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CLT Startup Weekend Day 1: Lessons in strategy

Attendees at the Charlotte Startup Weekend cast their votes after listening to about 30 pitches from company founders on Friday.
Attendees at the Charlotte Startup Weekend cast their votes after listening to about 30 pitches from company founders on Friday.

The first night of the Charlotte Startup Weekend was all about expectations, introductions and, of course, strategy.

Over pizza and soda, aspiring entrepreneurs gathered Friday evening at UNC Charlotte’s Center City Campus. There, the reaping ensued.

Conversations were a mix of pitch ideas and skill sets. The most valuable set of skills seemed to belong to developers, and the most sought after were designers capable of turning lofty ideas for apps into tangible realities.

In case you missed my intro post, I’ve embedded myself in the Charlotte Startup Weekend, subjecting myself to the same intense experience as the nearly 100 participants who are getting a three-day crash course on what it means to found a business.

The goal by Sunday: Join a team of aspiring upstarts and create a minimally viable product (MVP) with (preferably) a functioning prototype or demo and a proven way of making money. That includes finessing a pitch to wow the judges and crafting a business plan that has a chance of working.

That means people here this weekend are very deliberate about who they recruit for a business team.

Case in point: Before the pitches even started, one guy asked me if I was a developer, graphic designer or someone creative. That would be a “no” to all three.

The experience reminded me of an episode of the CBS reality TV show “Big Brother,” where contestants form tactical alliances so they can spend one more week inside an overly-crowded house strapped with cameras.

Yes, I’m exaggerating. Everyone was actually really nice. But they’re all experts. I felt more like the guppy in a pond of really smart cod.

That initial awkwardness quickly faded as Jenifer Daniels, CEO of Good&Smart branding agency, told attendees to be more like Denzel Washington — “the greatest brand strategist of all time.”

Event facilitator Jim Van Fleet urged everyone to relax, not take themselves too seriously, have fun and accept the fact that less than 10 percent of the businesses formed this weekend will make it past Sunday.

And Juan Garzon stressed how critical it was to form a team this weekend that had diverse skill sets, bundles of value and a clear plan for executing the business.

About 30 people took 60 seconds to pitch their ideas in front of a crowd of nearly 100. The ideas ranged from a meal-planning service that helps avoid food waste to “Scalper,” which authenticates tickets.

Crowd members then voted on their favorite ideas, and the highest ranking concepts formed business teams for the weekend.

I aligned myself with Amanda Silver, a senior psychology major at Davidson College who pitched Norm Breaker, her idea for a mobile app that would inspire users to violate social norms (hug a stranger, give your professor a high-five, sit with a stranger who clearly wants to be left alone, etc.).

It sounded like fun. It was either that, or the guy who pitched a program that would give expectant parents a hologram of their unborn baby (he has his own team, by the way).

There are seven of us on the Norm Breaker team. Along with me and Amanda, there’s Jeb Ware (an Android developer), Charles Puza (a first-year Duke University medical student), Anuj Patel (a software designer), Caroline Quiñanola (a project manager) and Andrew Liu (mobile developer at a Durham healthcare company).

Each person has a role on the team. Mine is marketing. I can’t give away all our secrets, but we have big plans. I’ll keep you in-the-know on some happenings on Twitter, Storify and this blog.

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