All About the Business of Startups

The International Startup Festival puts a new spin on entrepreneurship each year with content ranging from back-of-the-napkin ideas to champagne-popping exits. Keynotes, interactive how-to-sessions, powerful lessons from battle-scarred founders, and the list goes on. There’s nothing quite like Startupfest!


2015 Theme Announced!

Read the Manifesto

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Next Floor... The Eiffel Tower

Startupfest announces it's 1st European stop on the Elevator World Tour - Paris, in the world's most iconic and treasured monument, the Eiffel Tower. Next January 21st, one hundred of the most promising startups will be pitching a panel of investors and experts, hoping to secure fame and funding. But this isn’t your ordinary startup contest, because each entrepreneur has only the time it takes to ride the elevator at the Eiffel Tower to convince judges they’re the best. The Elevator World Tour in Paris is being organized by 50 Partners and the International Startup Festival, and is hosted by the Société d’Exploitation de la Tour Eiffel. “We’re thrilled that the first European stop on the Elevator World Tour is in one of the most exciting cities in the world, in the most iconic building in the world,” said Philippe Telio, the event’s founder. Jerome Masurel, co-founder and CEO of 50 Partners adds, “Holding the event at the Eiffel Tower is a reminder that some of the most ambitious projects were built by engineers and entrepreneurs, and that the world’s greatest companies start with a great vision and unstoppable founders.” The contest is part of a worldwide startup contest known as the Elevator World Tour that runs literal elevator pitches in some of the world’s most iconic buildings. Other stops on the tour have included Toronto’s CN tower and the Azrieli Tower in Tel Aviv, with upcoming events being planned in New York, Rio de Janeiro, Barcelona, Berlin, and Santiago. Up to 100 aspiring startups will compete for investment prizes of up to $100,000 from a team of angel and seed investors, including FounderFuel that is offering an investment and spot in their program to at least one Startup from the Paris event. Startups can apply to pitch before December 25th at


Startupfest 2015 Manifesto

Startupfest 2015 Manifesto: 5th edition focuses on masters of industry and the models they make and breakPablo Picasso was a great artist. You might not know it, looking at a contorted portrait, features distorted, unrecognizable as a face. But Picasso knew what all great artists know: Once you’ve mastered something, it’s how you break the rules that make you truly unique. There’s a name for things that consume your life and fill your thoughts, but have no business model: hobbies. In other words, business models matter. There’s plenty of thinking about how businesses should grow and run, from venerated giants like Michael Porter and Clay Christensen. But the reality is, most traditional business thinking has one fundamental flaw. It assumes tomorrow is like yesterday, only more so.Tomorrow, as the pace of change in the modern world definitively proves, is anything but like yesterday. Less than a decade ago, smartphones were science fiction; today, they’re so commonplace we’ve forgotten how to live untethered from the grid. In the past fifty years, the lifespan of a company on the Fortune 500 has tumbled from 75 years in 1950 to just 15 years in 2010. Models are foundations on which business is built: financial models, marketing models, data models, go-to-market models. Models let us scale, guiding everyday behavior, leaning on the hard-won lessons of the past. That means smart entrepreneurs need to know the models and understand the fundamentals.YCombinator’s Paul Graham once said, “if you can just avoid dying, you get rich,” by which he meant that the vast majority of new companies take themselves out through their own mistakes. But to find greatness, it’s not enough to just avoid failure. If you’re trying to disrupt an industry, then by definition, you have to break at least one model wide open. Just like Picasso, mastering the art form makes you competent—but defying it makes you awesome. There’s good reasoning behind this. Peter Thiel says a monopoly is the fundamental condition of every successful business. “In the real world outside economic theory,” he says, “every business is successful exactly to the extent that it does something others cannot.” Traditional competition—the kind economists like to praise as the lofty idea of the free market—won’t get you very far. Airlines are in perfect competiton; Google has a virtual monopoly. And Google makes more money than all the airlines combined. Startups need to master business, funding, and growth models—and then figure out how to rethink them. That’s why the theme for Startupfest 2015 is Models and Masters. We’re going to unbox some of the world’s greatest business models, looking deep within them to understand how they upended entire industries. And we’ll hear from those who’ve mastered entrepreneurship enough to know when to follow the rules—and when to change the game entirely.


Winning a Presidential Election: A talk with Harper Reed

The fate of a democratic nation hinges on the votes of its people. When it comes to the United States, it can be argued that the outcome of a presidential election will drastically affect the world, not just the country. The 2012 Presidential election marked a shift in how technology helps to drive and influence elections, and a major part of that shift was Harper Reed, Obama’s Chief Technology Officer for the campaign. The 2012 campaign was one of the first presidential elections to be run according to startup principles: It was intensely data-driven, and focused on shipping software products that could make a difference as quickly and as efficiently as possible. They didn't assume success, like all good startups; their products were placed through several stress tests to make sure that when it came time for them to execute perfectly, they would. This made a huge difference when Obama's tools to get his voters to the polls sailed smoothly on Election Day, while Romney's did not. The team was made up of technologists who had done it all before; for Google, Facebook, Twitter, and other Silicon Valley giants. Harper assembled a team from these brands, looked at what they did to engage people, and emulated them for the purposes of a political campaign. The team was nothing like a traditional campaign team---and as a result there was nothing traditional about the ways they tackled campaign challenges. Rather than focusing on converting people to a party’s cause, American politics often focuses on getting as many voters to the polls as possible. Harper’s team focused on collecting as much data as they could on Democrat voters. They customized digital messages for them, so the potential voter would click, and become a part of the campaign. Harper's team built mobile apps so that volunteers, on canvassing trips, could feed information about prospective voters they met, back to a centralized database that everybody on the campaign could access. They worked on targeted, timed, personalized messages to entice donors to donate more and did their best to screen Republican voters out of the process, so that no effort or time would be wasted. The Obama campaign maintained its lean focus on mobilizing likely Democrat supporters to vote, volunteer, and donate. This team was on the forefront of digital engagement. They took lessons from startups and applied them to a different problem set, demonstrating that the collection of data, and how it is used can help change the tide of business---and politics. Harper ends the interview on a cautionary note. It was really the field teams that won the elections, and even he believes that the narrative of technology conquering politics has been overblown. Technology does not redefine processes: it makes the job easier for volunteers, and it definitely helps automate what were once burdensome, but it does not win an election by itself. It’s a good insight to have for the startups rushing to change the world---beyond it all, even with new technologies perceived to be world changing---it really is people who build the change they want to see. Roger Huang Roger is an entrepreneur who is writing a book on the future of various fields, based on the perspectives of technologists pushing the forward forward. Catch his writings at, and his musings on Twitter. If you're interested in learning about entrepreneurship and code, join his mailing list.