Santa Cruz Tech Beat


Q&A: What’s new this year at Techstars Startup Weekend 2021?

By Sara Isenberg
Founder, Publisher, Editor-in-Chief, Santa Cruz Tech Beat

January 15, 2021 — Seaside, CA

This year’s Startup Weekend Monterey Bay (February 5-7, 2021) will be completely online. What are the pros and cons of the online format?

I had the opportunity touch base with Mary Jo Zenk and Jenny Kuan, co-chairs of the TechStars Startup Weekend coming up in February. Here’s the scoop!

Santa Cruz Tech Beat (SCTB): For readers who aren’t familiar with it, what is the Techstars Startup Weekend at CSUMB?

Startup Weekend (SW): Techstars Startup Weekend is a hands-on educational program where everyone, from aspiring entrepreneurs to the merely curious, can learn the necessary steps to starting a successful business. Techstars Startup Weekends happen all over the world hosted by local community groups and have been the launchpad for several innovative companies, social enterprises, and nonprofits. Rover and Zapier got started at a Startup Weekend. (Across the thousands of Startup Weekend events, many teams stay together after the event to keep building their company, and most participants take what they learned and get involved in another startup.)

This is the ninth year that CSUMB’s Institute for Innovation & Economic Development is hosting Techstars Startup Weekend in the Monterey Bay region.  This year’s Startup Weekend Monterey Bay (February 5-7, 2021) will be completely online and will have two 1-hour sessions before the weekend to get participants oriented. We’re also structuring it a little more, with scheduled work sessions centered around topics that take participants through startup milestones. So participants will:

  • Get hands-on experience with the process of starting a business
  • Learn how to develop their idea and explain it to people
  • Meet mentors who will help them move their business ideas forward

SCTB: Is there a unique focus or theme for this year’s event?

SW: There is no theme for this year’s event – all ideas are welcome, from a new app to a food truck.  A good idea is something that helps solve a problem and makes creative use of people’s talents.

SCTB: Who is the event open to?

SW: This event is open to anyone age 16 or older. People with an idea, or who are already working on an idea, as well as people who are curious about entrepreneurship are all encouraged to attend. For people with ideas, Startup Weekend can help you get started on a new business or on a big change to your business. If you don’t have an idea, you will be able to see other participants’ ideas and join them in their efforts. Over the course of the weekend, you’ll not only learn about the business startup process but also business principles more generally.

SCTB: How is the pandemic affecting this year’s event?

SW: This event will be online and so we have made several changes from the traditional in-person Startup Weekends.

  • Startup Weekends normally begin on a Friday evening, when teams get formed, and run through Sunday afternoon. We’ve added Monday and Wednesday pre-weekend sessions from 6-7pm to help orient people, help them with their ideas and start getting teams formed.
  • We have also modified the schedule during the weekend around short workshops that will provide the teams with the steps to develop their business idea. And we will end by event around 1:30pm on Sunday for those who want to catch the SuperBowl!
  • We will be hosting this event on a unique virtual conference platform.  Everything you need will be available through this single platform: sharing your business ideas and making comments, attending short educational workshops, having dedicated spaces for teams to work together and meet with mentors, a directory of participants and mentors, direct message, general announcements, and other resources.

SCTB: What are the top challenges to moving the event online?

SW: There is a lot of creative energy during an in-person Startup Weekend where people can meet and exchange ideas quickly, easily find others that can help with specific issues as they arise.  That energy is difficult to duplicate in an online format.  We believe that this new single event platform and the revised schedule will help provide these opportunities as much as possible in an online format.

SCTB: Are there any interesting benefits or unexpected upsides to holding the event online?

SW: Traditional in-person Startup Weekends require long periods of time away from home, which discourages people who do not have the time or live far away. This new online format and schedule makes this hands-on business educational experience accessible to more people. We also have Spanish-language capabilities for the first time this year and can accommodate Spanish-speakers in the online format through live interpretation.

SCTB: What would you like SCTB’s readers to know about this year’s event?

SW: Please encourage anyone you know who might benefit from this program to sign up (click here)! We are also recruiting business mentors with startup experience who love to help aspiring entrepreneurs and have a few hours during Startup Weekend (Feb 5-7, 2021) they can volunteer.  If you interested in finding out more about being a mentor, please contact us at


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