With the global pandemic reaching what many hope to be is its peak around the world, the number of issues and the scale of the problems arising from COVID—19 are now more evident than anticipated. It is in unprecedented times like these that innovative and creative solutions to these problems are most needed to help mitigate against the adverse effects on people and society around the world. TechStars is a Global Start-up Accelerator and runs Start-up Weekend which are 54-hour events that take place over 3 days in locations all over the world. Many ideas are floated at the beginning of the weekend and participants then choose which idea to develop and form a team. These teams tease out the problem they have identified and by the end of the weekend they pitch their solution to a panel of judges and a winner is selected. As many Start-Up Weekends were cancelled across the world, TechStars decided to create a global community of innovators and launched the ‘Global Online Start-Up Weekend-Unite to Fight Covid-19. Online events have been taking place throughout April in countries all over the world with exciting and novel ideas coming to the fore.
Irelands event took place from the 24th-26th of April. The Irish organising team were well prepared having been in touch with countries such as India, Italy and Germany who all hosted their event the weekend before. This communication between countries is the spirit of the global effort and it allowed the Irish team to be fully prepared to host the best possible event they could in a relatively short period of time. In the week leading up to Ireland’s weekend, participants were asked to submit their ideas to help create solutions to the problems stemming from the global pandemic. All together 47 ideas were submitted ranging from new types of delivery solutions to platforms to once again encourage tourism in Ireland.
The event was an entirely remote event, which had its own set of challenges and benefits. The main difficulty was getting people to sign up and become familiar with Discord, the platform the event was hosted on across the globe. The onboarding of participants, mentors, facilitators, and volunteers on to Discord began on the Wednesday before the event and ran smoothly through to the weekend. Over 200 people registered but, they learned from other countries, there would be a drop off rate.
The event was launched by Sinead O’Keeffe and Gene Murphy on Friday evening on YouTube Live streaming to over 100 participants. The mentors reduced the 47 ideas down to 18 and by Friday evening it was time for participants to join a team. In a traditional Start-Up Weekend people would decide which idea interested them the most and would ask the team lead if they could join their team. This followed a similar format however participants simply join the voice calls of teams in which they wanted to join and by 9:30pm the majority of the ideas now had their own teams and they were ready to get to work.
The Saturday of the event kicked off at 8:20am with a 40min yoga session with Fiona McNamara, studio owner of Dublin City Hot Yoga. This session gave participants the chance to energise themselves ahead of what was going to be a very busy day. At 9:30am Gene and
Sinead were back streaming on YouTube to the 100 participants, this time they were joined by David Cunningham founder of 36tdata, to host a workshop on ‘The Lean Canvas Model’ which was a vital framework used during the weekend. The workshop proved a huge success with many participants noting how beneficial it was in helping them break down their ideas into its key components and setting out what the participants needed to do to validate the problem they have identified. Teams then got back together and were joined by various mentors such as Paddy Quinlan of Deliveroo and Sandra Whelan of Immersive VR, for three, twenty-minute sessions to help guide them through the lean canvas and answer any questions they had.
As Saturday progressed, we began to see some of the ideas progress into solutions as teams worked incredibly hard throughout the day. Ideas like Gogo Outside, which is an app that tracks pedestrian traffic to allow people to avoid busy areas through using the app or UneedUV, A solution geared towards sterilising PPE for reuse began to grow into solutions. Ahead of the Final Pitch’s, which were submitted at 1pm on Sunday, teams received another terrific workshop from Ed Fidgeon Kavanagh from Clearpreso who gave a special edition Preso on ‘How to Pitch at a Startup Weekend’. With Saturday drawing to a close and the pressure of the 1pm pitch submission deadline on the horizon, all of the teams began to pull out all the stops to get their pitches in on time. Sunday morning saw some of the mentors coming back to help the teams put the finishing touches on their pitches and each team got their recordings submitted just in time. The top ten teams were selected to be broadcasted at 5pm on YouTube Live which was hosted by Sinead. The quality of the pitches was a massive reflection on all the work put in by the participants throughout the weekend. The solutions which were proposed by the teams were solutions to very real problems encountered by huge numbers of people daily the world over.
After a short break the livestream resumed revealing the winners of the first Online Start-Up Weekend Unite to Fight Covid-19 Ireland. After much deliberation the judges had come back with their decisions for first, second and third place. The judges noted how difficult it was for them to come to their final decisions.
In third place was GatherRound who was led by Suzanne Mills. This concept is to provide a digital legacy of a person’s life providing the space to weave this story together creating a kaleidoscope of shared experiences about the deceased as a lasting touchpoint celebrating their life. GatherRound is a great idea that offers people an alternative for remembering people now that funerals are limited to immediate families.
In second place was Map Your Shop led by Anna Guthrie, the concept is designed around the problem of locating products in a supermarket. Anna proposed an app that allows someone to import a shopping list and the app will guide the user around the shop in the quickest and most efficient way. This idea is very relevant as shops and supermarkets try to minimise customer numbers in stores and speed up the time in which customers spend in shops to reduce the rate of Covid-19 transmission and infection.
Last but not least, first place was announced. FeverFinder, led by David Curran, was crowned the winner of the Online Start-Up Weekend Unite to Fight Covid-19 Ireland. The concept is to introduce a solution that can detect and identify a fever in potential Covid-19 positive patients
early using simple disposable FeverFinder strips which can be used daily and provide an accurate temperature. This temperature will become a key component in the fight against Covid-19 as the country slowly gets back to normality.
In what felt like an afternoon, the weekend was over. In a traditional event, the participants, organisers and facilitators are encouraged to meet up after the event to socialise and wrap up the weekend. As this was not possible the organising team set up a voice channel called “The Pub” which was a great opportunity for participants, organisers, and facilitators to talk to each other and make up for the minimal social interaction which was missing from the weekend. It also allowed the organisers to get valuable feedback from participants.
The weekend was a huge success and participants had a truly spectacular time which brought a very positive close to a very productive and rewarding weekend for all involved.
Pictured is some of the Participants, Mentors, Facilitators and Organisers in “The Pub” after the Final Stream on YouTube
Written by Daniel Connolly, Marketing Intern at TSSG and on the Event Organising Team