Startup Weekend aims to spark entrepreneurship across Micronesia

COHORT: Organizers and judges of the previous Startup Weekend Guam, held last November at the University of Guam, congratulate the top three winners. From left, Jane Ray, mentor at the event and business adviser at the Small Business Development Center; Jenelyn Abinales, organizer; Matthew Simpson, judge and owner of Green Banana Paper; Michael Duenas, judge and chief information officer for Coast360 Federal Credit Union; Emilee Beachy, organizer; Hayato Yamaura, first-place winner; Kathy DeWitt, second-place winner; Phuong Bosque, participant; Krestal Johnson, third-place winner; and Nadine Noket, organizer. Photo courtesy of the University of Guam

Have you always wanted to start your own business? Don’t know where to start? Never written a business plan? Worried about how much it will cost or worse – failure?

Startup Weekend is headed to an island near you.

What started out as an assignment for 10 members of the University of Guam Professional Master of Business Administration Program has evolved into what organizers have planned to be a three-day event across Micronesia for aspiring entrepreneurs, students, and business leaders.

Startup Weekends are held around the world aimed at facilitating innovation and entrepreneurship. The event was first held on Guam in 2014 and expanded to Saipan in 2016.

“We decided to negotiate our way into planning this big event to make a bigger impact and leave our mark in Micronesia and not just Guam and CNMI,” said Skye Llagas, a graduate student of the university’s 15th cohort of the PMBA program.

From Nov. 7-9, Startup Weekend events will be held on Guam and Saipan and, for the first time, in Palau, Chuuk, Kosrae, Yap and Pohnpei. Participants will pitch their best business ideas, form teams, build a business plan and turn their ideas into small-business startups, according o the University of Guam.

“We want to stimulate the entrepreneurial spirit across the islands and encourage them to think out of the box,” said Llagas. “The idea is to introduce them to start thinking about what they’re already doing and how it can impact the bigger world.”

The graduate students are hoping in the outer islands, they can build on existing businesses and help them think bigger and how they can impact their communities and other islands in the region.

In Kosrae, the community is taking banana leaves and turning them into passport covers, wallets and other goods that are sold online.

“Just because we’re a small region doesn’t mean we can’t do big things,” stated Llagas.

The group is partnered with the Pacific Islands Small Business Development Center that has offices in many of the Micronesian islands that will be able to provide counseling and other resources to help entrepreneurs and communities build off the ideas that are generated from Startup Weekend and bring their ideas to market.

The UOG Entrepreneurship Society will lead the event on Guam while members of the cohort will deploy to the various islands to teach the basics of starting a business.

“We’re targeting entrepreneurs, designers, developers, IT, students at UOG, mentors in (various industries) that can offer advice for what the future can look like,” Llagas added. “We are encouraging people from all walks of life who don’t have a platform to share their ideas or thoughts to come out to Startup Weekend.”

The group is currently looking for sponsors to help assist with the costs associated with putting on the event on seven islands.

“The goal is to keep the momentum of startups and entrepreneurship. We’re hoping that it carries forward for the next three to five years and we can establish the Micronesia Startup Weekend ecosystem,” said Llagas. “We’re from small islands but we can do the same things that everyone else is doing out in the world.”

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