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Building a Community, Byte by Byte

Local Web developers, designers, marketers and entrepreneurs convened at Viget Labs in Falls Church to create and launch a start-up in one weekend.
Local Web developers, designers, marketers and entrepreneurs convened at Viget Labs in Falls Church to create and launch a start-up in one weekend. (By Richard A. Lipski -- The Washington Post)

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By Kendra Marr
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 5, 2007

Here's a recipe for some creative disorder: Combine a room full of Washington techies with laptops and Internet access. Add a handful of start-up ideas. Mix in a dash of stress, plus some competing egos. And let it simmer for a weekend.

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The result? An Internet company launched in just 54 hours -- the product of an event known as Startup Weekend DC.

About 70 Web developers, designers, marketers and entrepreneurs gathered in Falls Church on a recent Friday night with the goal of establishing an Internet company by midnight Sunday. They didn't know who they would be working with, or how many people would show up. They didn't even know what kind of business they would be building.

Despite the chaos that ensued, this group of random strangers created HolaNeighbor, a social networking Web site for neighborhoods, from condominiums to subdivisions or any other type of community.

Granted, the final Web site was a very preliminary form of the grand vision. And it's premature to predict whether HolaNeighbor will be profitable, let alone make anyone rich.

But the weekend was more about community-building than moneymaking. Within the past year, Washington's Web community has been steadily growing and collaborating through organizations, such as the new-media professional group Refresh DC and technology forum BarCamp DC. Participants said they hoped the weekend would be the launching pad for further strengthening the local technology scene.

"There's a growing sense in the D.C. tech community that our time is coming," said weekend organizer Will Kern, whose day job is senior product manager at AOL. "We need to put in our stake and put our name on map. This proves that we can."

Part social experiment, part Internet venture, Startup Weekend DC is the eighth event of its kind to be hosted across the country, as well as in parts of Europe. Web consultant Andrew Hyde of Boulder, Colo., dreamed up the idea in July when he decided to bring his friends together for a spontaneous project. Word spread through blogs, bringing in dozens of participants beyond his circle of friends. Since then, techies around the world have asked Hyde to stage the weekend event in their cities.

"It's a crazy idea, but people want to try to do the impossible," Hyde said.

Startup Weekend brought Hyde to Houston, New York and Hamburg. He's helped launch a group voting site that polls via text message and e-mail ( http://vosnap.com), and a chat room that matches people with similar interests ( http://scrolltalk.com).

Chapel Hill, Atlanta and London are next in the weekend lineup. Hyde said he's trying to get national sponsors, but until then, he'll continue to pay for his own excursions.

A $20 registration fee buys participants a stake in the venture and a T-shirt, as well as food and drinks for the marathon. Participants are named founders, an entity that controls 50 percent of the future company's stock, should it ever attract investors. Hyde's umbrella company will own 5 percent. The rest is saved for future investors.


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© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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