The next big idea may just emerge from Startup Weekend (January 27-29, 2012) in Storrs, CT, where over 130 business entrepreneurs gather to pitch ideas, form development teams, and launch prototype companies. “Over 60% of the people at Startup Storrs are UConn students” said event organizer and Board of Trustees student representative Brien Buckman (Political Science – 8th semester), “and there are many other UConn people involved as supporters, sponsors and facilitators. Most people learned about this event from word of mouth and tickets quickly sold out.”
Startup Weekend taps into the explosive power of social networking and joins it with business innovators. The non-profit Startup Weekend organization began in 2007 in Boulder, CO with a mission to be “an experiential education for entrepreneurs.” Startup shifts the business process from business people developing an idea in isolation for months or even years and accelerates it in a dynamic and interactive way. Teams join together and over a 54 hour period create a business model and test it. Anyone can participate in the Startup Weekend events which are held across the globe. Participants purchase tickets by the type of talents they’ll bring to the event (marketing, server manager, web developer, programmer, social media…) this ensures that each team is comprised of a mix of skill sets. According to the Startup Weekend website, over 25,000 alumni have taken part in events in over 100 countries.
UConn Business Professor Christopher Levesque, another event organizer, is also the Executive Director of the Connecticut Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (CCEI), “The University encourages students to think innovatively as they will be our next group of leaders and entrepreneurs. UConn is helping to drive some of Connecticut’s economic development efforts, so it is fitting that the University host an event like Startup Weekend to showcase and inspire business leaders.” Levesque and other event organizers worked with local and state businesses to garner event support including business guidance, sponsorship and prizes. Representatives from the investor, entrepreneurial, and creative arts communities served as judges and rated the final business presentations on criteria such as interviews with prospective customers, defined projected revenue streams, and production of a functional prototype.
“We listened to about 50 pitch ideas and placed our names on a board listing all of the possible ideas we would like to be involved with”, explained Michael Mizrahi (Communications – 8th semester), “and 12 teams quickly formed and we immediately went to work.” The teams spread out in the Classroom Building working all day and late into the night over the entire weekend pausing only to eat and sleep. Groups seek feedback about their product idea using social media, invent a catchy company name and tagline, and create a concise presentation. By Sunday evening, the teams assemble in the main lecture hall to give five minute presentations for their prototype businesses. The business ideas range from eldercare services, to platform and forum management to event transportation. Most match a need with a service that capitalizes on the immediacy of social networking.
Team Sobiro’s idea is to pair students who needed a ride (and should not be driving) with sober drivers. Mizrahi explained, “Our tagline is ‘connecting sober drivers with party-goers’, because you can’t make people do it sober but they can do it Sobrio.” One of the standouts of the Sobrio presentation is their application actually worked.
They also show market research based on collegiate demographics and tremendous feedback from friends about the likelihood of using such app – so much so that people asked if it was available that weekend.
“The energy here is amazing.” said Buckman, “Working over the entire weekend with people I didn’t know beforehand and learning from them, pushing one another to get an idea from concept to development was great.” Mizrahi added, “With social media and the internet, you can test launch (a concept) and get immediate feedback. Refine the features, test it again until you get it right.”
At the conclusion the presentations, the audience votes for their favorite idea which also turns out to be the judges top pick as well; Team Sobrio (along with Teams PlatForum and MailStack) won prize money and platform services. Watching teams workout business concepts and execute a workable product in a short time frame is what draws innovators to the event. Engineering Professor Kazem Kazerounian stopped by to watch the final presentations, “The energy generated by all of these innovators is mesmerizing and I just wanted to be a part of it.”, said Kazerounian, “We need more entrepreneurship and innovation in Connecticut and America. Storrs has risen to the challenge and it makes me proud just to be here to see it.”