Serial entrepreneur and consultant Daniel Johnsen is ubiquitous in Louisville’s startup scene. You can find him at every Venture Connectors event, Open Coffee and after-work happy hour. He has no office (heck, he barely has a home — he rents a single room); he works out of coffee shops (although he doesn’t drink coffee), LVL1 or FirstBuild.
Frankly, if you’re a millennial with a startup, you know Johnsen. If you’re not a millennial but have a startup, you probably know him, too.
And now a few more corners of the world know Johnsen. Three years ago, Johnsen joined the local Startup Weekend organizing team and caught the bug. Startup Weekend is a weekend-long event where entrepreneur hopefuls pitch a company, form teams, learn how to create a company, meet with mentors, and eventually compete with other startup founders in a five-minute pitch competition.
TechStars — a Boulder, Colo.-based mentorship-driven accelerator — owns Startup Weekend. Johnsen went on to train to be an event facilitator; Startup Weekend organizers are encouraged to pay for facilitators to come from out of town to facilitate the event.
Johnsen realized he could parlay his facilitator gig into free travel — Startup Weekends cover facilitators’ travel expenses — so over the past year or so, he’s facilitated around 15 events all across the United States and participated in at least 15 more.
But earlier this summer, he took it global. He was scheduled to facilitate an event in Hamburg, Germany, and another in Trinidad a few weeks later, when he received an emergency call from organizers in Dublin who were desperate for a last-minute facilitator. The gig resulted in Johnsen being away from home for 22 days with four days’ worth of clothing — facilitating three events in three weeks on two separate continents.
And Johnsen had never even been abroad before.
Johnsen hails from Somerset, Ky. He got a bachelor’s in business administration and an MBA from the University of Louisville. When I first met Johnsen, he was working for the Learning House and was short-haired and corporate sartorially. He eventually quit his job at the Learning House to join the Velocity accelerator program with his company Shakespot, a kiosk that makes and dispenses protein shakes at gyms.
The change in Johnsen was pretty immediate. Out with the ties and the dress shoes. In with the flip-flops and man buns. Although Shakespot is now on hiatus, Johnsen is making his living as a consultant, and he doesn’t think he could ever go back.
He’s charming and charismatic and will make fun of me for calling him that. But it makes him a great facilitator and an asset to Startup Weekend.
Startup Weekend Hamburg
Hamburg was the first stop on his recent global trek, and Johnsen said it was the best Startup Weekend he’s attended. The city has only one a year, and he described the attendees as “young, energized and courteous.”
The entire weekend is conducted in English — including the five-minute pitches. “English is the language of business in Europe,” Johnsen said. Teams that chose to talk amongst themselves in German (or French or Flemish — there were attendees from all over) always switched back to English without asking as soon as Daniel approached.
The weekend was held in a popular co-working/incubator space called Beta Haus, which has 400 members.
At the event there were 105 people, 54 pitches, 14 teams, 19 mentors and four judges.
Startup Weekend Dublin
The Dublin event was in Google’s European HQ, an extraordinarily funky place. “There’s no reason to ever leave the building,” Johnsen said. A full tour of the HQ revealed a pool, gym, cafes and more.
Dublin hosts more than one Startup Weekend a year, but this one still attracted around 90 people. The winner of the event was billed as “Ikea for your garden,” a modular vegetable garden company.
Johnsen noted that the Bank of Ireland is a good corporate citizen when it comes to startups. It sponsors co-working spaces around the city. Also, he was impressed that Dublin has a dedicated Commissioner for Startups, a new role suggested by both the Dublin City Council and the Dublin Chamber of Commerce.
Startup Weekend Trinidad
In a feat of cultural whiplash, Johnsen was next scheduled to facilitate a Startup Weekend in Trinidad, the largest island in the nation of Trinidad and Tobago. The event was held at a local university where they host two or three Startup Weekends a year.
Johnsen said there were more women at the Trinidad event than there were at the events in Europe, and the attendees were highly educated. In Trinidad, tertiary education — or college — is paid for by the government if students attend an approved school. Further degrees are paid for by 50 percent.
Around 60 people attended the Trinidad event, half of them attending for the first time ever. Many had transportation issues and they had to spend time the first night of the event working out carpools for attendees.
Johnsen has the travel bug now. He’d also like to bring in an international facilitator to the next Startup Weekend Louisville, which should be sometime in the fall.
The experience of facilitating abroad made the world seem smaller to Johnsen — and that’s a good thing when it comes to being in the entrepreneurial community. It means you’ve got broader and deeper connections for your community.
“Now we have connections throughout Europe and Trinidad,” Johnsen said. “Big melting pot.”
His biggest takeaway is that the three communities he visited and Louisville all are trying to do the same things with their entrepreneurship communities — deepen them, broaden them, foster them. But every city has different approaches, and there will be no universal nut to crack that will solve everyone’s problems.
Surprisingly, Johnsen saw no notable trends in the kinds of companies pitched in Trinidad, the European cities or here.