Tuesday, October 1, 2013
Startups By Fire: 3 Day Startup's Immersive College Startup Experience
What's the best way to learn how to be an entrepreneur? In the belief that you can't learn to be an entrepreneur without some hands on experience, Bart Bohn and the co-founders of the 3 Day Startup (www.3daystartup.org) program have created a program which teaches college students entrepreneurial skills--not by boring lectures or long projects, but through a weekend project. We caught up with Bart to learn more about the program and its roots in Austin. 3 Day Startup will also be at Austin Startup Week, showcasing its startups and mentors at the Startup Crawl.
What is 3 Day Startup?
Bart Bohn: It's an educational program, which teaches college students entrepreneurial skills, through a hands-on learning approach. It was created by two computer science students and myself. We got tiredof sitting through lectures talking about startups, and decided you learn more by doing. So, that's what we did. We provide bootcamps, run across campuses, with 40 students at a time. Those students are across all kinds of majors--computer science, MIS, business, english, neuroscience--and range from freshmen to Ph.D. students. They create an interdisciplinary team which goes through the bootcamps to learn about market analysis, how to do competitive analysis, and ends with a long, three day weekend. They get to brainstorm potential ideas, then work in that group to challenge those ideas, and flesh them out.
On Friday, they pick the top ten to fifteen ideas which have been pitched to the group, and collectively, that group challenges those ideas, talks about those ideas, and votes on the best ones to work on during the weekend. At Friday, at midnight, they break into four, five, or six teams, focused on those top ideas. On Saturday, it's learning time for students. They go talk to customers. We throw them out of the building, and have them interview as many customers or potential customers as they can. It's amazing, when you put someone who has entirely been in engineering and computer science, and make them talk to customers. The theoretical answer they think should be or not necessarily what the customer wants. It's a fantastic, "a-ha" moment. They come back Saturday afternoon, and talk about that direct feedback from customers. On Sunday, they build prototypes. Occasionally, on Sunday, they even get to go talk to the customers they talked to on Saturday, and bring them some demos or prototypes. Some have even signed up customers on Sunday.
On Sunday night, the teams give what is basically an investor presentation, to a panel of entrepreneurs and investors. The goal of that panel is not to cut checks. It's to act as a learning experience. That's the overlaying factor--to bring in mentors from the community, experienced entrepreneurs, and investors, and help them coach through the weekend and help the students understand the feedback and challenge them. It's part of the learning process, on how to interact with a mentor, and even when two mentors say opposite things.
How has this experience been for you?
Bart Bohn: It's been an incredible experience. Since founding this back in Spring of 2008, the growth over the last five years has been phenomenal. Part of the reason I really enjoy it, is its impact on people. They go through it, it's so intense, and you can see their sudden change in mentality, that emotional switch at their core. They really get fired up about entrepreneurship, and realize they can do it themselves. Lots of them come in thinking that building a startup is a massive, monumental effort. It's actually a bunch of little steps along the way. We walk them through that, and nuture them, and show them a practical way how to do that.
What have you learned most from doing these events?
Bart Bohn: I think part of what we engender during the weekend is that it's an intense, crazy time. You have to have a level of brashness in a startup. You have an idea, and think about it for as little time as possible before you start talking to customers, to get that idea validated or invalidated. Your idea is proven really quickly. You need that sense of brashness. In our weekend, you only have two and a half days, from beginning to end. For me, that helps people pick up that sense of urgency and brashness.
Talk about how this all fits into Austin's startup scene?
Bart Bohn: Globally, we'll have passed over 100 programs by the end of the year. We've now run programs on four continents. It's been amazing to see al the reaction we've gotten, from around the world, to this type of program, and how visceral it is. We hear that repeated again and again. We've had the amazing opportunity to impact over 3,000 students around the world. Collectively, we've launched 75 companies, who have raised $15M in investment. Coming up in October, the University of Texas will host a 3 Day Startup bootcamp, which will be the 11th one at the university. It's our oldest franchise, and home base for us. This year, on top of the program, we're bringing together the mentors from the last ten cycles here, for a mentor reunion. We want to try and build the connective tissue between mentors here in Austin. They all have a common bond of having volunteered to help coach and educate the next generation of entrepreneurs.
Have you seen any difference in the experience here versus your programs in other countries?
Bart Bohn: There are some differences. A lot if comes down to culture. In some cultures, there is a severe aversion to failure. Entrepreneurs, however, need to fail fast, and fail frequently to move on. That premise is really foreign to a lot of cultures and students. Many of the universities and governments that bring us in are specifically trying to tackle that part of the culture. They want their younger generations to feel free to take more risks, to fail occasionally, and that it's all okay. That's probably the biggest difference we work on as we go to other locations around the world. What we see common across everywhere, is enthusiasm, excitement, and incredible intelligence. That's universal. All you have to do is give them the tools, and the experience, and the mindset to go out and become an entrepreneur.
What's the biggest advice you'd give to entrepreneurs?
Bart Bohn: If you really want to be an entrepreneur, it's not a temporary choice. It becomes a long term goal. You learn that it's okay to take risk, to learn, and to build your entrepreneurial ability over the longer term. You don't necessarily have to have a big company, or a massive home run. Some of this is being personally aware, that you really are an entrepreneur, and you should step back and think about the long term entrepreneurial career you want to have.