It was like finding $1,000 on the sidewalk, except instead we found out we had free conference passes to Techweek. For a bootstrapped start-up like us, volunteering would’ve been the only other way in to the biggest nerd-apalooza in the Midwest. 

Our startup, Couture Circle, a new social shopping platform where women buy, sell and share fashion, was chosen to compete at TechWeek Launch along with other 35 other teams for a $100,000 prize. We found out a couple weeks prior to the conference. As an unexpected bonus, we also received free passes to the TechWeek Conference + Expo. The cherry on top of it all was we were also selected to showcase Couture Circle at the TechCocktail Startup Mixer during the conference.

It’s not every weekend that you win a golden ticket to gain exposure for your startup. It’s especially sweet for an early stage startup trying to get its name out there. Right away we knew we had to lay out a game plan for the five day conference to maximize our time and efforts. We listed out all the events and attendees we wanted to try to catch throughout the weekend and laid out goals for each day. At the end of the five day whirlwind of events and festivities we were tired and exhausted, but we knew we had taken full advantage of the TechWeek Conference + Expo for our startup.

For other young startups in a similar situation, here are some of the tips we found useful for getting the most out the conference weekend:

Be Ready To Pitch At the Drop of a Hat
You’ll meet tons of people throughout the conference, and they’ll all want to know one thing: What do you do? You’ll need to have your one-liner pitch ready to fire at all times. “My name is X, my startup is Y, and we do Z”. If time permits you can then transition into a larger explanation of your startup, but at a conference like TechWeek with large crowds you have to have a killer one-liner to hook people’s attention. The conference will be full of entrepreneurs just like you, so how do you make your startup stand out in the crowd?

We had our one-liner and follow-up openers so well honed that by the time we presented Couture Circle at the TechCocktail Mixer and TechWeek Launch we were able to rapidly engage the crowd of people at our booth and easily anticipate the questions of the expo attendees.

Be Ready To Connect
Take full advantage of the networking opportunities at the conference. The TechWeek conference had parties every night which were great chances to meet and connect with the other attendees. Have your one-liner pitch ready and be ready to hear everyone else’s one-liners. It’s like the first week of summer camp, everyone is eager to meet everyone else and make introductions. Have a big stack of business cards ready to hand out at these events, you’ll find yourself quickly burning through them as you meet countless of passionate entrepreneurs.

At the TechWeek parties we were introduced to several new fashion start-ups in the city that we hadn’t even heard about yet. We were also constantly letting everyone know to come to our booths for the TechCocktail Mixer and TechWeek Launch events to learn more about our startup.

Be Ready To Learn And Take Inspiration
The speakers are often the best part of conferences, and the TechWeek Conference didn’t disappoint in this regard. From Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s opening remarks to Howard Tullman’s riveting talks on the future of the internet, we left the conference full of new knowledge and renewed passion. You’ll also find the chance to speak with the speakers after the panels, which can be invaluable opportunities to connect with leading experts in your field. Have your one-liner ready and immediately follow-up with your question or request. For us the goal was to try to set up a meeting after the conference was over. We managed to speak to every panelist on our list during the five days of the conference. Also, take time to meet the other attendees at the speaker sessions; these are other entrepreneurs or enthusiasts in the community that share the same interest and passion on the speaker topic.

Overall TechWeek was an exhausting but rewarding experience. Much like all things entrepreneurial, getting the most out of the experience comes down to good old fashioned hustle. You’re representing your startup at the conference and you have to be out there getting your brand in front of everyone’s eyes. Even if you’re wiped, hungry and plain out of small-talk, you have to take advantage of every opportunity to be a constant salesperson for your startup. And who knows? Maybe by the same time next year, you’ll be one of the speakers on the panels presenting your success story for everyone else to hear.

Best Speaker: Howard Tullman on the future of technology and social media. Inspiring and truly visionary insights from the CEO of the Tribeca Flashpoint Academy

Best Quote: Ryan Holmes, CEO of HootSuite, on the best startup tip for entrepreneurs: “Hustle, hustle, hustle”.

Best Party: GoHealth after-party in the lobby of the Merchandise Mart. Champagne bottles and pizza: What more can you ask for?