Twin Cities Startup Week 2020 (TCSW) — changed to a month-long, virtual event of workshops and startup events — recently wrapped up.

Just like everything in 2020, there were a lot of changes and unprecedented-ness, but it still happened. We took a lil’ look back — candidly — on how it went with Casey Shultz, executive director of BETA and Benjamin Van Sistine, production lead and director of experiential design at Versus Experiential.

Twin Cities Startup Week 2020 Recap

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The Twin Cities Startup Week 2020 team: Eri O’Diah (Marketing & Communications), Erik Anderson (Operations Intern), Grace Northamer (Operations Intern at BETA) McKenzie Erickson (TCSW Track Lead) Laura Beier (Copywriter at BETA), Kelly Schultze (Operations Lead at BETA), Casey Shultz (Executive Director at BETA), Benjamin Van Sistine (TCSW Production Lead and Director of Experiential Design at Versus Experiential)

As with just about every other event this year, TCSW went completely virtual. From September 7 to 25, six tracks (covering topics such as Sales & Marketing, Founder, EdTech, Healthcare, Sustainability and Food & Ag) took place every Tuesday and Thursday on the virtual event platform Hopin.

Along with mainstage content, there were also community sessions throughout each day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. with fun bits and pieces such as lunchtime trivia yoga and “pet parades” where guests and hosts could (virtually) bring on their furry friends over the lunch break. Corporate experts and sponsors, such as JPMorgan Chase and Target, presented informative sessions for emerging startups alongside founders themselves sharing their experiences.

Some socially distant fun was had, too. The Opening Party kicked off at Lake Monster Brewing, and the Closing Party was celebrated with a silent disco and food and drinks at St. Paul’s Keg and Case.

Since all sessions happened online, they were recorded and will be available on the TCSW site for attendees and anyone in the community who wants to revisit a session they missed or continue learning. Stay tuned for updates to the TCSW Resource Library.

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Several local business owners gathered for the “Celebrating Minority Owned Businesses in Minnesota” event. Top Row: Y. Elaine Rasmussen (Founder and CEO of Social Impact Strategies Group), Salman Elmi (Co-Founder at Tavolo), Umar Ahmed (CEO & Co-Founder at Twiggy Fresh), Fartun Hussein (President & CEO at ARCpoint Labs). Bottom Row: Michelle Maryns (Co-Founder & CEO at We Sparkle), Hilal Ibrahim (CEO at Henna & Hijabs)

What went well?

Given the circumstances, there were a lot of things that went well at the first-ever virtual TCSW.

“I’m really proud of what we managed to put together,” Casey Shultz, executive director of BETA (the organization that puts on TCSW), said.

Engagement, production, and more accessible content were all main points that Shultz and Benjamin Van Sistine, production lead and director of experiential design at Versus Experiential, mentioned.

With programming over three weeks instead of one — a change that resulted in positive feedback — the energy around the event was steadier instead of a big buildup surrounding an evening event like the BETA Showcase, MN Cup, or the Minnesota Startup Awards.

While numbers were a bit down — to be expected with an all-virtual event — the people who did show up to Hopin were really engaged, Shultz said. There was also high engagement from female thought leaders, black entrepreneurs and other leaders of color.

“We definitely had forward movement in making TCSW more inclusive,” Shultz said.

From a production standpoint, Van Sistine explained that there was a lot of thought that went into recording and producing sessions including lighting and backdrops to sending out a document to speakers on best practices for presenting virtually. Additionally, all sessions were recorded to become a part of the Resource Library.

“If 2020 hadn’t happened, we wouldn’t have branched into the broadcast world and the content library world,” Van Sistine said, mentioning TCSW can now reach outside of the Twin Cities and Minnesota.

“It was a great push to do things differently that I think will carry through,” he said.

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Attendees donned headphones and danced to a silent disco during TCSW 2020’s closing party at St. Paul’s Keg and Case.

What didn’t go so well?

There were obviously some challenges in moving an event that’s usually spread across multiple locations in the Twin Cities and jam-packed with sessions completely online.

“We were building the boat as we were sailing it,” Shultz said, mentioning that with something this unprecedented, there were a lot of game time decisions.

Historically, one of the main draws of TCSW is networking, a tricky interaction to foster in an online setting.

“There’s just an energy to a successful live event that doesn’t translate to a screen,” Van Sistine said, mentioning that normally what makes TCSW stand out is the authentic, organic connections that people make within the startup community.

Despite choosing the Hopin platform specifically for its networking features (including virtual community lounges and one-on-one video chats), attendees didn’t use these to the extent the TCSW team thought they would, Shultz said.

“It was just a different experience,” she said.

Looking Ahead to 2021

The TCSW team is already thinking about how to improve for next year, taking into account not just what happened this year but also years past.

For one, both Shultz and Van Sistine said all sessions that can be recorded will be from now on. This will make the event more accessible and adaptable (in case it needs to be virtual again).

More in-person events (if possible) are also definitely on the queue for 2021.

“Now we know that you can do an outdoor event safely,” Shultz said of the TCSW opening and closing parties. “When we look at how we’re going to do it next year, we’re going to try to do more in person.”

Van Sistine is “really looking forward to 2021.”

“My thought and hope is that we can take the best of 2019 and the best of 2020 and merge them into what would be the best ever,” he said.

Photos by Bethany Birnie