From zero to viable business idea in only 3 hectic days

Rick Fabiani energetically took to the microphone to begin his presentation.

“I want to start a game,” he said. “David, are you in?”

David Nassau, wearing a swimming cap, approached the presentation area while stripping off his shirt to reveal a jersey.

“I’m in!” he shouted.

The same went for a third presenter in their group, and Fabiani closed his introduction exclaiming to the crowd, “If only it were this easy to create a pick-up game.”

Their presentation focused on a startup business called Game On, a social networking site that connects people who are looking to partake in any outdoor sport activity on a minute’s notice.

Startup Weekend Gainesville, a 54-hour business-building competition held at Starter Space, wrapped up its three-day event with juried presentations and an awards ceremony Sunday night. The event is in its second year, and attracted 215 participants who pitched ideas for businesses.

The top 15 pitches were selected, around which teams formed that worked throughout the event to present their business models and products to judges. By the time Sunday’s presentations were given, the 15 teams had consolidated into 10 groups.

Winners earned prizes that could help turn their projects into a startup.

Anjali Kundra, lead organizer for the event, said that while the event focuses on starting a company over a weekend, it’s also about execution, team building and working alongside others. Though she doesn't expect all of the teams to continue to work on the idea they formed during the event, she said the event definitely supports such an effort.

“We give them the tools (to do so), and we also give them the tools to connect with people they met, including mentors and speakers,” she said. “It’s really about demolishing any kind of bureaucracy and creating that flat approach.”

Participants, who were not allowed to bring ideas that they had already worked on, worked steadily throughout the day Saturday and finished their work on Sunday afternoon.

Beginning around 7 p.m. Sunday, the teams gave presentations of their work at the Hippodrome. Presentations were given on a range of ideas from social websites like Artdentify, which helps artists connect based on identity, to projects like Solar Games, a mobile games business that takes its profits and invests them in sustainable solar energy for developing countries.

Once all teams had presented their business, the judges decided the top three winners.

The following presentations were selected: Waitr, an interactive-menu app that allows customers to make and pay for orders via a smartphone, took first place; Turned Up Tech, a wireless earbud invented on site, took second place; and Bounce, a car-driving service for students, took third place

The event does not give cash prizes; winners receive service prizes such as legal, public relations, and accounting services. According to Kundra, these prizes are valued at more than $10,000

“It’s all service-based prizes, but (they) are prizes that I think the winners will really value because (the prizes) can help them jump to the next level,” she said.

Startup Weekends differ from similar events in that they don’t focus on building a product so much as building a business, Kundra said.

“We want (them) to go out, talk to customers and get that market validation (to) see if anyone really cares about what (they’re) building,” she said.

Final presentations showcasing products, typically skeletal-versions of websites and apps, were judged equally on the business model behind the product, Kundra said. The focus, she said, is on the team’s plan to monetize the product.

Many of the participants and organizers have ties to Gainesville’s startup community, which is heavily centered around downtown, she said.

Participants were composed about equally of technical-minded and business-minded entrepreneurs. But some people didn’t fall into either category.

“It’s really a variety of people,” Kundra said. “Anyone who has an inkling to join a team or have an idea that they want to test out and pitch, they’re really invited. We try to push for that diversity.”

Startup Weekend is a nonprofit organization based in Seattle that organizes startup events internationally. The organization has held 1,250 events in 556 cities across 115 countries, said Orrett Davis, a facilitator with Startup Weekend.

Nassau, a UF Innovation Academy student, said he enjoyed his second time participating in the event, his group having taken third place last year.

“It think it’s possibly one of the best creative exercises that, even if it takes years, might change your life,” he said. “It’s extremely motivational for people (who) are trying to find a purpose.”


by Christopher Baldwin


Virginia MacKoul

Virginia is a graduate from the University of Florida's College of Design Construction and Planning with a degree in Sustainability and the Built Environment, and a minor in Urban Regional Planning. Virginia joined the Front Street team in 2011, as an intern. Upon graduation, Virginia joined the Front Street team full-time as the Director of Client Services. Ms. MacKoul’s addition furthers Front Street’s continued growth and expansion within Gainesville and other North Central Florida markets. She was promoted to Director of Marketing in 2014 and now manages the firm’s team of interns and oversees all marketing and branding activity. Virginia was born in Boston and moved to Lee County, Florida in 1997. Virginia graduated her high school's International Baccalaureate program and started at the University of Florida with a focus on Architecture. Virginia shares Front Street's passion of giving back to the community and those in need. Virginia's hobbies include photography, cooking, football, movies, music, and spending time with her dog, Brinkley.

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