They came, they pitched, they conquered. This is the story of Startup Weekend Heraklion.

Startup weekend Heraklion: a life-changing experience

Taking place over the weekend of Nov 3-5 in Heraklion, the first-ever gathering of its kind for young entrepreneurs and investors on the Greek island can only be described as a huge success. So much so, that for many, it represents a life-changing experience.

More than just an event

It’s no exaggeration to say that for many of the participants, Startup Weekend Heraklion, fundamentally altered their life. How do I know this? Because it was a comment we heard more than once straight from the horse’s mouth.

In 54 hours, more than 10 ideas were communicated and pitched. The participants voted for the best business ideas and teams were formed to work on six of them. Dedication, enthusiasm, a hunger to learn, and plain old fashioned hard work was on display in abundance. Teamwork made the event, and the process, so successful. Oh yes, I almost forgot, the fun factor was off the charts! And as we all know, laughter is the best productivity booster in work and life.

Startup Weekend Heraklion = People power

Three teams claimed the prizes for the best ideas, and you will be hearing the success stories from each team over the coming days and weeks on this blog. What I can say is that the key ingredient to making this more than just another startup event is the people. The classic cliche of “it’s the taking part that counts” was clearly on display.

And by people I mean everyone. Not just the participants. But the Techstars and pom co-working space communities, who supported the project from day 1 by offering their experience, knowledge and tools. Then there’s the mentors, and speakers who dedicated their free time to make it all happen.

What did participants learn?

So, what did the participants learn? The winners will tell you themselves very soon. I can reveal that they did discover a lot about how to make the perfect pitch to investors. Overall, however, “living the experience” myself as an organizer (and discussing with most, if not all, of the participants), overall the key lessons were the below:

Teamwork – First and foremost, a key learning for participants was how important it is to work with others to develop your idea. The whole ideation process, which allows not only for self-criticism but also the input of multiple stakeholders, was a liberating one for many of the participants. They found it’s crucial not to be left alone to stew over ideas and become too attached to one single iteration of that idea. That conversely having others knock down the walls they build around an idea is the essence of constructive teamwork.

Networking – Another important learning which often suffers from misconceptions is how important it is to network with experienced businesspeople and be mentored by them. So often young entrepreneurs act in a secretive manner, too scared to share their ideas and plans for fear of having them “stolen”. They were able to see the positive of opening up and talking with people who can actually help them.

Work ethic – Being an entrepreneur and attempting to create a business model from an idea is no mean feat. It takes hard work. Many forget this part, getting overwhelmed with the excitement of simply being an entrepreneur. But as our friends at Starttech Ventures like to point out, “Entrepreneurship is not the goal, its what you need to do to achieve your goal.” We lost count of the times we heard participants at Startup Weekend Heraklion saying “wow, this is really hard work”.

All we have is … time

A bonus learning for us as organizers is that time is never enough. Next time, we’ll use it more wisely, spending a lot more of it to promote the event with workshops and presentations instead of relying so much on social media. Almost 90% of the tickets were sold AFTER we put ourselves physically in an institution or organization.

The transformers

I can sum up the winning teams at Startup Weekend Heraklion in one word. Transformers. No, not of the Autobot or Decepticon variety of course! What I mean is that it was a really rewarding experience watching their transformation in only 54 hours. Listening to their future plans for making things happen and changing the world was breathtaking.

All of the teams proved that working hard and being persistent is a recipe for success. They accepted the challenge out to them and they now feel that their life has changed for ever – again, their words, not mine.

What the future holds

The future is bright? In fact, there is already interest about organizing the next Startup Weekend Heraklion. That in itself speaks volumes I think. For now, however, the most important thing for us is finding different ways to support the winning teams in their next steps. All three winning teams now have a designated work space at pom for the next three months.

As well as that physical aspect, they will also have all the support they need. Such as long mentoring hours from experts at Eniochos and Mentor. This will help them to further “massage” their idea and get it developed into a prototype product. Who knows what comes after that? Maybe they will grab the attention of Starttech Ventures when they are ready to pitch their idea for early stage funding and join its up-and-coming lean methodology-focused Venture Building program.

* The next event in the series is Startup Weekend Volos, which takes place on November 24-26.

About the author: Christie Sarri is a project manager for christie sarri & partners, a consulting civil and structural engineering firm delivering structural analysis, modeling and design of structures, project management and technical advisory services.


Christie Sarri