A few weeks ago, I took a tiny plane over the Rockies to Salt Lake City to attend our first Startup Weekend as Global Sponsors.  Our good pal (and loyal customer), Al Doan, was the local organizer of @SWSaltLake, and he did an amazing job facilitating the first ever SW for the SLC startup community.

When Al moved to SLC a few months ago, he set out to play a role in strengthening the community. He noticed an untapped potential, given the plethora of talented, intelligent people that seemed to be missing a venue in which they could express themselves and create new things. People told him that a Startup Weekend couldn’t happen – “No one will come out on Sunday” … “It’s been tried before, and it failed,” he was told.

Al wasn’t convinced, and as it turns out, the community was right there with him. Personally, as soon as I found out that Al was behind the effort to bring Startup Weekend to a new city, I was committed, and thus, so was SendGrid.

Fast forward a few months, and there we were – over 100 entrepreneurs in an auditorium, networking and discussing the ideas they would soon be pitching. An additional 50+ people in the room just to take it all in. After a quick intro, with the help of the #VegasTech crew, who drove down for the weekend, we all joined in on a fun icebreaker activity, which resulted in the best SW team name EVER  – “Unicorn Sex Appeal”

Next up: pitches…and there were a whopping 57 people who presented their ideas.

From those 57 pitches, 14 teams were formed and eventually demonstrated their products at the end of the weekend. But before we cover the end of things, let’s discuss all the awesomeness that was the 54 hours of SW SLC…

  • People worked hard and relentlessly. Late nights were the norm: on Friday night/Saturday morning, the last team standing got kicked out of our venue by security at 3am.
  • There were consistent, random outbreaks of applause – celebrating milestones being reached and maintaining a level of enthusiasm for all that I’ve never before witnessed at an event like this.
  • Lots of giveaways were awarded to random winners – Nerf guns, Lego sets, gift cards, AR Drones, Arduino sets and more.
  • Lots of food was consumed, friendships were formed and legitimate companies were launched to solve real problems.
  • There was even an icing in the midst of all the madness, but I’ll leave it to you to find the evidence of that event… hint: it’s on the interwebs, somewhere!

In the end, there were three overall winners, but, as cliché as it sounds, all the teams came out victorious. And more importantly, the SLC/Utah startup community will see the true spoils of this triumph.

What amazed me about this event was the widespread progress that it created, for every individual and the community at large. Connections were created that would have never occurred in the absence of this event. An energy, formerly suppressed in a social vacuum, emerged within each member of the community. All of this is evidenced by the subsequent actions of those who were involved: sincere thank you tweets to the sponsors, a Linked In group for all to stay in touch and actual people using the tools that were built!

So, why does this all matter?

It should serve as tangible proof of how one single event can change the dynamic within a community. One weekend can provide a kick start to a community that simply needs to turn its energy from potential to kinetic. If you find yourself in such a community, and you want to be the one who issues the proverbial kick-in-the-pants, then please take heed. And then take action.

This story encapsulates SendGrid’s motivations to support organizations and events such as Startup Weekend on a global scale. To be part of something like this is what makes all of our travel, investment and dedicated man-hours totally worthwhile.

On behalf of the SendGrid Developer Relations and community team, thanks to Startup Weekend and the SLC community for including us. We look forward to more awesomeness throughout 2012 and beyond, in Utah and everywhere else!

UPDATE: I forgot to mention this awesome recap, from . His writeup goes into great detail, discussing each of the 14 demos from the final presentations. Just another sign that the community cares!

Director, Developer Relations at @SendGrid. Passionate about bringing people together around things they love. I tweet at @TimFalls.