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Columbia Startup Weekend Helps Innovative Business Ideas Thrive

Posted: Oct 1, 2012 1:54 PM by Mengti Xu
Updated: Oct 3, 2012 11:21 PM

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COLUMBIA - One hundred twenty-five people gathered the weekend of Sept. 28, spending 54 hours in 19 teams to work on their innovative business ideas and build web-based applications or other product types. Startup Weekend, a non-profit organization, lets people participate in business brainstorming events in more than 200 cities around the world. Columbia launched its first Startup Weekend last year with 76 participants in 10 teams.

Bryan Helmig, Wade Foster, and Mike Knoop, founders of Zapier, a data transfer company, were the first prize winners last year. They now locate their company in Mountain View, Calif. Their product helps make it easy for small businesses to connect the softwares they are using and sync data between web applications.

Recalling the experience he had last year, Foster, as a mentor for the event this year, said the gathering gave the participants an important and precious experience they need.

"It was a big deal because, by the end of the weekend, we had a functional product type," said Foster. "It was enough that we had a few people interested in what we were doing and able to kick-start our business just that much more quickly."

Foster also explained how a group actually built a product within a weekend. Foster said, for instance, when a group wants to build a software for football coaches, the team members will call up the coaches, find out the things they would like and then build that for the coaches. So, by the end of the weekend, they will have an application the coaches can use to track their players' data.

Heidi Fuhrman, the director of the League of Innovators, which hosted the event, said participants could take advantage of the event during the weekend since there were so many resources around helping give advices on business strategy with marketing, financial side, technical side, etc.

At the end of the weekend, each team gave a five-minute presentation in front of five judges and other people. Judges evaluated each product based on customer validation, business model and execution, and then chose the top three teams.

During the final presentations, members of each team tried their best to impress the judges. Some of them engaged the judges by letting them immediately have an experience with their product. Judges also asked multiple questions of the participants.

Two Douglass High School students also participated in the event as a team, which received high praise from others.

The final winner was "Fundrunners," founded by six people who knew each other before coming to the event.

"It's a tool set to help people organize and put on running events for causes they deem worthy," co-founder Jamie Canine said.

Canine said his team wants to use the application to help users recruit people to participate, make it easy for users to raise money and get the word out to the general public about what they are raising money for.

Canine also said people can go to Fundrunners.org to sign up in no more than 30 seconds, and start their events within five minutes.

The first prize winning team received a gift card-based $2000 it can use for its business. The second prize was $1000 and the third was $600.

Canine said his team was very happy to receive the prize. Since all the team members have full-time jobs, they want to build the project in a quality manner and keep the project going.

Canine also said although the team has to charge a small percent of the funds raised by every event, the primary purpose of the product is not to make money. The short-term goal of the team is to get the product out to the general public, have people test it and raise $1 million in the next 12 months for local charities.

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