Guest post by Thea Walsh, MORPC Director of Transportation Systems & Funding
At the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC), we love all things transportation. We know how powerful and effective a safe, reliable, efficient, and accessible transportation system can be in improving the quality of life of Central Ohio residents. And that’s why we are always working with local governments and regional organizations to embrace innovation in transportation. But we don’t interact nearly enough with the city’s entrepreneurs for ideas to make us think outside the planning bubble.
Startup Weekend Columbus: Smart City Edition was both MORPC’s and my first time spending a weekend with curious, passionate, and enthusiastic people who want to do amazing things to make our world better while also creating a successful business. This past weekend gave me a rare opportunity to put myself in the shoes of an entrepreneur, and what a frenetic, fun ride it was!
Smart City? Yes, we’ll help with that.
It’s not often the U.S. Department of Transportation announces a national competition worth $40 million to one winning city. Smart City is a chance for Columbus to become the country’s first fully deployed and integrated innovative city – with self-driving cars, connected vehicles and smart sensors in the transportation network. With Columbus chosen as one of just seven finalist cities, this is something to be proud of! The winner will be announced in June.
Winning the Smart City competition is the ultimate work of collaboration, and Startup Weekend embraced that attitude and even took it to the next level! More than 100 entrepreneurs started the competition by pitching ideas relating to a variety of Smart City verticals including transportation, infrastructure, internet accessibility, sustainability, internet accessibility, urban agriculture, energy, and more. From there, they formed teams around the top ideas as determined by a popular vote.
Startup Pitches to Results
We’ve worked in transportation for a long time, and all of our technological advances have started with taking a risk, research and data, collaboration, and conversation among those in the region.
The same is true of the Startup Weekend teams. Each team that I worked with was so eager to hear about MORPC and the information or data that would make their projects stronger. The enthusiasm for innovation was infectious. They were also passionate about finding the right end products for our Smart City, which was not always easy. On Sunday they shared their concept with the judges. This is not a “relaxing” weekend activity by any stretch of the imagination, but it was a very rewarding experience.
We’re All in This Together
I want to thank all of the Startup Weekend participants and volunteers for spending a weekend dreaming big, being bold, and sharing ideas. Congratulations to the winning team – Fender Defender – but the event did not end Sunday evening. In fact, on Monday morning at our weekly MORPC Leadership Team meeting, we recalled the many other innovative business concepts and started making plans to meet up with these entrepreneurs!
Finally, I leave this thought and impression of my weekend: Columbus has always been about cooperation and collaboration. We are the intersection where well-built relationships and technology come together. To us, it’s just… smart.
You’re about to attend Startup Weekend: Smart City Edition. What will it be like? How do themed events work? You’ve read the schedule, but maybe you’re still unsure about what to expect. This guide is for you.
All Startup Weekend events follow the same basic model: Anyone is welcome to pitch their startup idea and receive feedback from their peers. Teams organically form around the top ideas (as determined by popular vote) and then it’s a 54-hour frenzy of business model creation, coding, UX/design, and market validation. The weekend culminates with presentations in front of local entrepreneurial leaders with another opportunity for feedback and to win prizes. This event is focused exclusively on Smart City ideas.
Not sure what making a “Smart City” is all about?
Building a ‘Smart City’ is about using innovation, data, and technology to streamline transportation, reduce pollution, minimize energy use, cut costs of city living, and connect citizens. This is an exciting time for Columbus because the city is competing against 6 other cities around the nation for over $60 million in federal grants to fund initiatives in sustainable transportation, smart logistics, and access to jobs—learn more here! A ‘Smart City’ is a city built for the future.
Some categories to get you started:
– Internet Accessibility
– City Planning
– Urban Agriculture
OK, now that you’re up to speed on what types of ideas are able to be pitched, let me tell you how to best take advantage of the time you have.
1.) Come with an idea
Obviously this event is about building awesome ideas. Do some homework looking at the categories above and thinking of some ideas around them. If you bring an awesome idea and form a talented team, you will get the most out of the event and maybe even walk away with some prizes!
2.) If you don’t have a serious idea, pitch something – anything!
Startup Weekend provides you with the rare opportunity of an incredibly open, friendly environment for you to practice getting in front of a crowd. I don’t care if you’re pitching the next UBER or on-demand cat food delivery, it’s worth pitching. Take advantage of the opportunity!
3.) Be ready to join another team
We will have a lot of ideas pitched. Mathematically, it’s impossible for all ideas, or even the majority of ideas to be built with a team. Keep an open mind and listen to the other pitches – chances are good that you’ll be joining on with another team and idea.
4.) Select your team intentionally
I cannot understate this: your experience will be driven by your team. You will be working hard with these folks for 54 hours, and you want them to be open, fun, smart people. It’s almost impossible to completely know on Friday evening if you’re going to be best friends with someone, but it’s pretty easy to get a feeling if you won’t get along with someone. Even more important than the idea you work on is the team you work with.
5.) Bring your business cards
This event is not about selling your products or services, but you will almost certainly meet a whole host of people you want to follow up with after. You may form lifelong friendships – seriously. Bring your personal cards and expect some authentic, deep networking.
6.) Come early Saturday for yoga
We will have Josie Schweitzer of Thank Yoga providing a free 30-minute session at 9am on Saturday morning. Namaste!
7.) Bring an appetite
We will be feeding you seven full meals during the course of the weekend from a slew of local providers. Outside of that, we’ll have snacks and drinks throughout the weekend as well. You will be well fed, so enjoy it!
8.) Make some social media noise
Columbus is a finalist for the $40 million Smart City grant! An initiative seeking to create a model city that uses data, technology & creativity to shape how people and goods are transported, this opportunity will change the future of our community.
Our event is aligned with the city’s efforts, and we’d love to support them through the event as well. Take advantage of the below hashtags to help Columbus rise to the top!
Are you convinced? Tickets for our next event, Smart City Edition, May 13-15 at Rev1 Ventures are still available! Click here to learn more and punch your ticket.