Summit County Startup Weekend brings budding entrepreneurs to Frisco
Summit County Startup Weekend
What: A start-up event for local entrepreneurs to pitch a business idea, form a development team, and present a demo business plan after 54 hours of coding and marketing.
When: April 10 to 12 (full schedule online)
Where: Elevate CoSpace and Evo3 Workspace in Frisco
Cost: $99 for participants; $49 for students; $25 for Friday or Sunday presentations
The event is open to the public, with participant tickets available for developers, designers and non-tech specialties (marketing and PR). Students must bring a valid school ID for the student rate. All Friday tickets include dinner. To purchase tickets or view a full schedule, see http://www.summitstartup.org.
Time moves a bit faster in the startup world.
Just ask Ryan Sullivan, the founder and chief executive of Parkify, a 1-year-old startup based in Denver. After several months of nonstop coding, marketing and customer engagement, plus a stint with industry mentors through the Boomtown Accelerator in Boulder, his company’s real-time smartphone parking app for urbanites is set to launch in late April.
“At first we were just tinkering around with ideas to find what worked and what didn’t work,” Sullivan said. “About six months into the whole thing, we were able to reach out to customers and get the market validation, and that was key. It became more than us thinking, ‘Hey, this is a cool idea.’ It had value.”
As with any beta app, Parkify is far from its final form. There’s still plenty of work to be done before the official launch in three weeks, after which Sullivan and his team of 10 employees will continue to tweak parking maps and reservation systems until it’s the leanest, meanest product a newborn startup can offer.
And then Sullivan’s team will start the process all over again. It’s the circle of life for a successful startup in the tech space, where apps and products and even customers change from month to month.
“We were put into a pressure cooker,” Sullivan says of the three hectic months Parkify spent at the Boomtown Accelerator. “That’s really when work gets done. It puts a finite gauge on you as a startup, puts everything in perspective. You can’t just sit around and pontificate about a great product — it’s all about the action.”
Beginning Friday night, Sullivan will be on the outside of the pressure cooker as a judge for Summit County Startup Weekend, a 54-hour crash course on the ins and outs of pitching, launching and selling a successful product. It’s one of nearly 1,000 Startup Weekend events held in more than 120 countries across the globe, all supported by local judges and mentors like Sullivan and big-name partners like Google for Entrepreneurs.
Now in its second year, the Summit Startup Weekend is growing rapidly, like the startups it hopes to foster. It changed locations — last year it was held at the Colorado Mountain College campus in Breckenridge — to draw a wider range of entrepreneurs from across the High Country. Events are split between Frisco’s two co-working spaces, Evo3 Workspace and Elevate CoSpace, both of which have tapped into the first wave of mountain-town techies.
“We’re saying, ‘Let’s get this startup movement going,’” says Larry Sullivan, a lead organizer for the Startup Weekend and Ryan Sullivan’s father. “We’re trying to open the doors for young, high-tech companies that can then attract more people to the mountains. All it takes is an idea, and now young people will have different options other than waiting tables or flipping pizzas.”
For hungry entrepreneurs, the 54-hour time limit is a major incentive.
“We just decided, ‘Why not?’” says Lindsay Balgooyen, one of three co-founders with last year’s winning team, Gra8ful Giveback of Steamboat Springs. “We didn’t really know what we were in for, what to expect, and we ended up getting way more out of it than we even could’ve expected.”
Startup Weekend is built for developers, designers and tech-minded marketers who have an idea — any idea — they’d like to get off the ground. It doesn’t require venture capital or funding, which can kill most new businesses before they reach the market. Participants have full access to mentors and coaches, just as they would in an accelerator, and after nearly three full days of work, they earn solid feedback on what works — and where to go from there.
For the Gra8ful Giveback team, “winning” last year’s event meant more than impressing judges. Balgooyen and her fellow founders came to the weekend with a ready-made team — the majority of participants form teams with complete strangers at the start of the weekend — and a concrete idea to connect nonprofits with potential donors, a riff on the Amazon Smile program. Like their fellow startups, Gra8ful Giveback came away with dozens of connections.
“We built incredible relationships over the weekend, and a lot of those are really strong to this day,” says Balgooyen, who still stays in contact with Amy Kemp of Elevate. ”We got so much done that weekend because of the energy around us. When you’re in an environment that has so many people in the same mindset, working to a similar goal, it’s inspiring.”
The time crunch begins on Friday with pitch night at Elevate. Think of it as a low-key version of “Shark Tank” on MSNBC: Participants have a few minutes to pitch their idea to the rest of the crowd, delving into what makes their product better and more marketable than the rest. When everyone is finished, the entire group votes on the top ideas. Those ideas then become a springboard for the rest of the weekend.
While it sounds cutthroat, organizers say the pitch night is far from competitive — even if it’s a bit intimidating.
“We really want to see the kids get out there and do it,” Larry Sullivan says. “So often, they get locked in thinking their idea is no good, or no one is interested. But if you come and just talk about it, you might find people love your pitch, and all of a sudden you have an entire weekend for people to work on your pitch.”
And attendees aren’t required to come with a pitch in hand. Audience tickets are $25, and along with a catered dinner, it’s a sterling opportunity for locals who can’t attend the full weekend to network and connect with mentors.
“Back when I started we didn’t have this environment,” Larry Sullivan says. “You were on your own. But now, there’s a community, and when you look at a community like Boulder, lots of incredible things are happening. And that’s really what we’re trying to do up here.”
When pitch night wraps up and strangers split off into teams, the real work begins. Coaches, like mobile expert Kristy Lee Gogolen of KL Creative Design and co-working guru Aaron Landau of Evo3, are on hand to give advice — Gr8ful Giveback went through several work sessions before homing in on its winning idea — and teams have access to support throughout the weekend, including wireless Internet, business-model materials and, of course, plenty of coffee.
When the final demo presentations begin on Sunday afternoon at Evo3, Sullivan and fellow judges Ross Iverson of the Vail Leadership Institute and Jeff Schell of Rocky Mountain Patent will look for teams that did the finest work in the time given. They’ll also reward teams that touch on every step of the startup process, from basic coding to market validation.
“This gives a nice microcosm of the pressures and issues you’d run into,” Ryan Sullivan says. “You get to see how people pivot and change, and that’s key for any startup. The concept you start with won’t always be the one you end with. It’s unlike any other job out there.”
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