Santa Barbara’s brightest and most ambitious entrepreneurs are gathering for 54 straight hours this weekend to see whose business idea can be best executed essentially overnight to win the coveted Startup Weekend crown. The fourth annual affair, organized by Kyle Ashby, who brought the first event to town in 2011, is just one of more than 1,200 similar showdowns that happen across the globe (not to mention 250-plus happening this month alone), in which aspiring techies and creatives pitch ideas, form teams around the winning ones, and then present their finished products to a panel of judges, who also mentor teams along the way.
One such mentor-judge this coming weekend is Jon Walker, cofounder and CTO of AppFolio, which creates specially designed software for property managers and law firms and has so far raised $30 million in venture capital. “Our big idea was to do business software for small- to medium-sized companies,” said Walker, a Westmont grad whose past two companies were acquired by bigger corporations. “We launched our first product in 2007, and we’ve been a rocket ship since then.”
When the Thousand Oaks native moved back to town in 1996, there were not a lot of tech companies or much of an entrepreneurial movement, but that’s all changed, thanks in part to UCSB’s computer science and engineering programs. “There’s a really thriving tech community, with some successful large and medium companies and a whole bunch of small startups now,” he said. “There is a pretty good ecosystem, so it’s easier to attract people than it ever has been.”
He admits that AppFolio is “incentivized” to help foster a healthy tech sector in Santa Barbara — and that they even spun off a company that offers secure-document software to aid startups — but his reasons for participating in Startup Weekend are more altruistic. “I’m an entrepreneur at heart,” he explained. “I’ve had people help me along the way many times, so Startup Weekend is a way for me to pay back a little bit.”
Plus, it’s a fun peek at what and who might be the next big Santa Barbara thing. “There’s a lot of great energy, a lot of young people, and a lot of people with real entrepreneurial ideas,” said Walker. “There are always a couple starts of real companies that come out of it.”
Startup Weekend begins Friday, November 14, with an open-to-the-public pitch session at the S.B. Art Foundry, followed by 54 hours of teams developing their projects at Workzones and Invoca, and ending with the open-to-the-public presentations and awards at the Blind Tiger on Sunday, November 16. It’s $99 to participate, which includes food and drink for the weekend. Call (805) 323-6160 or see startupweekendsb.com.