San Francisco was the third and final international stop on this year’s world tour. Its city limits are dotted with suburbs like Menlo Park, Palo Alto and Mountain View, but these quiet areas attract waves of eager entrepreneurs hoping to start the next hot tech startup. Within this suburban sprawl are the original real life incubators that have inspired so many across the country, and even on TV… True innovation hidden in plain sight, seemingly everywhere you look.
The Innovation Weekend team started its trip to San Francisco with a visit to one of these suburbs and to a “hacker house” that is run by one of Innovation Weekend’s original co-founders, Yasushi Takeuchi. Around 30 minutes outside of downtown San Francisco, Takeuchi and his family host up to 13 international (and local) entrepreneurs with lodging and daily meals prepared by Takeuchi’s wife.
Our team arrived to Takeuchi’s house during the daily communal dinner time. We had finally arrived in the “Silicon Valley” many imagine when they close their eyes… Entrepreneurs, hackers, interns and the rest in unison stepped away from their computers and made their way to the table. After cracking a few jokes, everyone dug in… The passion everyone had in their companies and ideas was clearly evident. We felt their hope and inspiration and their effort was contagious.
Visiting Takeuchi’s hacker house is a motivating experience. It is a window into the world of a true entrepreneur. Often times the allure and glamor of entrepreneurship is often shaped by the fancy offices and perks employees are afforded. It is easy to overlook the true challenges that are faced in the infancy and early stages of a company.
On a short side note, we also were invited to join Takeuchi at a very cool co-working space called the “Troll House.” The Troll House was a fairly small workspace for about 40 people, however it had an extremely comfortable and relaxing vibe. The coolest part is the location… it is directly under the Bay Bridge, which provides the reason behind its unique name! (Trolls are known to live under bridges).
After our visits to the hacker house, the troll house, and meeting with last years Innovation Weekend San Francisco winners Open Ed and Nomiku (we even did an office visit at Nomiku HQ!), the Innovation Weekend team was fully immersed in San Francisco startup culture and ready to host this year’s Innovation Weekend San Francisco event.
Innovation Weekend in San Francisco is a bit different than the other city events we host because for the past few years it has been part of the JPOP Summit. The JPOP Summit is a Japanese cultural festival held every summer since 2009 in San Francisco, that introduces the latest in Japanese music, fashion, film, art, games and technology. This year, the JPOP Summit featured tons of startups, large tech companies and even a performance from Kyray Pamyu Pamyu. It was an extremely fun event to be a part of, and Innovation Weekend was integrated into the summit’s Interactive Summit to showcase how a bridge of innovation from the bay area to Tokyo can be created.
This year, 12 startups pitched in Innovation Weekend San Francisco. There were ten representing the bay area, and two were from Japan showcasing their technology at the JPOP Summit. Guiding the audience and the companies through the program as host was Lisa Fetterman, the winner of Innovation Weekend SF 2015 and CEO of Nomiku!
The winner of Innovation Weekend San Francisco 2016 was Jack Al-Kahwati of SkyLock. Skylock is a smart bike lock that connects to your smartphone to provide keyless entry, theft detection, crash alerts (and more). The runner up was Simon Rakosi of Butterfly. Butterfly is the first web platform that offers real time leadership training and supports managers based on their team’s feedback. Both Jack and Simon will be coming to Japan this December to participate in the Innovation Weekend Grand Finale event!
Overall, San Francisco is THE start up city. In closing, one caveat that is representative of the current soul of that city was an interaction we had with our Uber driver. On a trip outside of the city we started chatting about who we were and what we were doing. From there, we had a 40 minute conversation about startups, “hot” verticals getting funding, “hot” startups from other cities... It was a short trip, but one saturated with startups. We are for sure looking forward to the next Innovation Weekend San Francisco in 2017!