Take a deep breath, try to focus your mind, and take a step onto the stage. The low murmur of voices in the audience dies down as they see you walk out. Palms sweaty, heart racing, you open your mouth to speak and realize that your voice is wavering as you begin to pitch your dreams to an audience that includes a panel of business experts who will give you unfiltered feedback on whether your idea is valid and might even make money.
Breathe. Focus. You open your mouth and go…
Today’s business marketplace is not reserved for corporate titans and massive business. You might be surprised by how much of the economy is driven by small business. About 64% of all new private-sector jobs in the United States are created by small businesses. According to a recent Forbes article, “There are about 30 million small businesses in the U.S., and they make up over 99.7% of all employer firms.”
With such incredible statistics, small businesses and those that might create them are an impossible group to ignore. Because of this, San Antonio leaders know that our future local economy will be stronger by educating and investing in potential entrepreneurs who dare to dream big.
Every business started as someone’s idea or dream. Large or small, every piece of what drives commerce today began with the smallest seed of an idea. Yet most individuals do not know how to take an idea from concept to reality.
There are many resources now available to introduce startups to potential supporters, yet most of them focus on companies with an existing business plan and solid revenue model. So, where would a general member of the public go with an idea that they wanted to see come to fruition?
As someone with a passion for entrepreneurship education, I was proud to watch Catapult Weekend, a pilot program powered by Goodwill of San Antonio in partnership with Geekdom, help 30 new entrepreneurs develop business plans during a free weekend program in August at Geekdom’s headquarters.
Goodwill, with its mission of helping to change lives through the power of work, and Geekdom, which inspires innovators to transform our world, recognized that by working together they could give aspiring entrepreneurs the tools needed to build small businesses that would create additional jobs within the community.
Introducing Entrepreneurship for Everyone
In working with Goodwill and Geekdom, it was important that Catapult Weekend be rooted in a philosophy of “entrepreneurship for everyone.” While Geekdom is often associated with tech startups, we wanted to encourage people of all backgrounds with diverse startup ideas to participate as they developed actionable business plans using technology as a foundation – from artists to farmers to veterans.
I was happy to see Catapult Weekend inspire many women entrepreneurs. Participants were roughly 5o% women, which is common among the three Good Careers Academies that Goodwill operates, but was unique for Geekdom, as many tech startup programs attract mostly men. The business ideas varied widely, including those from banking, farming, pet food, recreation, furniture, assisted living resources, auto-repair and vendor networking.
“The diversity of participants and their innovative ideas were inspiring. As a mentor, I am encouraged for what the future holds,” said Marla Jackson, president and CEO of Goodwill Industries of San Antonio. “These entrepreneurs today will become tomorrow’s job creators and we are pleased to play a part in helping them achieve their dreams.”
A Lean Startup Curriculum
Catapult Weekend focused on the Lean Startup methodology: Ideation, market validation, business model development, problem solving, pitch development and pitch presentation. Teaching aspiring entrepreneurs these key skills is vital to helping a startup achieve success. The Lean Startup Method has been used by hundreds of companies around the world to create the initial structure needed to start planning their business. The method teaches entrepreneurs to validate their business ideas in order to meet consumer needs.
“Catapult Weekend was like no other taught entrepreneurial event. It used great ideas from a very diverse group of mostly non-tech people and taught them Lean Startup and other current methods used by tech startups today,” said Nick Longo, Geekdom co-founder. “This included mentorship for ideation, tactics, strategies and business models. Catapult Weekend participants may develop the next big thing this way, but more importantly, it develops people how it matters most, with real knowledge and empowerment they can use for the rest of their lives.”
Using a team-based environment, participants were able to share ideas and experiences as they went through the Lean Startup Model.
When I initially spoke with entrepreneur Rosantina Aranda during our “Meet and Greet” on the opening Friday night, I was impressed by how developed her business idea was and her knowledge of the target audience. Her team helped provide different perspectives and expertise, which enabled her to strengthen her business concept.
In addition to developing a business plan, Aranda had to pitch her idea to a panel of experts. After the practice pitch presentation on Saturday, the panel gave her feedback, which she took to heart. Not only did she knock her pitch out of the park, she was able to defend her idea under tough scrutiny from the panel. After one particularly rough question, Aranda calmly responded with confidence, leaving even the most vocal panel member to say “wow!” I got goosebumps thinking about how far she had come in just three days.
One thing that makes this program unique and what I am most excited about is the mentor network Goodwill and Geekdom have created for the participants. As these entrepreneurs begin to sharpen their concepts, or even create new business ideas, the mentor network is committed to providing them ongoing support and guidance.
What’s to Come
Like every great idea, this is only the beginning. Goodwill and Geekdom recognize that building a successful business takes hard work and faith. These individuals now have the foundation and connection to resources to accomplish much more. We look forward to sharing updates regarding our participants as they continue their entrepreneurship journey.
They can now walk off the stage confidently, knowing that they nailed their pitch presentation. Their journey is far from over, though.
Co-Director Andre Sandoval put it best as we closed out the program:
“Entrepreneurship is like climbing a mountain: the higher you go the less oxygen there is, the tougher it gets, but with persistence and will power, you will reach the summit and it will be more rewarding than you will ever imagine.”
*Top image: Catapult Weekend participants introduce themselves to each other at the Geekdom event space in downtown San Antonio. Courtesy photo.
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