Mitchell Cuevas’ GSB Story – Caracas, Venezuela

The following is a guest post by Mitchell Cuevas, Marketing Manager at Startup Weekend headquarters, about his Global Startup Battle experience.


Tengo Sueno: Taking Entrepreneurship To The Streets

…In many ways, Startup Weekend seeks to accomplish just that: the democratization of entrepreneurship-that is, to bring entrepreneurship or the possibility of being an entrepreneur, to everyone, anyone. Taking entrepreneurship to the streets is one way to describe our mission and it’s never more real to us than during a couple of very special weekends in November we like to call Global Startup Battle.

Global Startup Battle:

GSB is the result of many like-minded people banding together to do something amazing for entrepreneurship. It is one major way we work toward accomplishing our mission and we couldn’t do it without amazing partners. From Google to .CO, to Microsoft and Domain.com, to all the local sponsors that make events around the world possible, we have an amazing group of people and companies helping us change the world. One of those partners is Global Entrepreneurship Week, an organization that puts on an amazing week of entrepreneurial events around the world every November. Our Global Startup Battle has become a major piece of GEW in recent years, with this year’s edition boasting 137 Startup Weekends in the matter of 10 days. Together, we’re striving to continually grow the number and impact of these events thereby educating and empowering as many entrepreneurs as possible.

GSB is one of our favorite times of year, not just because of the opportunity for global impact, but for the chance to get out there and spend time with our community. We don’t get to see our amazing Organizers who make all the events possible every day, visit with local sponsors, meet all the attendees, or go to every event, but this one time of year, we’re all on the road and have a chance to get down and dirty with entrepreneurs from everywhere imaginable. My own GSB experience took me to Caracas in Venezuela.

What you might not realize at first glance is that while Global Startup Battle, the contest, pits startups against one another in friendly competition for prizes and recognition, it’s not ultimately about this short battle amongst teams, but the larger worldwide fight (and I don’t use the word lightly) we all wage in an effort to bring entrepreneurship to more and more people. It’s what drives us and many of our Organizers, Facilitators, attendees, and other supporters. It’s in our DNA to create entrepreneurs, help create ecosystems for them to thrive in, and then support them in changing the world through entrepreneurship.

Nowhere else in the world is the idea of fighting to bring entrepreneurship to everyone more appropriate than in Venezuela. Without getting too political, it is fair to describe the climate for entrepreneurs as less than ideal.


The Climate

Entrepreneurship is a tough road regardless of where you are or what the economic and legal climate is. Stack on top extra barriers from a government that simultaneously tries to appear as championing the growth of its citizens while then also creating a situation that makes things difficult for innovators and entrepreneurs, and you have a group of frustrated people who just want to solve problems, make their country better, create jobs, and bring something positive to their country’s economy. The fact that most startups with any traction or success often bail for Chile or another country is all you need to know about how entrepreneurs in Venezuela feel about the current policies.

We know that policy isn’t going to change overnight, but what I saw while in Caracas has me believing that it won’t be too long before it’s entrepreneur citizens are able to carve out an area to thrive in the country that they so clearly love. They are already applying pressure by having events like Startup Weekend, pushing entrepreneurial programs at their universities, and working closely with all the players in a growing entrepreneurial ecosystem.

In Venezuela, it is common to say ‘Tengo sueno’ when you are tired or sleepy. The part I found fitting was the literal translation of the same phrase: ‘I have dream’. Tiredness and dreams are inextricably tied to each other on a linguistic level. In a country where entrepreneurship is difficult, I can’t think of a more fitting phrase. In two words I can say everything important about entrepreneurship, both the dream and the sacrifices it requires. It’s beautiful.


The Event:

Accede, our beautiful venue, was at times not enough to handle the spirit of all the participants. At times we felt trapped by the physical space, not for lack of it, but for the idea of it. It was like the building, which had plenty capacity for the physical bodies of the participants couldn’t handle the amount of spirit, excitement, and entrepreneurial fervor that was being generated. The solution: Take the whole thing outside. It was then I realized that we were both literally and figuratively taking entrepreneurship to the streets – on some level accomplishing part of our sacred mission.
The scene of nearly a hundred people, bursting with passion, faces beaming, limbs jittery with excitement, circled up outside in the name of entrepreneurship, was breathtaking. 

The whole thing started with over 40 pitches (75% of the participants pitched), ideas ranging from crowdsourcing for causes, to a security app to help in dangerous neighborhoods around Caracas. The group settled on their favorite ideas and teams formed around them. The next 54 hours flew by and before I knew it, the teams were pitching their ideas and what they had accomplished to a panel of top notch judges.
Throughout the event I was fortunate enough to meet many of the passionate attendees, most of whom expressed their excitement over the event and wanted to talk to me about one of two things: Their idea and/or what I thought their event, the Caracas edition vs. others. At the time I had only half -baked answers that I struggled to articulate in Spanish, but sitting here now I can answer the question of how Caracas was different. 

The most notable difference I found between people at this event vs. events elsewhere, was that the participants seemed to be motivated to be there just as much by their own entrepreneurial dreams as they were by doing something for their country and future entrepreneurs. They were very aware that just their presence at an event like this was in some small way, contributing toward the betterment of the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Venezuela. There was a selflessness and sense of camaraderie that I don’t think you get to see very often and it was a wonderful and motivating experience. 


The Conclusion

The usual things happened after that: a winner was named, teams celebrated, we drank together and talked- from the outside, a normal looking event. It wasn’t though, there was definitely that magic, a magic we strive to have at every event, but which at some, like Caracas, is just simply overwhelming.

It’s the magic that allows you to see, in one weekend, people truly become entrepreneurs; the magic that gives people the belief that they can really make a difference for themselves and others. It’s intoxicating and something I personally hadn’t had the chance to experience before, but the reason I know I love being a part of this world of entrepreneurship.

Unfortunately, there isn’t really a good way to conclude this story, probably because this is really just the beginning of story that is in full swing. A story where people in Venezuela are taking control against the odds and where entrepreneurs are helping not only themselves, but others around them take the reins of their own life through entrepreneurship. If it helps, consider this the foreword or introduction to the amazing things that unfold next.

Buenas noches, tengo sueno.

 

Thank you’s:

I have a lot of people to thank for this experience, not all of whom I’m going to be able to name. I have to start with Elizabeth Villareal. She was the first one I got to talk to about the event in Caracas and she not only put up with my bad Spanish for 5 days, she also fed and housed me the entire time. She made arrangements to have someone get me at the airport, she taught me new words, took me to see Caracas, shared new music and local foods with me, and made me feel welcome and comfortable the whole time. She and the Organizing team pulled off an amazing event, it was top notch in every way. Caracas’ first Startup Weekend did their country proud and I look forward to watching the ecosystem there continue to develop and strengthen. Muchas gracias Elizabeth!

I also want to thank everyone at Wayra for not only sponsoring my trip down to Caracas, but also for allowing me to talk about Startup Weekend, welcoming me to their beautiful offices, for all their help putting on the event, and being a great champion of entrepreneurship in Venezuela. Startup Weekend and Wayra will be good friends for a long time I think.

I also want to thank the entire Organizing team, the staff at Accedde, the great coaches and mentors who gave their time, the judges, everyone who taught me a new word or went back and forth in English to help me, the passionate attendees who inspired and reminded me of everything great about entrepreneurship, and most of all, everyone who brought their passion and really made this something useful, inspirational, and educational for everyone involved.