Startup Weekend - What every UK CIO can learn

Franck Nouyrigat began his professional life as many elite French engineers do: after completing a degree at a Grande École of engineering, he rounded off his skill set with a business degree from HEC.

After working for a few other companies, including PwC and Oracle, where he was a business consultant, Franck deviated from the traditional French career path. He got entrepreneur fever, and decided the best cure was to go the US, where he could start a few companies and maybe come back to France at some later point.

One thing led to another and Franck became so enamored with entrepreneurship that he got involved in founding Startup Weekend – or technically speaking, he got involved in founding the second version of Startup Weekend, and has since served on the board.

Franck hasn't yet moved back to France, but he did return to launch Startup Weekend in Paris and other French cities. France was not the only country where the founders spread the news. They have held events in over 100 other countries.

The concept was so successful, that on December 28, 2012, the Startup Weekend leadership team and guests rang the NYSI Opening Bell to celebrate the creation of 100,000 entrepreneurs through Startup Weekend.

I got on to Franck through his friend Luc Bretones, EVP of Orange and director of Technocentre. Luc helped bring Startup Weekend into France. Luc also applies the ideas from Startup Weekend to his development organization – and it's in large part thanks to those ideas that his organisation puts out over 200 new products and services a year. One of Luc's favorite techniques is the one-minute or five-minute pitch. He insists that people on his teams pitch their ideas very concisely.

Having seen how Orange benefits from the ideas Startup Weekend, I decided to get in touch with Franck Nouyrigat to get him to share some ideas with CIO UK readers. Hopefully, you'll find what Franck says useful to stimulate innovation within your own organisation.

Pat Brans: What drew you to Startup Weekend?
Franck Nouyrigat: I wanted to help people go from an idea to a company. It all began for me in 2008-2009 in the United States when I ran into one of my co-founders, who was doing his first Startup Weekend. We became friends and I went back to France to organise a few events.

I came back to the United States and we decide we should work together. At that time it was two other co-founders and myself. We had complementary skills. We loved what we were doing and we knew we could help each other.

We didn't create Startup Weekend; we acquired it from a guy named Andrew Hyde, who came up with the idea in 2007. The original Startup Weekend was different. It was around 100 people all working on the same idea.

We shifted the legal structure of Startup Weekend to not-for-profit. To us it was important to build a community; and we thought the only way to do that was through a non-profit structure.

Then we scaled it. Back in 2009 we had 25 events; it grew to 80 in 2010; and this year we should have more than 900 events.

The organisation we built is now in more countries than Starbucks. We have more volunteers than Facebook has employees. We have more than 6000 volunteers working in around 130 countries.

What's interesting about Startup Weekend is that for the first time I can go somewhere and say that a company is going to be born here. I just don't know which one. So it's a unique place to study the dynamics of entrepreneurship

PB: Can you explain how startup weekend works?
FN: We get a 100 people together. Among those 100 people, it usually turns out that about one third are designers, one third are developers, and one third are business people.

On Friday night, we ask people to present ideas in one minute. Usually 35 or 40 people volunteer to pitch their ideas. Then we allow time for people to naturally form teams. If you pitch an idea and people join your team, you go to work on it. If you pitch an idea and you can't form a team, then you join another team. Through this weeding-out process we usually wind up with around 10 teams.

That's Friday night. Then Saturday morning you start work with your team. We get a couple of mentors to come and help the teams throughout the weekend. On Saturday and Sunday the teams develop as much as they can of their products. The goal is to find the business model, develop the idea, and come up with the overall design. We also encourage people to have fun – fun is an important aspect of entrepreneurship.

On Sunday night the teams present what they've done to panels made up of entrepreneurs or investors from the community. The panel provides feedback.

Then Sunday night everybody goes to bed. They wake up Monday morning with their lives turned inside out because they realise what they can do.

PB: Why did you choose 54 hours as the amount of time for Startup Weekend?
FN: It's the maximum amount of time we can get somebody who has a job. It's from early Friday evening through late Sunday evening. We could do it over 100 days, but we wanted to get a wider group of people.

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