Emcee Startup Weekend Access? You Don’t Have to Ask Me Twice. I’m in.


Written by Jeff Martens

Jeff is Co-founder and CEO of the Portland, Or startup CPUsage. He is also a veteran Startup Weekend organizer and facilitator who’s returning to the Startup Weekend fold this February 7-9 to emcee Startup Weekend Access in Portland, OR

In March of 2010, my life changed. On the first Friday of the month, I walked into a non-descript building in Portland, sat down with a small group of total strangers, and let fate take over. I was there for a startup weekend and I’d go home on Sunday night with the crazy but achievable pledge to work for myself. Nearly 4 years later, I’ve held on to that dream and I continue to run the company that was born out of that Portland Startup Weekend.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that Startup Weekend changed my life. I don’t want to be just a taker in life so I quickly made the decision to give back and volunteer. I began organizing Startup Weekend in Portland and soon moved into the role of Facilitator. As a Facilitator, I traveled to Startup Weekend events around the Northwest to serve as emcee, brand advocate, problem solver, encourager-in-chief, and all around champion of the Startup Weekend mission.

At the same time I was running my own startup and frankly, it was hard to give both my all. So I made the tough choice to step back from my Startup Weekend responsibilities with about one dozen events under my belt.

On Friday, February 7th, 2014 I’m coming out of retirement and facilitating SW Access in my hometown of Portland. I’ve been asked to help at many events since stepping back, and I’ve always said no. I couldn’t say no to this one. Something special is happening here.

We like to say that Startup Weekend is open to anyone, but really it should be open to everyone. There is a subtle difference in the vocabulary but the affect on a group of people is huge. At this event, the organizing team has made it a landmark issue of theirs to ensure that those with disabilities have the same opportunity to learn and be inspired as everyone else. They’ve thought about accessibility when selecting a venue, when setting the A/V system, when printing fliers, and at every other step of the process. They’ve left no stone unturned to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to have their life changed, just like it happened for me.

What may be even more exciting is the other “why” behind this initiative. SW Access isn’t about doing a special, one time event. Instead, the goal is to show that a few small tweaks to any Startup Weekend event can open the door to more people. What we learn at this event will be incorporated into events around the world, with the potential to impact hundreds of thousands of individuals well into the future.

Finally, I’m excited to see what this more inclusive group of attendees will build. We always see exciting, innovative, and unique products at Startup Weekend. With a more diverse group of attendees, some with specific disabilities that technology can impact, I am sure we’ll see even more. There is nothing like the combination of a problem or need, with the tools needed to address the opportunity.

So on Friday night, when I step in front of the audience at SW Access to kick off the event, I’ll be doing so knowing that we have the potential to make a bigger difference than all of the other events I’ve participated in, combined. I’ll stand up there and be incredibly proud of the organizers, their passion, and their initiative. I’ll be thankful for the opportunity to be part of something awesome, and thankful that Startup Weekend continues to change my life and the lives of others.

I hope to see you on Friday and I can’t wait to hear your story.