Facebook reverses stance after blocking Microsoft and WhitePages from sponsoring Startup Weekend

Teams of developers, designers and entrepreneurs are heads-down at Facebook’s Seattle engineering outpost on this rainy Sunday for Startup Weekend — a 54-hour marathon that brings people together from across the industry to turn ideas into prototypes and potentially even new companies.

These events are organized around the world, spearheaded by the Seattle-based nonprofit Startup Weekend and supported by a variety of companies.

Unofficially, these types of events can also serve as a place for big companies to identify and connect with potential employees. And behind the scenes this time, a drama has been playing out that highlights the increasingly intense competition among major tech companies.

Two expected sponsors of Startup Weekend Seattle, WhitePages and Microsoft User Research, were told by Startup Weekend shortly before the event that they wouldn’t be allowed to participate as sponsors at Facebook’s offices because of unspecified competitive concerns from the social networking company.

monster

WhitePages-branded energy drinks for the Startup Weekend participants.

WhitePages CEO Alex Algard says his team was literally on its way to the venue with a truckload of WhitePages-branded Monster energy drinks for participants when it got the news. Of course, as Algard points out, Facebook can always hold its own private events, but he was surprised that the company would try to exclude other companies from sponsoring a community-oriented event such as Startup Weekend.

Facebook changed its stance overnight, after being contacted by GeekWire for comment. The company is telling WhitePages and Microsoft that the decision was a result of an internal miscommunication about the event, and wasn’t intentional.

“Microsoft and White Pages have been invited to come participate in the Startup Weekend event,” a Facebook spokesperson says via email.

Algard called Startup Weekend an important showcase of Seattle innovation, and said he had been encouraged by Facebook’s role as host, as an example of a company from California helping to support the regional tech scene.

The migration of companies from Silicon Valley to Seattle can be a positive thing, he noted, pointing to examples of the trend attracting even more talent to the region and prompting companies here to step up their game. However, he added, it’s important for Silicon Valley companies to be a part of the community and not attempt to exclude others.

[Update: Algard has posted about the issue on the WhitePages blog: Hey Silicon Valley: If You Like the Seattle Tech Community, then Join, Don’t Exploit]

Good news for those weary coders: WhitePages is headed to the Facebook offices now with those energy drinks. Final presentations from Startup Weekend Seattle will take place tonight, and GeekWire is planning to be there covering them.

  • Karsten

    That’s just nasty.

  • K3

    How gracious of Facebook to reverse its stance in the final hours of the event. I hope the Seattle tech community takes note and blacklists Facebook as an event host. There are plenty of other options and no sponsor in their right mind would sign on to a project knowing that Facebook can kick them out at the last minute. Let Facebook organize its own recruiting hackathons instead of leeching off the community.

  • guest

    So much for the MS/FB partnership.

  • Liberal Republic

    So much for saving FB’s ass when it was sued by yahoo. Is this the way they repay friends? It time Microsoft should stop helping facebook. FB is creating apps for rival platform but not for their friend’s platform. What is three agenda?

  • seatown dev

    My friend cancelled his participation when he found out he had to sign an NDA giving Facebook ownership of any ideas and inventions taking place at their offices during startup weekend. Several other people cancelled too for the same reason. This is the bigger story which should have been covered instead.

    • http://geekwire.com Todd Bishop

      Thanks for the comment. I’ve looked into this, and gotten a copy of the NDA that Startup Weekend participants signed. It actually doesn’t give Facebook any ownership of the IP developed at Startup Weekend. It’s a standard NDA for visitors that asks participants to acknowledge that they will not use any confidential Facebook information that they see or hear “for anything other than for the purpose of the visit,” and to “not share that confidential information with anyone else.”