The following article is by Peter Harriman and originally appeared in the Argus Leader.
The comparison isn’t entirely apt. But in some ways, the first Startup Weekend in Sioux Falls was like Monopoly with the volume turned up.
Forty-five hopeful entrepreneurs are spending Friday through today at the South Dakota Technology Business Center pitching 18 ideas for new businesses. They are winnowing those to a half-dozen concepts around which teams formed to create business models, design digital infrastructure and do market research, and presenting the finished products to a judging group of local entrepreneurial leaders.
The experience is akin to cramming a master’s of business administration course of study into a weekend. But the lessons learned are valuable for anyone contemplating this as a career.
“This is the exact event Sioux Falls needed,” said John Meyer, a Sioux Falls entrepreneur and co-founder and CEO of Lemon.ly, a company formed several years ago to create visual graphic presentations of complex information such as patterns and trends. The South Dakota Technology Business Center alum is the Startup Weekend’s organizer.
“You can talk entrepreneurship over coffee forever. But at the end of the day, you’ve got to build something. In 48 hours here, come hell or high water, you’ve got to create something,” Meyer said.
Startup Weekend is a Seattle nonprofit that has organized events in 200 cities around the world. South Dakota was slow to get on the bandwagon. It is the last state in the region to host a Startup Weekend.
“That put a chip on my shoulder,” Meyer said. He committed in September to putting together the Sioux Falls event. Wendy Overton came to Sioux Falls from Louisiana to serve as facilitator.
“It’s an honor to be here at the first one. It’s epic. The first one is memorable,” she said.
From her experience running Startup Weekends throughout the Southeast and as far away as Malaysia, Overton predicted for Sioux Falls “I know the feeling and the energy created, and I know what happens afterwards.”
Typically, 35 percent of the teams formed at a Startup Weekend remain together three months later working on developing an idea into a business, she said.
Meyer’s take on the frenzied weekend spent in a room buzzing with conversations around tables and amid laptops, sticky notes and whiteboards is “at the minimum, you’re going to walk away with some great connections and friendships. At the maximum, you’re going to walk away with a new job or career.”
The teams all were trying to drive across the finish line ideas for new digital applications. One potential business proposed to serve clients by correcting search engine errors that might inadvertently lead customers away. Convert2Me would change spoken words to text and load it onto laptops, smart phones and other devices. See You There would allow a network of people to synchronize calendars and schedules.
Overton said she hears variations of these and other ideas at many Startup Weekends. However, “it comes down to can you execute it,” she said.
For participants, the weekend was eye-opening in terms of what is required to bring an idea for a new business to fruition.
“The payoff in the end is great experience. You learn so many new things,” Jared Frazier said. He’s majoring in entrepreneurial studies at South Dakota State University. Startup Weekend was an opportunity to test-drive a lot of what he had been learning in the classroom.
“We’re learning a lot more than we did in the classroom,” Garrett Boe said.
“Finally, it has a purpose,” Dasha Agapova added. Those two came to Startup Weekend from Northern State University, where they are students. They spent part of Saturday afternoon waylaying Sioux Falls shoppers trying to get what he called “customer validation” for Convert2Me, which would change spoken words to text and load it onto laptops, smart phones and other devices.
“The idea is very feasible,” she said.
In his day job, Chad Jensen of Yankton deals with electronic medical records for Avera Sacred Heart. At Startup Weekend, though, he was getting a warp speed tutorial on skill development for creating a new business.
“It’s a little like on-the-job training. The experience is unlike anything else.
“It gives you the right mind-set,” he added. “It shows you it is possible.”
Most of the Startup Weekend participants looked to be 30 years old or younger. Faye Wright of Sioux Falls, however, already has wrapped up a 30-year career as an information technology consultant. She also has started a company, Fionstar Nua. “That’s New Venture in Gaelic,” she said.
Her inventory of business management and marketing skills still is meager enough that getting her company that makes bronze relief images from photographs well-launched still is a challenge, she acknowledged. This is what she wanted to work on at Startup Weekend.
But Wright already knows the hands-on allure of entrepreneurship that is the major draw of Startup Weekend.
“I’m not on the bench,” she said. “I’m playing. I’m starting on offense and defense.”