TL; DR: 3 Day Startup (3DS) is a nonprofit organization focused on activating entrepreneurial potential through experiential education and the support of a robust global network. The group’s hands-on programs, held at learning institutions, enterprises, and governmental organizations, facilitate diverse opportunities for growth. Now, with a focus on promoting entrepreneurship in underserved communities, 3DS aims to help emerging worldwide markets thrive.
There’s no doubt that entrepreneurship can benefit society by spurring economic growth, expanding frontiers of knowledge, and functioning as a vehicle for social change.
But while many students exemplify the entrepreneurial spirit with their passion, tenacity, open-mindedness, confidence, and creativity, few are taught how to get their own businesses up and running.
In 2008, a diverse group of MBA and computer science students at the University of Texas at Austin observed this phenomenon — and decided to do something about it.
“There was a lot of excitement around entrepreneurship on campus, and students had ideas for businesses, but they didn’t know how to put those ideas into action,” said Nick Chagin, Program Manager at 3 Day Startup (3DS). “So, they formed a student organization to explore the steps involved.”
The first 3DS program, focused on tech startups, drew in 40 participants, including a student from Germany who eventually helped expand the program internationally. By 2010, the student organization became officially incorporated as a nonprofit and began to focus on bringing the hands-on educational sessions to institutions and communities worldwide.
Today, 3DS has hosted more than 500 programs in 35 countries and on every continent except Antarctica. Rather than focus strictly on tech startups, the organization now helps students ideate, validate, and build ventures across a range of industries. And now, with a focus on promoting entrepreneurship in underserved communities, 3DS aims to help emerging markets across the globe find success.
Experiential Education and a Powerful Worldwide Network
In more than a decade since its inception, 3DS has remained nimble enough to weather the ever-evolving world of business — which, of course, is closely correlated with advancements in technology. “It’s wild to think how much has changed in technology over the past 10 years alone,” Nick said. “A decade ago, virtual and augmented reality weren’t commonplace. We barely had smartphones.”
That change has given 3DS insight on how students approach problem-solving — a crucial entrepreneurial skill. Ten years ago, the problems that entrepreneurs were looking to solve were much different.
“Today, we see a ton of startups involving websites and apps because that’s the way technology and innovation seem to be moving,” he said. “People want to create more consumer-facing applications and online resources that can help solve problems.”
The entrepreneurial approach also varies based on geographical location. “We’ve held the program at Ivy League schools, including Stanford, MIT, Dartmouth, and Harvard, but we’ve also brought it to small schools in Bangkok and Bogotá,” Nick said.
Because of its global presence, the nonprofit must adapt its curriculum and program to the varying cultural and educational needs of individual schools.
“We run the gamut in terms of the different schools we’ve worked with and different ecosystems we’ve worked in,” Nick said. “A lot of schools in different countries are quite different, but what’s cool is we’ve seen a lot of success from our alumni — there have been hundreds of companies launched.”
Hands-On Programs at Institutions Across the Globe
3DS initially set its sights on colleges and universities, but Nick said the nonprofit has since scaled. Today, the group works with high schools, universities, enterprises, and even government agencies. The 3DS Enterprise Program, for example, is intended to help established organizations benefit from the practices and mindsets of startups.
“Companies that have been around for hundreds of years typically aren’t thinking like entrepreneurs, which involves failing fast, testing quickly, and refining your prototype of primary products to satisfy customer needs,” Nick said. “And that’s why corporations find value in us.”
The 3DS Checkpoint Program, on the other hand, prepares intermediate-stage entrepreneurs — those who have assembled a startup team but often need to level up their capabilities to progress — for common challenges. Finally, the 3DS Exchange Program allows universities and governments across the world to bring aspiring entrepreneurs to Austin for hands-on training, networking, and company visits.
“The underlying theme with all of our programs is that the ability to approach risk and the opportunity to solve problems within organizations is not being properly utilized,” Nick said. “By that, I mean at the government level or within a corporation, you will rarely find a low-level program manager who has the opportunity to give advice as an intrapreneur.”
By exposing participants to the entrepreneurial mindset, 3DS hopes to show organizations that they have the power to solve old problems in a new way.
“The fact is, all of our customers don’t go out and create trade ventures,” Nick said. “But the ones that still think like entrepreneurs feel comfortable approaching problems and providing solutions.”
Fostering Social Skills and Providing Networking Opportunities
In addition to fostering problem-solving skills, 3DS helps participants tap into many of the traits that employers seek in job candidates. For example, Nick said social skills are becoming an increasingly important complement to technical skills in customer-facing jobs.
“The way entrepreneurs operate in terms of social skills far exceeds that of the average person applying for a job,” he said. “So that’s one indirect trait that we help build up in our students, making them more hireable.”
The program can also help increase confidence, sparking somewhat of an internal change, Nick said. “Some students will be very quiet and introverted when they come in — the energy won’t be quite there,” he said. “But by the end of the program, there’s a big change. They have the exuberance and confidence to share ideas and be vocal. And that translates to hireability.”
Another indirect benefit 3DS offers is the opportunity to network with a global alumni community. More than 15,000 students in 35 countries have completed 3DS programs. Collectively, 3DS alumni have raised approximately $180 million in funding and launched 135 startups.
“Having that connection to a global network is an excellent way to facilitate introductions to investors and mentors, as well as startups that are looking for a new hire,” Nick said. “There are a lot of ways that we can leverage our network to help support students and alumni.”
Engaging Industry Partners and Underserved Communities
Moving forward, 3DS will focus on forming industry partnerships to provide additional resources students and alumni can use to build and grow their startups. The nonprofit recently joined forces with SurveyMonkey to provide a student discount on the company’s Advantage Plan, which entrepreneurs can use for market research purposes.
3DS also formed a partnership with Gust Launch, a company that works to prepare innovative minds for growth through tools, advice, and compassion. Through the partnership, Gust Launch is offering up to 15% off memberships. And, to help entrepreneurs build and maintain an online presence, 3DS is offering discounts on website hosting through Strikingly.
Last year, 3DS partnered with the Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative (YLAI), to provide curriculum on entrepreneurship to budding leaders from Latin America and the Caribbean. The experience inspired 3DS to increase outreach to communities that are traditionally underserved in terms of entrepreneurship.
“We have LA and Austin — some of the most innovative cities in the world,” Nick said. “What we want to do is provide opportunities for entrepreneurship in places like the Congo, Tanzania, and Pakistan.”
To accomplish that goal, 3DS is creating a hybrid online and in-person program that can be presented at a low cost while still inspiring and educating future innovators. “Ultimately, our main goal as a nonprofit is to spread the entrepreneurial mindset across the globe,” Nick said.