Start Them Up!
by Thomas MacMillan | Nov 12, 2012 1:33 pm
Posted to: Business/ Economic Development
In a storefront on Orange Street, 60 people worked all weekend to forge the future: a place where you can explore ancient Egypt by strolling on the Green, jam with a drummer in California while playing guitar in New Haven, or win 10 bucks off him by atomizing him with a plasma blaster.
Those were some of the possibilities presented in the pitches for nine new tech companies to emerge from New Haven’s second annual Startup Weekend competiton.
For 54 hours, teams of software developers, designers, marketers, and project managers labored through the weekend to bring nine new entrepreneurial ideas from sketchy notions to full-fledged, ready-to-launch business ventures.
The weekend culminated Sunday evening with an event in an auditorium at Gateway Community College downtown, where the new companies pitched their plans to a panel of four judges. First, second, and third place winners were crowned, earning a variety of prizes to help them to get their budding companies to the next stage, like free office space and legal and accounting help.
Startup Weekend is a national organization that runs events around the world, gathering entrepreneurs together for concentrated weekend sessions of business development. This weekend’s event was the second in New Haven.
It began on Friday night at the Grove co-working space on Orange Street, which was recently selected as the home of one of Connecticut’s four new startup hubs in a new “innovation ecosystem.”
Sixty people showed up to take part in the weekend. The first order of business was making teams. Anyone with an idea could make a pitch, to try to get others excited about his or her idea and willing to spend the weekend working to flesh it out.
“It’s like a singles meeting,” said Zach Morek on Sunday night. Pitchers are all looking for people right skills to help them realize their vision. Sometimes the chemistry doesn’t work. Sometimes people hit it off. Some ideas fail to get traction. Eventually the group of participants reaches some kind of “equilibrium” and the weekend’s teams are formed, Morek said.
He was standing in the Grove’s kitchen area wearing a hoodie and Nikes and a name tag with a pink bar identifying him as a developer and showing that he specializes in Ruby programming. Nearby, participants were helping themselves to a catered meal of salmon and vegetables, one of seven purchased with their $89 fee for the weekend.
Morek, a recent UConn grad, has been to five Startup Weekend events in the last year.
“He’s a junkie,” murmured the Grove’s Slate Ballard.
“It’s kind of an infectious energy,” Morek said. “People are trying to build something from nothing.”
Once the teams are set, they begin to work, spending long hours developing their concept, creating prototypes, learning about the competition, researching their potential customer base, coding websites, making apps, honing their business plan.
All that energy and invention culminate on Sunday evening, when teams share their efforts in the form of a final pitch to judges, trying to make the case that they have the next million-dollar idea.
Follow The Bouncing Check
On Sunday at 5 p.m., teams were tucked into various corners of the Grove, practicing their pitches and making final tweaks to their PowerPoint “decks.”
Nick Hakim (pictured), the youngest Startup Weekend participant at 19 years old, was in a suit, doing his final run through with his team, all fellow Quinnipiac students. His company is called Musician’s Vault. He’s looking to develop a mobile app that would allow musicians to collaborate on songwriting. A guitarist might upload a the outlines of a new song online; then drummers or bass players from around the world could record other tracks to go with i. The guitarist could start a virtual band with members living hundreds of miles apart.
“Yes! Perfect, perfect, perfect!” Marina Batt (at right in photo) exclaimed after her two teammates finished their practice pitch for Snag It Deals, a service that texts you when it finds deals on nearby products and services.
In another room, Kevin Ewing was quietly muttering to himself as he stared into space. He seemed either lost in prayer or practicing his pitch.
“Some of both,” Ewing (pictured) said. He spent the weekend developing an idea he’s been working on for over a year. The company is called Financial Instrument Security Technology Services (FISTS), It offers a way to make sure, at the point of sale, that checks aren’t fraudulent.
The technology is based on the experience of Michael Abernathy, a 57-year-old cop in St. Louis, where Ewing was once a cop, too. Abernathy has developed an expertise in spotting bad checks and has been selling his services for some time. FISTS is an effort to expand and automate that business.
Abernathy flew out for Startup Weekend in New Haven and was bubbling over with enthusiasm about the event. “We’ve done more in this weekend than I’ve tried to do in four years in St. Louis,” Abernathy said. “I think it’s the best thing I’ve ever seen.”
Snag It Snags It
As 6 p.m. approached, teams walked over to Gateway Community College and filtered into an auditorium. John Fitzpatrick, last year’s Startup Weekend winner, arrived to hear from this year’s contenders. His company Applivate, was launched at Startup Weekend and is now testing its mobile app, ShugaTrak, which helps parents keep track of their kids’ diabetes.
“It wouldn’t have happened without Startup Weekend,” he said. “All I had was an idea before Startup Weekend. I came out of it with a company.”
Over the next two hours, the weekends nine teams vied to be the next to follow Applivate’s example. Each group had five minutes to make their case with a multimedia presentation. The panel of four judges then had a few minutes to ask follow-up questions.
Among the contenders:
HistReality seeks to make history come alive with augmented reality. Aasta Frascati-Robinson showed how HistReality could transform the Green into ancient Egypt, when explored using a mobile phone to cast an overlay of historical images and information over one’s surroundings.
A Good First Step, the project Morek worked on, is a website designed to help people find legal advice for common transactions, while helping lawyers find clients at the same time.
GroupLink built a mobile app from scratch over the weekend that allows users to easily share contact information at conferences and other networking events.
The team behind Good Game Network Platform spent the weekend working on a way for people to bet money or “points” on the out come of head-to-head online video games through consoles like XBox. It’s legal, said Eliyah Shin, the team leader and a student at Yale’s management school.
At 8 p.m., after a short deliberation period, the winners were announced. Musicians Vault and A Good First Step took third and second place, respectively. The top prize went to Snag It, the company that acts as a kind of search engine and personalized aggregator for online deals through sites like Groupon and LivingSocial.
“I’m glad this is over. Now I can go start making some money,” said Ewing. He said FISTS was probably the most “old-fashioned” idea among those developed over the weekend.
“But there’s still hundreds of millions of dollars to be made with it,” he said. “This was a good weekend.”
Tags: startup weekend, The Grove, the grid, entrepreneurs, tech
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