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I was recently turned on to an organization called Startup Weekend which is planning an event in my hometown of Minneapolis September 17-19. Startup Weekend is a Seattle-based non-profit that operates 54-hour events in cities around the world bringing together passionate people from a variety of backgrounds to develop innovative solutions to complex social problems. Registration fees vary depending on your professional background, but seem to be between $40-75.

Startup Weekend attendees are given the opportunity to pitch their idea in a rapid-fire opening session of 60-90 second presentations. The ideas are voted on by the crowd, who are then split into teams of 4-10 people to spend the rest of the weekend discussing, ideating, developing, planning, and prototyping. The end results will vary from a proof-of-concept presentation, demo, or even a finished product. The most common ideas appear to have a web or tech focus, like SubMate, a travel tool which matches your data with other people who have the same route, and even the same interests as you do. Another start up called Foodspotting based on the simple idea of sharing photos of the food you are eating was originated during the San Francisco Startup Weekend in 2009, and recently received $750k in seed funding.

There are several elements of Startup Weekend that I think are great for entrepreneurial designers and creative professionals. First, it puts us interdisciplinary teams together with people from a variety of professional and personal backgrounds and skill sets. This is critical for those of us who struggle to make connections with people outside the design world who can help accelerate our ideas. Second, it happens fast! Very few of us have the option to take even a few weeks (let alone years) off to reset our professional skills, but three days is pretty do-able. Finally, the format really plays to our professional strengths. We are great at presenting ideas, brainstorming, and creating mock-ups and prototypes.

In addition to the Twin Cities event, other upcoming Startup Weekends will be held in New York City (9/10-9/12), Austin (9/10-9/12), Edmonton (9/17-9/19), and Amsterdam (9/24-9/26).

Thanks to Dan Woychick of Woychick Design for tipping me off to Flattr, a new “micro-payment” resource that is currently in beta stage, but seems to be gaining momentum and visibility. I think it offers some intriguing possibilities for design-driven start ups. The basic concept is similar to the social network, Digg, in that you are “voting” your approval by clicking the Flattr button; the difference is that you are also making a small financial contribution out of your Flattr account with each vote. The minimum monthly balance is only a couple bucks, and at the end of each month, your account balance is divided by the number of Flattr votes you cast, so your individual contribution could be pennies per vote if you are an active Flattr-er (or you could cast fewer, more valuable, votes). Flattr micro-payments are then transferred by Paypal to the content provider receiving the vote. This video gives an overview of the concept:

The top rated site on Flattr right now is Chaosradio Express which has received more than 2,000 Flattr clicks. The Flattr site lists top content, as well as newcomers and undiscovered gems. Flattr’s Swedish co-founder Peter Sunde discussed the project in a BBC interview: “We want to encourage people to share money as well as content. It’s a test to see if this might be a working method for real micro-payments.”

While Flattr is a long way from reaching critical mass, I see it as another example of the growing micro-financing trend that also includes Kiva, Kickstarter, and Pepsi Refresh, in which funding opportunities are becoming more direct and intuitive, and where the “crowd” can make a great idea into a big winner.

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