Thoughts on Relevance (part 2)

So what does a truly relevant exercise look like? I think that question is best answered through an example from Startup Weekend. The team I was coaching, Novo Watches, were hard at work developing their business model: interchangeable watch bands, inspired by developing countries with proceeds from sales going to charitable organizations in the corresponding country. The team had chosen the Latin word “Novo,” meaning change.

As part of the process, some of the real world mentors at Startup Weekend had given the team contacts in the watch industry to query about production and outsourcing of labor. At this point, the team was still giddily reeling from the possibilities of getting these real world contacts that could bring their concepts to reality. Visions of high school hallways teeming with students wearing their watches filled the team members’ heads as they tirelessly worked their way through the Lean Canvas Startup Blueprint.

After taking a brief break to check out the work of some of the other teams, the Novo Watches CEO returned to find an email waiting in his inbox from one of the contacts in the watch industry. Like a kid opening up the suspected best present on Christmas morning, the CEO opened the email. As his eyes scanned the computer screen, his expression transformed from excitement to horror. The contact thanked them for their interest and asked them if was their project. Quick answer? It was not. Someone else had already developed a brand called Novo Watches. Crestfallen, the team dispersed, and I pondered how to handle the situation as their coach.

In a regular classroom environment, I probably would have just told the team to plow ahead as Novo Watches. Why? Because in a regular classroom, we’re working in a vacuum. The exercises are generally theoretical in nature and don’t actually require execution in the real world. Since their company wouldn’t actually come into fruition and would be abandoned as soon as the grade for the project was delivered, just continuing on as Novo Watches would cause no harm. However, Startup Weekend is not a normal classroom environment because these business models must be real-world viable since winners will receive assistance to actually develop their concepts into working businesses.

This then is relevance: activities that move beyond theoretical and contain world-changing implications.

In my next post I’ll reveal how the team adapted to this real world setback.


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