Call it boot camp. Or adventures in entrepreneurship 101.
Whatever name you give it, the Charlotte Startup Weekend gives aspiring entrepreneurs and business novices a three-day crash course on what it means to found a business.
Nearly 100 people gathered at UNC Charlotte’s Center City Campus on Friday, where they split into nine teams and spent the next 54 hours building a business from the ground up.
The goal was to create a “minimally viable product” to explain in a five-minute pitch to judges Sunday evening.
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Here are five takeaways from the weekend:
1. First-time female sweep: The top three teams were led by women, including two psychology students from Davidson College. That aspect was a first for the 7-year-old event, organizers said – and a reflection of changes in the entrepreneurial landscape.
“There’s a lot of effort over the last five to 10 years to open entrepreneurial doors to women,” said Paul Wetenhall, director of UNC Charlotte’s Ventureprise incubator, who served as a judge Sunday evening.
Improvements in technology allow innovators to develop products without years of tech know-how – another boon to female founders, he said.
“We still have a pretty big imbalance in terms of female representations in engineering, computer sciences,” he said. “The fact that you can start a business in a technical aspect… much easier may create an environment more conducive to women starting companies.”
2. Fieldwork pays off: Judges required each team to find ways to “validate” their ideas; essentially, prove the business is meeting a need.
Teams sent out surveys, while others
took to the street and asked strangers what they thought of their business ideas. On Saturday, founders of HoloBaby, an application that gives expectant parents a 3-D holographic image of their unborn baby, called local ultrasound technicians to ask if their idea would be useful.
3. Businesses should be like Denzel Washington: Yes, seriously.
Weekend keynote speaker Jenifer Daniels, founder of Charlotte-based Good&Smart branding agency, called the Oscar-winning actor “the greatest branding strategist of all time” for following what she calls the brand triangle: having a story, sticking to beliefs and keeping promises. Washington has a story (his father was a reverend but he chose theater instead of seminary), promotes his beliefs (through philanthropic work) and delivers on his promises (gives his all in every role).
4. Pivot when necessary: On Friday, Brooke Brazer, 20, pitched her idea for “Recipe Box,” a healthy-meal delivery service. As her team started working, they realized similar companies already exist. So they included a feature that would connect customers with dietitians who would help build their meal plans, and renamed their business Pantrea (a play on “pantry” and “panacea”). Judges called the model “promising” and named Pantrea the winner.
5. Form a diverse team: Each team depended on a diverse set of skills to make its business work. Every member had a role to fill, from developing applications to designing logos to marketing the brand.
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Winners this weekend:
First-place winner Pantrea won free legal services, a scholarship to Tech Talent South coding academy and two tickets to the Southeast Venture Conference, a gathering of venture capitalists looking to invest coming to Charlotte on March 31. Here are the other top finishers:
▪ Runners-up: DressShare, a wardrobe-sharing service enabling women to rent and swap dresses with “local fashionistas,” and NormBreaker, a mobile app that encourages users to connect with other people by violating social norms.
▪ Audience favorite: Book of Business, an online marketplace for selling client lists to buyers.