Diversity & Inclusion

‘This is the largest deaf-inclusive Startup Weekend in the world’

D.C's Global Startup Weekend starts Nov. 10 at Gallaudet University. Here's how organizers are welcoming deaf entrepreneurs.

Last year's participants at the end of their 52 hour startup bootcamp Courtesy photo

Global Startup Weekend returns to D.C. on Nov. 10 to help attendees create a startup in 52 hours. This edition also includes a special focus on making sure deaf participants have a seat at the table.

Last year we covered how Global Startup Weekend became a bilingual affair with 22 percent of their participants being deaf after organizers worked with D.C. government and Gallaudet University to sponsor interpreters. Organizer Steven Rodriguez told us the team behind the event is bringing back the program this weekend.  They’re on track to include more deaf participants.

“We will have 27 [deaf] attendants, an increase from 15 last year,” Rodriguez said via email earlier this week. Last year, the group’s sponsors donated to fund then sign language interpreters, who helped deaf and hearing participants work together and develop startup ideas throughout the weekend. Rodriguez told us they have organized interpreters this year as well.

That means all attendees this weekend will get to practice pitching concepts, get mentored by local startup founders and then work in teams to develop their ideas and present to a panel of judges on Sunday. According to the event description, winning prizes include marketing coaching, free legal counseling, and free coworking access.

The event is part of a network of events happening this weekend across the globe – hence the name Global Startup Weekend. The network by Techstars, a Colorado-based company aiming to be part mentor, part incubator, and part VC for startups.


Rodriguez told us that D.C.’s event is one of 200 around the world this weekend, but it’s unique. “Speaking with Techstars HQ, this is the largest deaf-inclusive Startup Weekend in the world,” he said.

The event will take place at Gallaudet University starting Friday, Nov. 10, at 6:30 p.m. and lasting until Sunday at 9 p.m. Tickets are $25 each and include food for the weekend, a pitch meeting tomorrow night, and a membership to the Startup Weekend alumni network.

Rodriguez, who is a full stack marketer and is hearing, previously worked for the National Disability Rights Network and the U.S. International Council on Disabilities. Before partnering with Gallaudet University last year, Rodriguez also founded the Disability Startup Network.

He told us there is value for hearing participants to pair up and work with their fellow entrepreneurs who happen to be deaf.

“People who are deaf and hard of hearing have the same ambition and ability to be business owners, and can help view things from a different perspective, often unique to them,” said Rodriguez. “They have this perseverance to overcome barriers to communication and the stereotypes about what deaf people are capable of. We can learn a lot from each other and magnify our success working together.”

When asked what advice Rodriguez would offer to new deaf or hard of hearing participants he pointed to a growing deaf entrepreneurship community in the DMV region.

“For aspiring deaf entrepreneurs, there’s never been a better time to start a business,” he said. “What’s stopping you?

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