Startup Weekend just one cog in a new learning pathway for tomorrow’s workplace

It’s been a week since nine amazing teams completed their final pitches to the TGASW 2016 judging panel and I feel like someone experiencing withdrawal after such an incredible high. Being on the organising team for the last few years has allowed me to soak up the atmosphere of the weekend, the pressure and the elation, the trials and the tribulations of all the teams, from a perspective that participating wouldn’t. When you’re so completely absorbed in your own team’s project it’s no doubt hard to expend any minutes of the 54 hours (in the class of 2016’s case just 53 hours) you’re given to deliver your startup pitch on anything other than that outcome. I guess the trepidation and pressure an organiser experiences, wanting to ensure the event runs without a hitch, participants feel even more acutely within their own team. Either way, the experience is a unique one, preparing those who take part with the skills, knowledge and network to take the germ of a business idea through to commercial success and market domination. Not a bad trade for hundred dollars and a single weekend of your time!

Credit must go to the facilitators and mentors who give up their time to the weekend. Without them challenging assumptions, pushing boundaries, critiquing pitches, in some cases destroying hope and the instilling discipline required to get there, the final output from every team would no doubt be good, but not to the level required to be transformative and to secure investment in a genuine startup that would be attractive to seasoned investors.

The visionaries behind Tauranga’s own embodiment of the tech/startup/entrepreneurial ecosystem must also be recognised. Venture Centre pull out all the stops to make Tauranga Startup Weekend happen, and its physical manifestation, the tech-centric co-working space Basestation, is the perfect environment in which to hold it.  Pascale, Jo, Michael and Steven see Startup Weekend as one cog in a series of synergistic events, programmes and networks that together will allow anyone who’s minded to take advantage of a “cradle to grave” pathway that teaches the necessary skills for today’s (and tomorrow’s) exponentially changing economic, cultural and social reality. It’s a programme that no school, tertiary institution or even national education curriculum could hope to replicate, because by the very nature of what it’s trying to deliver it must constantly evolve to stay relevant, and the current model of education simply cannot deliver that flexibility. Yet those same institutions, or failing that, their students, could tap into the Venture Centre programme to augment their traditional programmes.

As the workplace adapts to the inexorable march of technology so to must the pathways to that workplace. Because if traditional learning institutions don’t do so their traditional monopoly on those pathways will disappear. Technology is facilitating the demise of once dominant transactional intermediaries (think of what Alibaba, Amazon and Ebay are doing) and the only thing stopping students connecting directly to employers in a mainstream way is a means to provide those employers with trust in the relevance and quality of the skills their prospective employees have learned outside of a recognised tertiary training organisation. In the near future a resume with a “big name” university degree listed will be worth less than one showing an individually tailored programme of the exact skills that a particular employer needs. The emerging Venture Centre ecosystem, of which Startup Weekend is a part, is one example of this kind of alternative (but also complimentary and potentially enhancing if embraced by existing institutions) learning pathway. Tauranga is lucky to have it, and we must foster and support it.