Startup Institute Fall 2013 ClassIt’s hard to distill eight life-changing weeks down to ten top moments, but here’s my best shot:

10. The first day Chris Gay had to dance. Let me explain: SIC holds a morning standup every single day at 9:30. Your standard AM huddle – everyone gathers around, reviews yesterday, previews today, shares announcements, shout outs etc. Lots of people arrive well before this time, but 9:30 is the hard start. And if you’re late – you dance. Literally. The standup is stopped, an incredibly cheesy dance song is chosen, and you move to the middle of the circle and perform a solo routine. Many were late prior to this particular day. None of them held a candle to Chris Gay’s dance moves. He danced several more times throughout the course of the program, but the shock and awe from day one will stay with me forever.

9. Idea Hack. We just got assigned our project teams, had known each other about five minutes, and were given a task to assist ChicagoNEXT with a problem. The catch? We had 24 hours to come up with it, build it and present it. If you want to get to know someone on another level, stick yourself in a room with them for hours on end with an intense deliverable and a hard deadline. We didn’t win the idea hack competition, but we definitely won out for best team.

8. Our first day at UrbanBound. I’ve already gushed about these guys, but I’ll never forget coming back with our lunch, going into the conference room to chat, and being joined by just about the entire staff. As many people as we could fit, we had inside the room. To say hi, to learn more about us, to tell us more about their jobs, why they work at UB.. as far as first impressions go, and making us feel part of the team, these guys knocked it out of the park.

7. Our last day at UrbanBound. We presented to both Co-Founders, the VP of Marketing, VP of Biz Dev, and VP of Product – and the feedback we got on our work was better than I ever could have hoped for. To have the co-founder of a business get so excited about your work that he’s already asking when it can be launched – I think I can speak on behalf of my team that we walked away from that pretty damn proud of ourselves.

6. Meeting with Rick Desai. I’m putting it out there right now, this guy is going to in someway be responsible for whatever job I land here in the next few weeks. He knows everyone, he goes out of his way to help and make connections, and he believes in what I’ve got to offer. If I could pick one moment that was most instrumental in propelling me forward while at SIC, it was having coffee with Rick.

5. GiveForward’s Ugly Sweater Bar Crawl. Because sometimes, you have to bar crawl with your best friends for charity.

4. Visiting 1871 for the first time. If you want a taste of what Chicago’s startup ecosystem is like, make a trip over there. An amazing space filled to the brim with hundreds of brilliant minds. It’s hard to leave there uninspired.

3. Meeting Brian Fitzpatrick (of Google fame). Startup Institute brought in a stellar lineup of speakers, but for me, none trumped talking with Fitz. This guy was one of the first Google Chicago employees in an office of well over 500 now. You name it, he’s worked on it or can speak to it. And not from a pedestal, either. Just a super down to earth, intelligent, well-spoken genius.

2. Pitch practice. Something funny happened that last week of SIC while we were writing, re-writing and practicing our pitches – I got feedback, but from places I totally wasn’t expecting. From Jimmy, a quiet developer who I think I (regrettably) shared but a few words with over the course of the eight weeks. Or Jasper, a witty product designer, another one I didn’t get to know super well, but told me he admired my ability to tell a really great story. It was so neat to hear from people who you felt didn’t know you well, what your strengths (and weaknesses) were. I wish I could’ve done more of it.

1. Pitch day. It doesn’t get better than this, folks. It doesn’t get better than sitting in front of a room of 200+ and watching your classmates impress the hell out of a crowd of hiring managers, co-founders, mentors, instructors and community members. If my heart could have burst from pride that day, it would have.