pet was microchipped without having to catch them, without having to go to a vet or shelter and whether they still had a collar or not, many may be returned much faster. Some pets end up in the shelter and ultimately are euthanized because they travel outside of the area their humans know to look, and of course some owners don’t care (they weren’t our market).
Denise: How did you come up with the idea?
Sandy: It turns out that the ideas contributed just need to be something you’re passionate about I’m passionate about my pets. I lost a dog and luckily he was found, but for 5 days I was heartbroken and sick with worry for my best buddy and SO mad at my younger sister. My husband and I also spent five years fostering and on the Board of Directors with a local rescue and that is where I really started to see the impact of lost pets and heartsick owners, unneeded pets on death row—so that is the path I took.
Denise: What is the “Fail Fast” concept?
Sandy: “Fail fast” wasn’t a concept I was familiar with and doesn’t jive well with my natural thought process, who wants to fail, right? It was repeated multiple times over the first two days. After the weekend, I understood why it was so important when working on a Start-Up concept.
The gist is that you have to pretty much find out what is flawed with your idea to progress. Team Scanimal went through the exercise and although we didn’t have a top pitch on day three, after seeing how the other groups had progressed from their original ideas did I have a better idea of how to process THE PROCESS for SUW 2014. I am excited to attend again this year and assist other people pitching so that I can experience from that perspective. Your idea might change and you might just leave with all the connections you need to make YOUR idea a reality or come up with a better one by failing fast.
Denise: What did you learn by attending Start-Up Weekend?
Sandy: It’s OK to fail. It’s ok to have a small idea or innovation or an industry changing revolution. It’s a lot like working out, when you really want to see changes in your body you have to work the muscles to failure to make them change, it’s controlled — you don’t do it all the time or you’d get injured. I also learned that it really helps to be surrounded by people who don’t think the same way as you, might not agree with an idea and have varied skill sets from business, to programming, web-design and finance. You can actually find funding at these events for your BIG idea.
Denise: What advice would you have for people joining in for the first time this year?
Sandy: Be open minded and don’t be afraid to have a big dream type of idea. Take in the process, mentors and SUW veterans— they are there to help! The only thing holding you back is you. If you have had an idea, I challenge you like I was challenged to show up and pitch it to the group. It’s a little intimidating, really exhilarating, and don’t forget to FAIL.
Denise: And don’t forget your cape, or at least that Superman belt buckle!