Startup Weekend Barcelona: Building Social Impact Projects in 54 Hours

The social impact community in Barcelona has been injected with a powerful shot of ideas, motivation and passion. This July, Techstars, the worldwide network that helps entrepreneurs succeed organized a Startup Weekend dedicated entirely to social impact in Barcelona. For the ninth time in Europe and for the first time in Barcelona, participants had the chance to present projects that seek to tackle our generation’s most pressing problems and receive feedback from mentors in the social impact community. They had 54 hours to develop the idea as well as devise a feasible business model. To find out more, we spoke to one of the organizers, Jan Carbonell, who shared with us his thoughts on social entrepreneurship, their goals with organizing a social impact Startup Weekend and the amazing projects that came out of it.

When Jan swung by the Barcelona Startup News office, we talked about everything from energy sovereignty to the gentrification of Barcelona (and what should be done about the latter, if anything) – but the main focus of our conversation was social entrepreneurship. Some people believe that entrepreneurship should always have a social element to it. Jan agrees with that conviction in the sense that “All companies should be aware of the effect that they’re having on everyone in their ecosystem, instead of just focusing on profits and the interests of stakeholders.”

On the other hand, the startups that call themselves “social” tend to do it all wrong. “The mistake that many social startups make is that they’re trying to be too ‘social’. They don’t realize that they have to play by the same rules as other companies. They can’t get away with not making money: they do have to make some sort of profit and then turn that into impact.”

Social Impact Startup Weekend was an attempt to connect the social impact community in Barcelona, and forge teams that could come up with truly innovative ideas. “I like projects that are incremental and disruptive. The problem with Barcelona startups is that they’re not innovative enough. We have very few companies that aren’t copies of something that already exists. Plus, there’s very little support available for early stage projects. What we tried to do with Startup Weekend was to connect the the social impact community with important players of the ecosystem, like Alpha.”

Here’s how it all went down.

You participated in the organization of Startup Weekend Barcelona in July, which focused specifically on social impact. What did you think about the level and commitment of participants?

It went beyond any of our expectations. The participants not only crafted very well-defined ideas, but also gave 100% every time we challenged them. For example, one part of the Startup Weekend is validating your value proposition and idea with real customers. Every single team went outside the building and split into groups. One particular team was able to gather more than 70 interviews in less than 2 hours, and another team (Kuki) even implemented an MVP of their idea in the subway.


What were the main themes?

Initially we focused on SDGs, particularly 8 of them that we considered more actionable during the weekend: Climate Action; Clean Water; Energy; Education, ICT and Accessibility; Food and Nutrition; Sustainable Cities and Communities; Responsible Consumption; and Health and Wellbeing.


Which new projects were your personal favorites – and did these coincide with the ones that the judges liked the most?

Personal favorites: Kuki had an extremely cool idea that requires only the approval of TMB to get started, and they are already in the process to conduct a trial. It was insightful to see scientists come up with for a hackathon (not the usual weekend pitch). Brush Buddy had an outstanding product. RestartBCN tackles a very relevant problem – homelessness – with a solution that goes beyond the just “build a house” approach. And Twaste managed to code a whole app during the weekend.

Jury Winners

  • First Place: Twaste
  • Second Place: RestartBCN
  • Third Place: Cirlce
  • Honorable Mention: Brush Buddy
  • Additional Payment Innovation Hub Price: Tickend and Kuki
  • Additional LeWagon Prize: 500€ to every attendee of the SW Barcelona

The additional prizes were initially not planned, but the jury and the sponsors were so impressed with the quality of the teams that they decided to reward them.


What was the atmosphere of the event like? What emotions did you personally go through?

Very intense, but loved every second of it. This is best summed up in the video!



In what way do you think the teams will be able to contribute to the social startup movement in Barcelona?

10% of the teams go ahead and build an actual startup, and since there where 11 of them, we have high hopes that at least one moves on. Kuki has been asked by TMB to conduct an MVP in a station and both RestartBCN and BrushBuddy are set on track to accomplish great things. Besides that, the idea was to connect the people with ideas with the social impact ecosystem agents of Barcelona through the jury, mentorships and sponsorships and we did deliver on that part. Looking forward to see what new collaborations come out of this.


Is there anything that you’d change or do differently if you were to organize the same event again?

Like with every event, we would have loved to have more time to prepare. Looking back, having that sense of improvization on the spot was also really beneficial to our event because we were not afraid to deviate from the schedule and switch something that could improve the outcome for the participants. It did put us under several stressful situations so if I had to do it again, it would be great to do exactly the same but hire some yoga instructors and get a meditation app for the team during the planning and execution of the event.


Are you going to be involved the next Startup Weekend?

Hopefully, yes. The Techstars community is very keen on giving back. As a SW Facilitator, my role is to come and help the organization teams during the intense 54 hours and make sure that everyone has an outstanding experience. I loved everything about that weekend (minus the lack of sleep) and I’m eager to come help out anywhere in the world in which my skills can help early stage entrepreneurs craft their next startup.