Finding a venue to host your Startup Weekend is another large step. A poor venue can undermine even the most well-planned of events while a great venue can make a good event great. Below is a list of places to consider when looking at possible venues (in order of preference):
Co-working and shared spaces provide an ideal balance between being both technically well-equipped (to handle a large number of people) and flexible in terms of hours of operation, security, and use of space. Co-working spaces generally promote a positive vibe/atmosphere, and the venue provider is often willing to donate the space in exchange for community recognition.
Corporate (or Startup) Office Space
Corporate offices tend to have large open spaces that can be used for an event. If interested in the startup community, corporations are often happy to donate space for recognition as a “venue sponsor.” A growing local startup would be another likely candidate to have open space and be an attractive target to draw in attendees.
Local Public or Government Buildings
Community centers and libraries, especially large city libraries, often have space available for community events. In addition, local economic development programs may have access to community spaces and offices or may know of other resources. The key is to have an advocate that sees Startup Weekend as an asset, aligned and furthering goals within the community such as attracting talent and startups to the city.
Universities tend to have open classrooms which makes a good venue. The challenge with universities is balancing the classroom schedule and availability. Given the educational angle of Startup Weekend, engineering or business schools tend to be a good fit. In addition to offering them the role of “Venue Sponsor,” you may also include a discounted ticket price for students from the university.
Be aware that universities may sometimes give away a space without a venue fee, but may charge an A/V charge. Universities also often have a relationship with catering companies that can prevent you from using outside food vendors. Ask for all the details upfront so you’re making an informed decision.
Event Venues and Hotels
Hotels and event-specific venues tend to be great places for Startup Weekend, especially if they have dedicated staff to support Wi-Fi, security, and facilities. The catch however is they usually are high cost and often are difficult to schedule. If you decide to approach a specialized venue, be aware that it may significantly affect your event budget.
With all venues, be sure to ask about security fees, insurance policies, and catering contracts before signing anything. A “free” venue with a high security fee and/or an exclusivity contract with an expensive catering company can end up costing thousands of dollars.
Here’s a checklist to help you decide on the best venue for your event:
A venue should be donated in exchange for sponsorship during the event. In some cases, you might have to pay for a venue, but be sure it will fit in the event budget. Also, make sure to verify all venue costs before the event.
In order to gauge whether a venue is a suitable size, you’ll need to decide on an approximate number of participants. Remember that space requirements vary throughout the event. Friday and Sunday, you’ll need to accommodate all participants (plus judges, coaches, special guests, etc.) in one room for the pitches. For most of Saturday and Sunday, teams will need to spread out in their work areas.
Try to find a central location that is easily accessible by all attendees, including those that choose to take public transportation. Consider places with free or accessible parking, and note those details to your attendees afterwards.
Is there enough bandwidth? A good rule of thumb is to make sure there will be at least one router for every 25 people or 100 Mbps. Talk to the IT person at the venue about these details, and consider that each person will have at least 2 devices in play at all times.
Outlets and Powerstrips
Your attendees will be bringing laptops and other devices that need power. Do you have enough access to outlets and available powerstrips/extension chords? If the venue cannot supply what is needed you may need to add powerstrips to your event budget.
Make sure you have access to the venue by 4 PM on Friday to give you enough time to setup. Some attendees may ask to spend the night. 24 hour access is not required (most organizers encourage attendees to get some sleep), but it’s best to ask your venue about any restrictions. if the venue needs to close, try to gain access until 2 am Friday and Saturday night. Are there any security officers in the building that you need to know about? Access codes you need to know about? Keys or access cards you must carry with you? Be sure to have the phone number of the person who runs the venue, just in case. Typically, someone representing the venue must be present at the event to avoid liability issues - their availability is a good rule of thumb for the hours of your event.
Make sure there are enough tables for everyone to work on— visualize the number of teams that will be working and how they will be distributed throughout the space. In addition to those tables make sure there are a few extra long tables for food and registration. You may need to rent tables, although in most cities, renting tables is very affordable.
Are there enough chairs? If not, look into sourcing or renting some extra chairs (don’t forget about special guests and any others expected to attend Sunday pitches).
Is there a common area that will fit everyone for speakers, pitches and presentations?
Projector and A/V
Does the venue have a projector and A/V System? If not, you will need to source one. Make sure you do a tech check prior to the event and at the event. Bring in a volunteer who specializes in A/V if you can.
A/C and Heat
Make sure the venue does not have any automatic timers for heat and A/C (as they’re usually set as if the building will not be occupied and the temperature may be uncomfortable). Also it would be good to have access to the A/C and/or heat during the weekend so you can adjust it as needed. Alternatively, get a contact name and telephone number for the person who can make those adjustments for you.
Every team should have a place to visually collaborate and brainstorm. Whiteboards and flip charts are most common, but if not available make a note to purchase paper ahead of time). Rolling whiteboards can also serve as effective space barriers between teams, particularly in smaller venues.
Is there enough parking for everyone? Make sure to give attendees information about parking before the event particularly if there will be a fee.
Does the venue have a small kitchen area with a sink and refrigerator? If there is no refrigerator at the venue, be sure to have plenty of ice and coolers for drinks and people who choose to bring their own food (this may be particularly important for those with food sensitivities or medical conditions).
Are there enough bathrooms? One toilet for 100 people will not do. Are the bathrooms automated? Do they lock after normal business hours? If so, make sure you coordinate to have overriding access during the event. Having a conversation about bathroom cleaning is also recommended, as bathrooms can get unwieldy by the second night. It may be a good idea to request a facilities cleaner sometime during the weekend if possible.
Some venues have very strict security policies. Make sure to ask about security protocol when you tour the venue—both in terms of areas you can access and which internet/network points participants can access. If security protocols are strict, ask to make arrangements for temporary access codes or visitor badges.