What’s Startup Weekend, anyway?

Startup Weekend is a 54-hour event to experience what it's like to create and launch a startup idea. They take place in over 100 countries around the world every week. As part of our global partnership with Up Global and our Entrepreneurial Innovation initiative, we’ve hosted several Startup Weekend-style events with Coke associates around the world over the past year and just completed the 2nd annual event at the Coca-Cola Global Headquarters in Atlanta. Over 100 people from across Coca-Cola as well as participants from other corporations and the local startup community came together to pitch ideas, form teams and launch an idea. Check out the video here to see how it all went down.

Why does Coke host Startup Weekend events?

The objective of entrepreneurial innovation at Coca-Cola is to expose people to methods that can help them be more innovative and act like an owner every day. Most of the time that means taking action to start something, exploring an idea without asking permission and building things that people really want. Startup Weekend at Coca-Cola creates the opportunity for people to experientially learn what it's like to build something like an entrepreneur, and to become fully immersed in Lean Startup practices in just 2.5 days.

What do people learn at a Startup Weekend?

I can do anything in 3 days.

The experience of creating something new in just three days helps participants realize how much is possible with limited time and resources. The compressed timeframe drives action and puts the focus on building, measuring and learning, unlike a typical brainstorming session or planning meeting. “If nothing else, participants left surprised with how much they were able to achieve within the time and money constraints compared to the typical way new projects are launched at Coca-Cola,” said co-facilitator Shane Reiser.

We must prioritize customer development over product development.

The concept of customer validation is stressed during Startup Weekend. It’s important to validate a problem with customers before building solutions, and participants were pushed to experience this first hand by getting out of the building and talking to their customers using tips like these for empathy interviews. After validation of the problem, the teams launched experiments to prove or disprove the biggest assumptions. Many teams found the need to pivot to a new solution or a new idea entirely after having conversations with their customers and learning through quick experimentation.

There are some pretty smart people out there.

Also powerful was the opportunity for people to work on something outside the scope of their day job with like-minded people, many of whom they'd never met. Associates from across Coca-Cola as well as people from other corporations and the community created a rich environment for ideas to flourish. The format, while competitive, is a safe space where people are free to share ideas, explore opportunities and take risks. Everyone is focused on learning and accomplishing something, unencumbered by agendas. The talents of everyone on the teams emerged not based on function or job, but on ability and interests, many of which extend beyond the scope of a day job.

Startup Weekend participants

Albi Kohen attended the first Startup Weekend at Coke and sees numerous benefits that Startup Weekend techniques can bring to the way that we work as a system. “We should be more agile and flexible in the decisions we make as a company, focus on not only strategy, but on decisive action, and be more willing to try things and learn from our errors,” says Albi.  Another Startup Weekend alum, Nicole Chabrier feels “with programs like Startup Weekend, we’re teaching people to think like entrepreneurs and act like owners. It’s the right thing to do as a company.”

What ideas have come out of Startup Weekends at Coca-Cola?

While the focus is on learning and development, we have the benefit of some teams moving ahead with great ideas for the business.

The Cardio-Powered Cooler
At the first ever Startup Weekend, Rich Robinson pitched his idea for a cardio-powered cooler. In just 54 hours his team built a working physical prototype, and they left the event with a funding commitment for further development. The team has continued to refine and socialize their concept. They’ve made appearances at two ESPN College Gameday events, a GT vs. UGA football game, two Coke Ambassador Events and a Sustainability Forum at Kennesaw State. Rich credits Startup Weekend with getting the idea off the ground. “It wouldn’t have gone anywhere just staying within the R&D world” as well as the need to generate evidence and prototypes to launch and idea and get traction “A good idea is nothing unless there is someone who can prove it.”

David Wheeler came to Startup Weekend with an idea for “Kickstarter at KO” – a tool that would help new and innovative projects across the system secure financial support. Validation sessions revealed that they needed to expand the concept, and what started as a budgetary tool became CokeStarter - a virtual marketplace to connect ideas with human, financial and physical resources.

Startup Weekend

The team was granted financial support for further development as word of their initiative spread and launched a pilot in June. Team member Tyler Elmendorf credits the team’s diversity as a success factor. Team members from HR, Design, Finance, Social Media, Brand, Knowledge and Insights and Commercialization came together with different perspectives. “We would have never gotten these people in the same room if it weren’t for Startup Weekend. It isn’t your normal project team that comes up with the best ideas.”

“If I had to, I’d take my vacation days to attend another Startup Weekend.” –Tyler Elmendorf

“Startup Weekend is the most inspirational experience you’ll have at Coke. It changes the way you think about the company.” – David Wheeler

Beverage Partners Worldwide Startup!
Renato Montoya, Legal Council with Beverage Partners Worldwide (BPW), witnessed the results of the first Startup Weekend in Atlanta and decided to organize his own event locally in Zurich. Not only was Renato central in organizing Zurich Startup Weekend, his team’s solution was one of the 10 chosen for further development.  Renato was surprised by the intense collaboration and engagement among the participants. He felt that the richness and volume of ideas was impressive, especially given the time constraints. He credits the energy and dedication of the participants for making the event a success. Startup Weekend also gave Renato more confidence to take calculated risks, relying on his experience to act like an owner and take swift action at decision points.

Juke Box
Souleymane Hamed, Director of Marketing in Vietnam pitched an idea to build a machine that plays music using a Coca-Cola bottle cap. The team built a prototype during Startup Weekend, and secured funding to move forward with the idea and build a real model. Commenting on how they accomplished so much over 2.5 days, Souleymane credited the diversity of backgrounds. “The beauty of Startup Weekend is it connects you to people who can make ideas happen.” He knows the importance of staying nimble to compete, especially in global markets. “We’re competing against smaller companies, and they are fast. We need to have that capability,” says Souleymane. “Startup Weekend gives us tools to work faster and be more dynamic.”

What's Next?

Many of the teams are continuing to work on their ideas. But, more importantly, they have developed skills and new relationships they will take back to their day jobs. We also feel there is a new connection between Coca-Cola intrapreneurs and community entrepreneurs that can be harnessed. The potential for new ideas increases exponentially with more serendipitous conversations, both internally and externally. We will continue to work together to build strong startup and entrepreneurial ecosystems that strengthen the communities in which we operate around the world.

How can you participate?

It’s easy to attend a Startup Weekend in your city - they happen all around the world. Coca-Cola’s partnership with Startup Weekend empowers a global network of volunteer organizers and facilitators of 1200 Startup Weekend events in 100 countries around the world in 2014. Interested in hosting an event with your internal team? Get in touch with Carie Davis @cariedavis2 on twitter or in the company directory and we can talk about how!

Carie Davis is global director, innovation and entrepreneurship, at The Coca-Cola Company. Follow her on Twitter at @cariedavis2