Startup Poker 2.0 is the flagship event of Startup Haven, a community-driven organization dedicated to connecting tech entrepreneurs with information, opportunities and each other. The format of Startup Poker 2.0 is a monthly poker tournament exclusively for technology startup founders, execs and investors. The event supports the startup community by bringing them together in a relaxed and fun atmosphere where the free flow of ideas, beer and trash talk are encouraged. Participants include founders and execs from more than 400 startup and early stage tech companies in Seattle and a rapidly growing number in Portland. Each event draws 50- 90 entrepreneur players as well as members of the early-stage investment community; the stakes are kept low in deference to the bootstrapping startups and in keeping with the relationship-building mission of Poker 2.0. You can request to be added to the invitee list by filling out the the Poker 2.0 application form.
Startup Poker 2.0 began in early 2007 as a friendly, low-stakes poker game among a few Seattle entrepreneurs and investors who wanted to learn how to play the game better. With the blessing of spouses, the game would move from house to house. As the invitee list grew, the event out-grew the home-based venues (and the patience of our spouses) and so the event moved to a semi-permanent home — a large conference room at my own startup’s offices. In the first year, we averaged 10 – 15 attendees each month in the humble conference room. The monthly events now regularly draw between 50 and 90 attendees and the venues move between iconic technology venues such as TechStars, Microsoft, TechDwellers and others.
From the beginning, it was clear that sitting around a poker table had a leveling effect on the participants — suddenly, the traditional barriers that existed between young, inexperienced, bootstrapping tech entrepreneurs, their successful serial entrepreneur counterparts, venture capitalists, investment bankers, private equity partners, etc. disappeared. Now they were just colleagues hanging out playing poker and trash talking. What also consistently happened was that important ideas were exchanged and valuable connections were made that could not have been made at virtually any other “networking” event. This was the revelation that lead to the vision of Startup Poker 2.0 as an “un-networking” event that could connect entrepreneurs with each other as well as the business and investment ecosystems that so many of them needed access to. It’s no secret that many tech entrepreneurs are not natural networkers, except perhaps in situations where they are among their engineering peers. The power of Startup Poker 2.0 is to create an esprit de corps that leads to meaningful relationships within the startup community — especially insofar as it can bridge a gap between entrepreneurs and the business and investment ecosystem they depend on.
The first official venture sponsor of a Startup Poker 2.0 event was Voyager Capital in the Fall of 2008. Subsequently, Silicon Valley Bank, Keiretsu Forum, Ramp Equity Partners, Washington Technology Industry Association (WTIA), Amazon Web Services and others all became sponsors. Additionally, Startup Poker 2.0 looks for ways to highlight the startups and sponsors that attend by allowing announcements and 60-second pitches or announcement are encouraged (and rewarded) throughout the event. We also look for ways to incorporate the products or services of startups into the Startup Poker 2.0 experience. As examples, local startup Tippr provided Tippr Bucks as prizes, i-booze.com delivered beer and wine for an event, mollyssalads.com has provided catering and the events are sometimes streamed live through ustream.com. We are looking forward to featuring many more innovative startups into the Startup Poker 2.0 experience.
As Startup Poker 2.0 has grown, so to has Startup Haven and it’s mission to support tech entrepreneurs through other events like Geeks on a Trail, Startup Boot Camps and sponsorship of other startup community events.