Impressions from #SIBWeek1

(Regina O’Toole is an entrepreneur & media project manager. Co-Founder of, triathlete, & devoted potlucker with Virginia heart, Boston soul.) Most eager learners live for opportunities to discover and share with others. I know I do and always have. I got lucky because the Startup Institute is the ultimate experience in learning and I am now one of 60 knowledge-hungry students taking part in this intensive, six-week program geared to equip students with the skills and abilities necessary to succeed in a startup atmosphere.

The welcome address drove home one clear message: We are accountable for exploring what we want to learn over the course of the program. We need to challenge ourselves and be fearless about making mistakes. We need to try, err, and learn over and over.

The days are long. Mornings, we hustle to 9 a.m. discussion groups in which instructors, most from Boston’s startup companies, coach us on topics ranging from body language, networking, and startup culture to product and design, web development, and working with VCs. With the day well underway, the skill building is rapid-fire. The lectures are potent. The workshops are aggressive. The exchange of ideas is fast and furious. My peers’ emails, tweets, and Facebook posts exhibit a level of energy one rarely sees in the workplace. It’s an intense level of activity and it’s amazing to be a part of it.

The lunch break is a time to keep learning, about each other and ourselves. I’ve noticed my own tired habit of eating a quick meal to return to work is useless. I need to know my peers here and share more of myself to get the most of this opportunity.

Afternoon lectures last until 7pm. But the learning doesn’t end there. Layered on top of this schedule are our own internal dialogues and the work that comes with it: What do I want to be? What do I want to do? Richard Banfield, CEO at Fresh Tilled Soil, told us “the things [you’re] going to be working on haven’t been invented yet.” It’s an exciting concept to consider and a daunting challenge to undertake!

Evenings, I take the red line train to get home by 7:45 p.m. I have a few hours in the evening to eat, review my notes, study, and then sleep, before getting up at 5:30 a.m. to start another day.

I wish everybody could experience how unique and rich this program is. There are no boring days. The schedule is packed and the skills and knowledge we’re gaining are invaluable. We’re learning to practice, to be flexible, to switch gears from one challenge to the next, and to be confident in our ability to learn.  It occurred to me this week that the education process set up by the Startup Institute parallels the startup environment, one in which you have to keep practicing your skills and testing your ideas to learn what works and what doesn’t.

Admittedly, the Startup Institute is demanding, but that is the process of learning. It’s intense and what unfolds over the next 5 weeks is going to knock our socks off, I’m certain.