Startup Weekend Kuala Lumpur (SWKL) is part of a larger global initiative by Techstars under the title Global Startup Weekend. The programme Global Startup Weekend is one that has been active for 12 years now with over 7000 events held in over 150 cities, and it’s had about 400,000 participants so far.
According to Lalitha Wemel, who leads Startup Weekend Women Global and APAC and is the local lead in Malaysia and Singapore, the general edition of SWKL was started almost a decade ago. “In Malaysia we do about 20 programmes a year, in KL specifically we do about 8, and they happen in different venues through different volunteer groups around KL,” she said.
Since 2016, Lalitha has helped lead the women’s edition of SWKL, and this Friday to Sunday, from 6 to 8 September, SWKL women’s edition 2019 will take place. While it’s called a women’s edition, men are able to come and participate with 10% to 20% of tickets allocated to men, but the difference lies in how only women are allowed to pitch and lead teams for the women-focused Startup Weekend.
Overcoming Women’s Barriers To Entry
On why a women’s edition of SWKL is needed, Lalitha said, “The main focus is really so that we change the ratio of gender attendance during tech events. Having events and programs that engage women and just give them that comfort to show up, it’s really so that they start to engage in a more meaningful way, in building, developing and interacting with the actual output of startups, of entrepreneurship.”
“There are so many studies that showcase that diverse perspectives, teams and companies generally give out better quality in their output, performance and happiness so if the little bit that we can do in terms of engaging them at this early level can help them find that comfort in becoming a more present and active participant of larger ecosystems, we’ll do it happily,” she added.
Some barriers to entry for women she’s observed in her years of hosting events that are women-focused as well as from her own experience as a woman in the industry are the lack of mentors, unconscious bias in the workplace, unequal pay and unequal growth opportunities.
On the latter two barriers to entry, she said, “Those are unfortunately things we can’t control, but we hope that in engaging them and giving them that confidence to be vulnerable and build that courage over weekends and programs like this and being able to network with the right kind of people that they’re able to then show up in their everyday jobs to fight these barriers that women in tech generally face.”
It’s An Educational Experience
While the goal of SWKL is to have participants build a startup in 54 hours, Lalitha described the programme as more of an accessible and educational experience than a pre-accelerator or accelerator programme, saying that SWKL creates a safe space for participants to experiment with an idea, interact with each other and industry mentors, build a successful business model and a minimum viable product (MVP), and learn how to talk to customers and validate their product.
During the event, all participants will pitch a 60-second pitch of an idea, problem, challenge or startup that they have never worked on and isn’t a startup that already exists. After 60 seconds, everyone goes through a voting process where the top ideas get upvoted and people get divided into teams of 4 or 5 to begin working on the ideas.
“The rest of the weekend is really focused on them building towards 3 main goals, so one is identifying and understanding a sustainable business model, one is actually building a customer profile and going out and validating their product in the right kind of way with the right kind of people, and the third thing is building a pitch deck and something that illustrates what their MVP should be,” Lalitha said.
There are also workshops and mentors who will come in on Saturday and Sunday to meet, challenge and guide the team towards the right solutions and help them with pitch practices for their 5-minute pitches in the final round to a panel of 3 judges.
The winning team will get to attend the final Techstars Startup Weekend in Singapore next year and network with other women founders over the course of 2 days. “Very specifically for this Global Startup Weekend Women, we’re going to be hosting a physical final which we don’t usually do for most Startup Weekends,” Lalitha added.
Born Out Of Personal Interest
Lalitha said that she’s been involved in the Malaysian startup ecosystem as her parents started a startup when she was still in high school, and despite her going into consulting and then working with BFM radio for a bit, she’s always loved the startup ecosystem.
It was after attending a Startup Weekend that she met its founder and found out that they were planning on expanding their reach and engagement with communities in Asia, so she joined the team in 2014.
“Over the last 5 years, I’ve been working with them to basically engage different communities that we have across Asia Pacific, work with different government departments and agencies across the region to build ecosystem development plans so that they’re really making use of the way that they’re engaging with grassroots communities and doing corporate innovation work as part of our larger regional focus,” she said.
In general, Startup Weekends hosted around the world are led by volunteers, “so Techstars doesn’t take any license fee, we don’t have any minimum profit that needs to be made from those events, it’s a super community effort from our part,” Lalitha shared.
To her pleasure, she’s noticed an increase in women leaders in the startup ecosystem.
The majority of the partners that we work with across the region, a lot of the leads that we work with, they’re no longer just the community managers, they’re people that are at a level of decision-making and performing change so that’s been amazing to see. I think because of that there are more women just in general attending and participating in things and we still have a long way to go, but it’s a noticeable difference from 5 years ago.
“In general, I’m really happy to see that this theme resonates with communities both in Malaysia and around the world, it just means that we’re doing something right in helping these communities get a voice and get the kind of exposure that they want and I really hope that by doing more of these, we’re creating an impact that’s lasting and positive in all these communities,” she said.
- While tickets to participate in SWKL Women are sold out, there are still tickets available to Demo Day (finals) which takes place at 4 PM on Sunday, 8 September.
- You can find out more about the event here.
Featured Image Credit: SWKL