Startup Weekend encourages entrepreneurial growth

Last night I had the honor of being among a panel of judges for the second annual Fargo Startup Weekend. Startup Weekend, for those not familiar, is a national organization focused on promoting business growth through an intensive weekend filled with business pitches, teamwork and product development, culminating in a Sunday night event during which teams pitch their final products to a panel of judges.

This year’s Fargo event, organized by a group of local entrepreneurs and startup community promoters, attracted approximately 90 participants, up from about 60 last year. The majority of participants were college-age and included programmers, designers, hopeful entrepreneurs and other business-minded and adventurous people willing to spend a sleepless weekend developing concepts into feasible business models with help from local business leaders who donated their time to serve as coaches. Forty-eight ideas were pitched Friday night and were eventually narrowed down to 12 business ideas as participants teamed up to work on their favorite concept. Over the course of 53 hours (one hour less than typical Startup Weekends due to the spring time change), teams developed their ideas and put together three-minute pitches to deliver to the judges Sunday night, leaving us with the difficult task of choosing the three top teams to award prize packages including business mentorship and legal work to further support the budding businesses.

The weekend’s top prize went to a business idea called Hack Fargo, which is focused on compiling open data like building permits, fire and police calls and other publicly available data, into usable analytics. The team included a number of clearly talented programmers who were able to compile and analyze data to create informational graphs over the course of the weekend. They hope to convert other public data not currently available online into usable data that can be easily accessed and analyzed. The group won because of their impressive skills, informative and entertaining presentation and potential to continue developing the concept.

Second place was earned by a unique mug company called Handles Mug Co. that would manufacture magnetic drinking mugs so friends could literally link up by connecting their mugs and sharing a drink. If it sounds a little wacky that’s because it is, but the team also got an impressive amount of work done over the weekend to develop and market its idea, even using a 3D printer to create a prototype for the judges to see.

Third place was won by a website called IFail.co, which, as you might have already guessed, is a website that allows people to share their humorous tales of everyday “fails.” What impressed me most about this business was that the team was able to create and launch a website and begin generating revenue through Google ads within hours of initially pitching the concept Friday night. Check it out at ifail.co.

It is clear that there is a growing and eager community of would-be entrepreneurs in our region and events like Startup Weekend give them the chance to learn about business development and what it takes to bring an idea from concept to launch. It was great fun to be a part of it and I look forward to seeing some of the weekend’s ideas continue to be developed.

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