Winning alumni revive Columbia Startup Weekend to unlock Midwest talent, find the next $B startup
Startland News’ Startup Road Trip series explores innovative and uncommon ideas finding success in rural America and Midwestern startup hubs outside the Kansas City metro. This series is possible thanks to the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, which leads a collaborative, nationwide effort to identify and remove large and small barriers to new business creation.
Willy Schlacks and Jabbok Schlacks, EquipmentShare, Scale
Startland News’ Startup Road Trip series explores innovative and uncommon ideas finding success in rural America and Midwestern startup hubs outside the Kansas City metro. This series is possible thanks to the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, which leads a collaborative, nationwide effort to identify and remove large and small barriers to new business creation. Techstars Columbia Startup Weekend is an opportunity for everyone — from students still in school to individuals who have been in the workplace for decades — to get connected to the entrepreneurial ecosystem, said Willy Schlacks. “The idea of trading your stable job for sleepless nights to build your dream can be tough to stomach. Startup Weekend brings entrepreneurs out of their comfort zone to pitch their ideas and take the leap of launching a startup,” said Schlacks, co-founder of EquipmentShare and the Scale accelerator. “There’s hidden talent all around us. Sometimes entrepreneurs just need a little boost of confidence and support to make their existence known.”
After a year hiatus because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Columbia Startup Weekend is back — this year hosted by Scale in partnership with Techstars. It’s set to begin Friday, Feb. 25 and wrap up Sunday, Feb. 27 at EquipmentShare’s corporate office.
“We formed Scale to foster the development of entrepreneurs by focusing more on the person than the idea,” said Jabbok Schlacks, CEO and co-founder of EquipmentShare and Scale. “Hosting Startup Weekend aligns with Scale’s mission to identify entrepreneurs with the potential to build high-growth, scalable companies and bring good ideas to the marketplace.”
Click here to learn more about the Scale accelerator.
Click here to read more about a recent $230 million funding round for EquipmentShare, which the Schlacks brothers founded, along with co-founders Brad Siegler, Jeff Lowe, and Matthew McDonald, in 2014 after starting as an idea at Startup Weekend in Columbia.
With Scale as this year’s host, the winner of Startup Weekend will be invited to participate in Scale’s second cohort beginning in April, noted Brett Calhoun, who serves as the director of operations at Scale and the chair of Columbia Startup Weekend.
“There is no investment upfront, but there’s potential for investments,” Calhoun said. “They also get us as 24/7 mentors; they get to work in our office space and tap into our network of investors and customers. … Plus, the winner will receive a month of free media placements.”
The founders of EquipmentShare and Zapier are all prior winners of Columbia Startup Weekend and will be in attendance to mentor or judge throughout the weekend, Calhoun added — noting that the two startups have built their way up to multi-billion dollar valuations. (Zapier reached a $5 billion valuation in 2021.)
“Startup Weekend is an amazing place for anyone curious about entrepreneurship to dip their toes in the water,” said Wade Foster, co-founder at Zapier, a software integration startup now based on the West Coast. “Whether you have an idea already and want to try and get something started or you’re hoping to see other entrepreneurs in action. In 54 hours, you’re sure to learn a ton!”
All who are interested in entrepreneurship are encouraged to apply, regardless of experience, Calhoun emphasized.
“We think there’s a lot of hidden talent here,” he shared. “One community we’re really targeting is the computer science department at Mizzou. I’m trying to build a pipeline for students to the scale portfolio companies; they could potentially even be cofounders of a startup.
“[Approximately] under 1 percent of students in the engineering department at Mizzou are going into startups, so we’re trying to change that and also keep them local,” he added.
Registration for Columbia Startup Weekend does not have a deadline, but tickets are currently discounted 30 percent until Feb. 11.
Click here to register for Columbia Startup Weekend.