By Keith Armstrong, Director of NEXT at UP Global
Today is my last day at UP Global (the parent brand for programs such as Startup Weekend, NEXT, and Startup Digest) and while I am sad to leave, I am incredibly proud of the work that has been accomplished. Work accomplished not just by me, but by a collective of passionate team members and a global community of Organizers who diligently donate their time and energy.
For those unfamiliar, UP Global empowers and connects startup communities around the world. We believe the key to growth and job creation lies in better and more capable entrepreneurial communities. We provide a suite of action-based educational programs (the most well-known being Startup Weekend, with over 150K+ people having participated), resources, and networks for entrepreneurs. But I don't want to talk about entrepreneurship today. Today, I want to talk about the power of people.
People power: That is, the collective force of individuals who self-organize around a particular purpose and make an enormous difference in the lives of many. During my tenure at UP Global, I have observed the phenomenal power of people and am humbled to have quietly participated in a movement that has brought action-based entrepreneurial education programs into 115 countries around the globe.
This global movement is made possible by Organizers in communities around the world who volunteer their time. It takes a particular type of person to take action within their community, and I've spoken with many of them -- from Bloomington, Indiana to Kampala, Uganda to Amman, Jordan. These people are the crazy ones. The ones who believe they have the power to connect disparate groups of people and create a burgeoning entrepreneurial community. It is always those first few who elect to volunteer who surprise and inspire me the most. I am thankful for their generosity and service to their community.
I've learned that Organizers, regardless of circumstances, can demonstrate true resilience and tenacity when planning entrepreneurial programs for their community. Let me give you an example. I received the following email from a local volunteer organizer who was planning the 2nd Startup Weekend event to ever take place in Cairo, Egypt. This was still during the time of Hosni Mubarak.
"We rescheduled the event to (19-21) January as you know (26-28) January is predicted to be the beginning of the 3rd wave of the revolution so it's better to stay away from this date after recently experiencing the bloody nature of the military and their persistence to stay in power."
In spite of political instability, military violence and the fact that Egypt was on the crest of a country-wide revolution, this university student, a volunteer Organizer, was still motivated to move forward with his efforts. It is through this that I am reminded that it only takes a single individual to lead the charge, to step up and say "Yes, I want to do this in my community!", but more so, to have the courage and tenacity to continue in spite obstacles.
A Single Global Community
What happened in Cairo is just one anecdote. Individual stories like this happen every day and at varying degrees all over the world. Fortunately, UP Global is uniquely positioned to bring together these individuals together each year for an extraordinary event called Startup Organizers Summit.
During Startup Organizers Summit, we all are reminded that we are not alone in our efforts, but that there are in fact hundreds, increasingly now, thousands of us who are thinking about the same problems, facing the same challenges, and taking the same brazen actions to build entrepreneurial communities.
It is incredible to watch the sparks of serendipity that fly when a single global community, who are passionate about the same topic, come together. I believe the community of Startup Organizers to be the most honest, insightful, and giving of people, and they define the direction of grassroots entrepreneurial education. Our interpersonal relationship with each other serve as the bonds between different communities across the globe.
The UP Global Team
Capitalizing on the opportunity to work for UP Global has been one of the greatest adventures I've ever taken. The experience has changed the way I think and has set my life on an entirely new trajectory. I've been fortunate to work with incredibly smart people who serve on the UP Global Board like Eric Koester and Steve Blank, and Organizers from Amman, Beirut, Sharjah, Alexandria and elsewhere in the Middle East.
I was not sure what I was getting myself into when I moved to Seattle. It started when I called my friend Adam Stelle to share a startup idea. He suggested I participate in a Startup Weekend event, an event put on by a company I had never heard of. So, I took a chance and spent $500 dollars on a last minute flight to New York City to participate and pitch my random startup idea. I was able to convince a few others to join my team and we ended up placing 2nd. A month later I would end up working for this company that I had never heard of.
Since then I've met some of the most curious, thought-provoking, and hardest working people, and they have become some of my best friends. We grew into this fun and scrappy family-unit that danced in chaos and uncertainty during the week, and camped in the mountains on the weekend.
It feels funny leaving the organization now. It feels like I am leaving the proverbial "family nest." Yet, I feel a sense of accountability and support from them as I set out to pursue other ventures, because through them I have a great asset; I have a network and the power of people behind that network.
In closing, I've learned many things through my work, but most importantly, I've learned that while one person can create a ripple effect of impact within their own community, touching the lives of a few, the power of people and organized communities on a global scale can in fact (quite literally) change the world.