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Friday October 31st 2014

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Calling All Entrepreneurs


By Jennifer Leigh

Do you have a genius business idea? Or maybe you have an idea, but you’re not sure if it’s genius. Maybe you don’t have any ideas, but want to learn the basics of starting your own business. Whatever the case is, Startup Weekend may be the event for you.

Startup Weekend is a non-profit organization based in Seattle, which has chapters across the globe. Last year, a group of local professionals decided to volunteer their time and efforts to bring Startup Weekend to Pensacola. The result was more that 100 registered participants and lots of creative ideas.

“We were shooting for about 70 to 75 participants,” said Joshua Schwitzerlett, director of creative and social media at Levin Papantonio Thomas Mitchell Rafferty & Proctor PA. “We had more than 100 register and about 90-plus that stayed the whole weekend. We were very pleased with the turnout and the attitude of individuals and their desire to make the community a better place.”

Startup Weekend is a 54-hour event that helps individuals learn the basics of founding business ventures by connecting them with like-minded people and offering constructive advice by way of local and regional entrepreneurs who act as coaches and judges.

Quint Studer, one of the four judges, has lent his efforts to making startup dreams come true as sponsor of the Pensacola Business Challenge. However, Startup Weekend is different in that it is more about the collaboration.

“It’s about the desire to help foster the ideas of individuals by creating a welcoming and collaborative environment,” Schwitzerlett said.

No matter where it is held, Startup Weekend follows the same basic model. On the first day, participants get 60 seconds to pitch their business idea to their peers. Attendees then vote on the top ideas. The next day, teams are formed and the startup begins with several coaches on hand to offer advice. On the final day, teams give their final presentations to the judges in hopes of making it to the top three. Participants also get to place a vote for the Crowd Favorite title. This year’s judges include Studer, founder of Studer Group, Inc., Ross Overstreet, CTO and co-founder of Overgroup, Mike Hicks, CEO at Hixardt Technologies, Inc. and Vernon Niven, CEO at NeedTagger, Inc.

“This isn’t about pitching to potential investors,” Schwitzerlett said. “It’s about seeing if you can make that idea happen. It’s a great way to get a reality check—to see if it’s a good idea or if it needs work. That’s where the coaches come in.”

The coaches span a broad range of businesses including Charles Armour, enterprise architect at Appriver; Bryan Clark, CEO at Silver Bullet Technology Inc; Rus Howard, chairman at DeepGulf, Inc. and Pat Rooney, lead principal consultant at Coastal CXO Services, Inc.

Getting the green light from fellow participants and then the judges is like getting a stamp of approval, Schwitzerlett said.

Ideas last year included human resource software for construction sites, music services, digitized medical forms and the Crowd Favorite winner, a social media network called The Bucket List, which had the idea to bring people together around the activities they wanted to do. The developers were a small group of high school students.

“There are no age requirements,” explained Schwitzerlett. “It’s more about the maturity level than age. We had participants all across the board last year. It’s a melting pot.”

How you want to participate in the Startup Weekend is up to you. Even if fellow attendees do not pick up your idea, you can still put together a solo presentation along with a group project.

“There’s no guarantee that your idea will be picked, just like in the marketplace,” Schwitzerlett said. “The idea is for the event to be a cross between learning from each other and doing whatever it takes to make your business happen.”

With just two Startup Weekends under their belt, Schwitzerlett and fellow volunteers are still looking at ways to help develop the entrepreneurial spirit of locals.

“We’re always looking at responding to the needs of the community,” he said. “We’re also open to ideas about how to go about a brick and mortar Startup Weekend.”

Even though you’re essentially putting together a business proposal with a small group of strangers, the Startup Weekend is certainly fun, Schwitzerlett said.

“Everyone shows up the first night with a little bit of anxiety, but everyone here is just as out of their element as you,” he said. “Participants want to see each other succeed.”

For further information about Startup Weekend, contact Schwitzerlett via Twitter @JoshuaL33 or send an email to pensacola@startupweekend.org

 

STARTUP WEEKEND PENSACOLA

WHEN: Friday, March 28-Sunday, March 30

WHERE: IHMC, 40 S. Alcaniz St.

COST: $50; $30 for students

DETAILS: pensacola.startupweekend.org