Charlotte Startup Weekend helps people turn proposals into products, business plans
On Friday evening, aspiring entrepreneurs from the Charlotte area had nothing but raw ambition and diagrams scrawled on poster paper.
But by Sunday evening after 54 hours with volunteer developers, researchers and veteran startup founders theyll have viable business plans and a shot at $5,000 worth of business support.
The event, called Charlotte Startup Weekend, is a crash course in company creation, as hopefuls take their ideas from cocktail napkin to concrete business plan in just three days.
The business ideas and the brains behind them varied widely. Ideas included: an app to help feed the hungry (pitched by yoga instructor and former contestant on The Bachelor Katie Levans, 27); an online dating-type website for roommate hunting (pitched by Davidson College senior Yuxi Lin, 21); and a website that universities can use to recruit smart teens (pitched by 10-year-old Rishi Kulkarni).
The weekend is a breeding ground for the next crop of entrepreneurs in a city that, many argue, used to tout major corporations at the expense of new business ideas.
In fact, it was during the financial meltdown and widespread layoffs that Charlottes entrepreneurial scene began to flourish.
From what I gather ... its been a breath of fresh air for the community, says Danielle Reyes, regional coordinator for the corporate Startup Weekend, a nonprofit headquartered in Seattle that sets the guidelines for local events. This is the fifth time the event has been held in Charlotte.
Its hard to know the exact number of startups brewing in Charlotte, says Dan Roselli, a former Bank of America employee whos the founder and CEO of startup hub Packard Place, which is hosting the event. But its a drastically different landscape compared to four or five years ago.
Charlottes startup community is 10 times more vibrant and connected ... and shows no signs of slowing down, Roselli says.
Terry Cox, the founder and CEO of Business Innovation Growth, known as BIG, a nonprofit that works with high-growth startups in the Charlotte area, said she knew of only a handful of high-growth local startups two years ago. Now, she counts more than 200.
And on March 13-14, the city will, for the first time, host the Southeast Venture Conference, which showcases emerging technology firms and offers exposure to venture capitalists and private-equity investors.
Theres a real hunger here, says Scott Hedrick, executive director of the conference. The energy and tech scenes here are really bubbling up.
60 seconds to success
New ideas for the tech scene were on full display at Charlotte Startup Weekend, which opened with 35 aspiring entrepreneurs waiting in a line that snaked down the length of the room. One by one, they each got 60 seconds to explain their idea to the crowd.
The attendees then voted on the top seven ideas, and those who pitched the winning ideas solicited volunteers to help build their business plan.
Davidson junior Andrew Strain, 20, pitched an idea for an app to ease the stress of furnishing a home. The technology would allow people to input the dimensions of a room and virtually test out furniture from big-box retailers before making the often-hefty purchases.
His idea wasnt one of the finalists, but he stuck around to help build a business plan for Digiceipts, a streamlined system for filing company receipts and expenses.
Im hoping to meet some interesting people who know about entrepreneurship ... and pick up some tips, Strain said.
On Sunday afternoon, each of the top groups will present the business plan or product developed over the course of the weekend. A panel of judges will decide the winner, who gets $5,000 in business support from local resources.
The judges vote based on business viability, presentation, whether the group got validation from potential customers and the degree to which the business solves an existing problem.
Jack Dietrich, one of the events biggest success stories, came in second place at Charlotte Startup Weekend 2011. A year and a half later, hes overseeing product development, raising capital and working with NFL executives on his startup, TagSeats, a social event platform that uses digital seating maps to show potential ticket-buyers where their friends seats are.
He says Charlotte Startup Weekend gave him the foundation he needed to expand on his idea.
You didnt need to go in with a technical background, you didnt have to go in with any connections, says Dietrich, 31.
It was the starting point.