Launch a startup in 54 hours? You can do that.

Founding a startup is often a career ambition for young entrepreneurs, but getting the experience, know-how, and connections you need─ without risking your life savings─ can be a challenge. Fortunately for those living in the startup-weekend-logostartup heavy Bay Area, opportunities abound. Berkeley students, for instance, can take advantage of such programs as Cleantech to Market, as well as courses offered by the Lester Center for Entrepreneurship, among others. Step off campus and the experiences you may find are less constrained by the structured classroom setting. Startup Weekend is one such opportunity. Hosted in cities across the world, Startup Weekend brings together budding entrepreneurs and challenges them to come up with a successful business pitch for a new company by the end of the weekend. The benefits? Experience developing a business concept, networking opportunities with like-minded individuals, experts, and legal teams, and a chance at the $25,000 grand prize to help kick start your business. Not a bad way to spend 54 hours.

Startup Weekend begins on a Friday, when participants pitch their ideas and the group votes on their favorites. After self-organizing into teams, groups work into the night─ often to 2 am─ to develop their business plan and put together some sort of deliverable (a website, a mobile app, etc.). The rest of the jam-packed weekend continues in the same vein, with short breaks to hear informative speakers, and coaches on hand to give advice on entrepreneurship, software development, marketing, finance, law, and more. By late Sunday afternoon, teams must present their work to potential investors and local entrepreneurs, who judge the teams on their short 5 minute presentations.

Given the time-frame, about 95% of ideas are mobile or web focused, but there still exist opportunities for more technical, energy-related startups. Peter Lobacarro, a 4th year graduate student in the Department of Chemical Engineering, participated in a Startup Weekend in February at Santa Clara University that attracted over 100 participants. His team, which was composed of two tech professionals, an undergraduate student, and a graduate student, worked on a pitch for a business similar to SolarCity to increase the distribution and lower the cost of solar energy in the rental/lease housing market. Of the 13 teams at the event, only his and another team, which focused on bringing solar energy and microgrids to India, were energy or engineering focused. Most businesses pitched were web-based, with ideas ranging from websites that would estimate credit scores for internationals coming to the US to websites that help people get together for pick-up sports.

“Even if most of the pitches are apps, there are still some which fall in the wheel house of an engineer,” says Lobacarro. “Regardless of what you work on, it’s a fun and informative experience to see what it could take to start your own business.” Lobacarro plans to continue work on his business idea while he finishes his PhD work, but noted that several other participants were ready to quit their current jobs to commit to their ideas full-time. About 80% of teams─ whether full or part-time─ continue working on their ideas after Startup Weekend.

These jam-packed, fast-paced events are hosted throughout the world, and are planned by locals in the area who want to bring Startup Weekend to their communities. Industry sponsors keep the price low, but participants do pay for tickets to the event, which include all meals, snacks, and─ according to Lobacarro─ “enough red bull to try and pull something off in 54 hours.”