Community strikes gold at Nestio Startup Weekend

5 mins read

The community wins at the Nestio Startup Weekend, Karachi.

If you need to feel the buzz in Karachi, the Nestio is a good bet to get an instant triple shot of positive vibe, optimism and hope. On any given evening the community tends to be overrun by young entrepreneurs, ideas, visitors and activities.  From standup comedy, improv and hackathons to guest speakers doing work on the cutting edge; from FIFA 2016 on the console to investors in for a sneak peek on the future.  I know because I have been a regular visitor; right from the day when we came to first see the 6,500 square feet empty loft that would ultimately house the Nest.

So this Sunday afternoon as the door opened and I stepped inside, I was surprised enough to take a step back and catch my breath.  Something was different. Not off, just very very different.

Nestio – overun by free radicals in grey tshirts

I have been there on pitch days, I have skipped passed before graduations. I was there when we surprised Jehan on her birthday and celebrated the big APICTA haul of medals last year. But this Sunday a few minutes before noon on March 26, 2017 as the glass door slid open I stopped as the change in the environment was so physical and in your face. All this despite being exposed to two years and five batches of high intensity young men and women doing unbelievable work at the Nest.

Humayun Bashir – a senior mentor working with young teams on Saturday and Sunday

There were people sitting and reclining in places where I had never seen anyone even stand before. There was colored paper and post it notes plastered everywhere. The Nest was packed with individuals decked in dark grey t-shirts in two states – intense focused discussion with lots of hand waving and emotions – or rushing about trying to get things done as if the building was on fire. Not stress or tension but purpose and drive. Like mission control on Cape Canaveral on the day of a big launch.

Free radicals in tshirts, neckties, suspenders and pony tails – That has to be a first on a single male model.

A swarm of vibrant talent – teeming, buzzing, over flowing with vitality, vigor and life. Talent is possibly not the right word because these were no longer just ordinary men and women. You couldn’t see the energy but you could feel it physically move and push you around – like a wall of high pressure reverberating sound from those giant concert speakers or ice cold water on the deep end of the ocean in winters.

I had come in to run a short 15 minute session on 3 minute pitching for teams participating at the Startup Weekend at the Nestio. The Startup Weekend is a 54 hour power packed program managed by TechStars and supported by Google for Entrepreneurs. The concept is simple. The most difficult thing within the startup space is starting up.  The Startup Weekend template allows you to get instant validation, find co-founders, build up a prototype, get feedback from industry mentors and have your idea ranked and judged by fellow entrepreneurs.

While I had seen a number of such weekend and day long initiatives and hackathons in the past, the scene at the Nestio was much different from what I had been expecting. Generally, by day three of the format half the teams tend to fall off the bandwagon.  Most participants begin to lag and slow down as sleep deprivation over the past 48 hour catches up. Mentors, facilitators and volunteers start to fade and the original excitement of starting and building a new company tends to ebb as we get closer to the deadline for the submission of the final pitch.

54 hours – 83 participants – 60 pitches – 7 judges – 10 organizers – 20 volunteers – everyone wins

There was no sign of a slowdown 50 hours into the format. It was as if they had just started. Rather than zombies having a bad hair day and sleeping through my session I had fresh faced forty year olds sitting in the front row paying attention and asking questions. I was the second last speaker for the day and this was just before lunch. The desire to stay, to contribute, to help was so strong that my 15 minute slot turned into 45. My short supposedly 30 minute visit crossed two hours before I realized that I had missed lunch with my family at home.

The source of this unending supply of energy was the community of founders, organizers, mentors and volunteers that had shown up to support the event. Nestio alumni or Nestlings for short were out in large numbers, mentoring, contributing, acting as sounding boards and helping out with coverage on social sites for all three evenings. The volunteers for the event had been infected just as heavily as the participating teams and were busy getting things done. The organizers in the control room were abuzz and high on the rush of the impact they had created over two days. It didn’t matter which room you went to, you couldn’t escape it.

The Nestio and PASHA team working together to bring change at the grass root level.

It wasn’t just the participants or the speakers or the mentors or the coaches. It was seeing the community at work on building something much much bigger than we could ever do as individuals.  That was the real pay off. Yes founders won, even when they didn’t make it to the final list of winners – they won because in three days they received a higher dose of active, high quality mentoring and coaching than typical Nestlings get in a month. Teams and ideas won because they ran through an intense test, validate, improve cycle. Mentors, teachers, trainers and judges won because we live off the vibe, off the rush of guiding young team build a better stronger future for all of us.

But the biggest winner of all, the one winner that in the ends leaves everything else behind was the community. The real winner at the Startup Weekend Karachi was our community of builders, makers, doers, helpers, facilitators, mentors, volunteers and well wishers. The broader community too, because in the end these high powered ideas are only going to make this city and this country a better place to live.

Guys and gals you really hit pay dirt this weekend.

You can’t really hide a good thing in Karachi. By early evening the seven judges for the format had already arrived, the powerpoint presentations were done, the mind gym – the venue for the final round of pitches at the Nestio was packed.  The hashtags for the event were already trending on twitter for an hour before someone actually noticed.  Because once the pitches started the intensity went through the roof.

7 judges from media, technology, venture capital, search, advertising and community judged the final round.

Traditionally in an event of this sort the recommendation is to limit the final round to about ten to twelve finalists.  At the Startup Weekend in Karachi 83 participants registered. 30 of these were women. Take a second to grasp what that means for empowerment and community outreach.

55 – 60 teams pitched as part of the initial vote on Friday evening. 16 won the vote to move forward. 25 teams pitched in the final round on Sunday night. Even after scoring for judges was completed it took them another hour to finalize the winner, the two runners up and the two special mentions. That is how tough and close the competition was.

In truth, we were all winners this weekend. Even those who didn’t know about the event or didn’t make it to the selected list. Those who pitched as well as those who didn’t. Because we showed over a hundred individuals what is possible when a community comes together to build things together.  We showed young men and women as well as older men and women that if they decide to change and mold the future all they need to do is get started.  The startup community has their back and will always be willing to lend a hand. We won because we took the first few steps and got started. And that has always been the hardest part.

Picture credits – PASHA and the Nestio team