This article was first published on January 29, 2021.
When it comes to notable hackathons and startup events in the Southeast Asian region, Startup Weekend would be one of the names that come out on top of mind. Major tech companies such as Carousell and Shopback have a history with the event; it has also garnered the support of organisations such as GIC, GovTech and Temasek.
In fact, the event’s latest iteration in September 2020 was graced by Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat and saw the participation of more than 450 innovators.
Its history began in 2012 when founder Durwin Ho returned from his participation in the NUS Overseas Colleges (NOC) programme in Silicon Valley. Seeing an opportunity in the market, two years later, the first Startup Weekend was launched –with the help of volunteers.
Starting off from hosting Startup Weekend events, together with Joyce Tay and Raymond Doraisamy, Ho founded StartupX in 2018, as part of the effort to “drive more impactful innovation on a global scale by bridging the gap between startups and corporations.” Through various partnerships, StartupX curates innovation programmes that range from workshops, seminars and mentorship programmes.
The company also runs HyperX, a sustainability-focused hackathon in partnership with Temasek, and HDB Cool Ideas Hack, a hackathon centred on smart and sustainable living solutions in HDB estates, in collaboration with the Housing Development Board.
“Most people see us as event organisers … we are more of an innovation programme specialists. What we do is that, essentially, we help companies innovate in a variety of different ways. Sometimes, it’s a form of a hackathon. Sometimes, it’s through pre-accelerator,” Ho explains in an interview with e27.
“Events are a very large part of it. But we don’t really see ourselves as event organisers,” he stresses.
But with its past experiences of hosting events, StartupX has plenty of insights and advice to offer to other companies who are exploring better ways to organise their events.
In this edition of deep-dive series, we will learn about:
- Key principles of good event organising
- Why speed and quality control is essential
- Tips for troubleshooting
Let’s start with these two things
Ho begins by stating how the team’s approach in running Startup Weekend changes as time goes by. In its early days, there were more concerns about creating a great participants experience through details such as food and swag, before the team evolved to focus on bringing quality content through speakers, judges, and mentors.
There are two principles that the team learned from this experience that Ho now considers as the essence of StartupX: Managing stakeholders’ expectation and alignment of objective, and a focus on providing a high-quality product.
“Because the worst thing you can do is bring in someone that doesn’t align with your objective, and … half of the battle will be in trying to fight them, trying to convince them of what you’re trying to do,” Ho stresses. “It’s not an easy process … You really don’t want to bring in people who are not very convinced or those who are just there for the money.”
So how exactly can one implement these principles in event organising?
According to Ho, when it comes to dealing with external parties such as clients, first and foremost they have to be clear with what they want –as this is something that goes back to the first principle of aligning objectives.
“The second thing is that you cannot be an event organiser who is just concerned about taking checkboxes. Do I have a virtual platform? Yes. Do I have my speakers ready? Yes. But you also have to consider the kind of platform that you need, and how it suits your needs,” Ho says.
The next points are strongly related to learning from others’ experience –and put the focus on participants’ experience.
“Far too often, I see a lot of event organisers get overly concerned about meeting the expectation of stakeholders, the people who are their sponsors … [that] they forgot about the participant,” he stresses.
” … You have to ensure that the objective of the event is met. If it’s fostering connection … sharing knowledge from participants, or sharing knowledge from founders or whatever, make sure that those are the things that really come up,” he continues.
Quick, let’s do this
When asked about successful events in the past, and how StartupX managed to get it right, Ho gives two examples. The first one would be the COVID-19 edition of Startup Weekend Singapore.
“It’s supposed to be a giga edition. Giga, in our own terms, is 500 people or more; we run a mega before in 2018 with about 200 people. For this year, we initially planned for 500. But then our friend COVID-19 came, so we couldn’t do much about it and we had to scrap the entire plan,” Ho begins.
As expected, the team had to adjust and transform itself into a virtual event. Their effort seems to bear fruit as they managed to score 750 attendees from the expected 150 attendees.
Another success story is related to their pre-accelerator programme with Temasek, HyperX. COVID-19 hit hard just when the programme was about to host its demo day in April, pushing them to go digital as well.
“The reason why I consider that very tremendous success in our books in StartupX is because of the speed in which we reacted and how we managed to bring together big names,” Ho says.
He stresses that the works that the team is doing are strongly affected by changes and trends in the outside world, be it micro or macro trends. This puts even extra emphasis on the importance of being aware of changes, and be swift in responding to it.
But here’s some tricks of the trade
The most exciting –if not stressful– part of event organising is the adrenaline rush that comes with the flood of activities and movements. There is also the anxious anticipation of things that can possibly go wrong.
When asked about his favourite tip for troubleshooting at events, Ho says that the team always have the role of “station master” ready at their every offline event.
A station master is an individual whose role is to manage the situation on the ground by assigning the right individuals to solve the right issue.
“He will always be free from the day-to-day routine stuff, he’s not the one handling the mic … but he will be the go-to person to handle problems,” Ho explains. “A station master doesn’t solve the problem [himself]. He is there to think about the right person to solve it, then assign the job.”
As the last word, Ho expressed his optimism for the return of offline events in Southeast Asia which has been indicated by the move of top global events such as the World Economic Forum to Singapore and RISE to Malaysia.
“Despite everything, there is still a big dichotomy between the virtual and physical. And I don’t think that’s replaceable, so you have to consider a hybrid model,” he says.
Image Credit: StartupX
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