From Transportation Planner to Hack(er) in One Weekend

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.

8 ways to win Columbus Startup Weekend: Smart City Edition

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:

– Transportation
– Infrastructure
– Internet Accessibility
– Sustainability
– City Planning
– Water
– Energy
– Urban Agriculture
– Waste/Recycling

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.

Guest Post: Columbus becomes a world-class city with a world-class transportation system

Guest Blog Post by JM Rayburn of Forge Columbus. Last month, Forge Columbus released a 90-page framework called Forge Ahead, a community-driven transportation campaign that serves as a visioning document and resource book. You can read the full report here.

A smart city is one that is both clever and restless. It’s a city that works 24 hours a day to provide services and pay bills yet still sets aside time and money for that constant side hustle of becoming something other than what history had intended. It’s a city that aspires to something greater. A smart city and an entrepreneur are two sides of the same coin. They relate to each other and need each other.

Columbus continues to lead the state in both population growth and job creation, attracting the best and brightest from around the world. The driving force behind this exciting demographic shift is the convergence of opportunity, affordability, and accessibility that our city offers. Young professionals use these quality of life yardsticks to determine where to call home. Transportation is vital for making our city accessible, attractive, and affordable.

Cities such as Columbus depend on effective and reliable operation of infrastructure systems to deliver energy, mobility, water, sanitation, shelter, information, emergency response, and other critical services. Across the globe and at home in Columbus, governments, businesses, and communities are beginning to see the impacts of climate change. These events are playing out as population growth continues and urbanization accelerates. While most see these as challenges, smart cities and entrepreneurs only see opportunities.

columbusmap_mockup(photo by Michael Tyznik)

For Columbus, there is a tide coming that is robust population growth and job creation. The latest estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau show the 15 cities with biggest population increases were in the South and West — with two exceptions: New York City and Columbus. The good news is investments are in the pipeline for a variety of infrastructure systems. The bad news is that Columbus leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to smart, multi-modal transportation investments.

The very presence of a convenient and accessible multi-modal transportation system will help attract and retain a skilled and creative workforce. The growth of the region cannot be accommodated by expansion of the highway system alone. As the costs of car ownership and fuel continue to grow, there is a need to provide an expanded, more intelligent transportation system to sustain the social and economic well-being of the Columbus Region. Investment in new and expanded pedestrian, bicycle, and transit services can ease growing congestion while providing an equitable transportation system. As for nascent transportation technologies, Columbus is right to take a leadership role in their development. Why? Because that’s what world-class cities do. Columbus Startup Weekend is here to provide those leadership opportunities if you’re feeling clever and restless.

This has been years in the making to arrive where we are now. COTA is undergoing the NextGen initiative and building the CMAX bus rapid transit line; MORPC is updating its Metropolitan Transportation Plan; The Columbus Green Team has recently come out with Green Memo III, calling for smart transportation investments; and Forge Columbus, in partnership with Transit Columbus, Civic Artworks, the Create Columbus Commission, has launched Forge Ahead—the largest participatory transit plan in the nation.

As many of you know, Columbus is vying for $50 million in what is essentially seed money as a finalist in the U.S. Smart City Challenge. The U.S. Department of Transportation and Vulcan, Inc. are the first of many “angel investors” we hope to court for a long-term relationship that will redefine our city. That could be a city that provides greater access to jobs through a bus rapid transit network. That could be a city that champions smart logistics or a smart grid to electrify our transportation system. Whatever that city is, it’s going to change the world. There is no turning back now. Columbus has grown stronger today than any of the citizens before us could’ve imagined. The only way to know how strong is to keep testing our limits. I hope to see you at Columbus Startup Weekend this Friday through Sunday. Come clever and come restless.

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.

8 Things You’ll Learn at Columbus Startup Weekend

Guest Blog Post by Claire Coder, founder of Aunt Flow and second place winner of the 2015 Columbus Startup Weekend Health Edition.

Throughout StartUp Weekend, I continually heard the phrase, “Startup Weekend will change your life.” This never truly settled in until I decided to continue to pursue the idea that I had pitched, full time. 54 hours can change your life and here are some tidbits on how to make your experience the most memorable.

1. In the Startup scene, MVP does not mean “Most Valuable Player.” Google it

2. Caffeine inhalants are a real thing and were probably created by another entrepreneur staying up late trying to create an MVP for a different enterprise

3. Careful, Startup Weekend just might change your life. I actually dropped out of college to work on the idea that I pitched at the weekend

4. will be your life saver if you don’t have a graphic designer on your team

5. Suzy Bureau knows how to engage an audience; take notes on how she does it so you are ready to blow the judges away when it comes time to pitch

6. Hashtags are powerful #SWCBUS #socent #startup #fundauntflow

7. Market research is not a survey of 100 friends on survey monkey

8. The Startup community is super supportive… Speaking of support, Aunt Flow needs to raise $25,000 to move forward. YOU can make an impact at

I originally pitched Aunt Flow, as “SafetyPon,” and placed second at the 2015 Columbus Startup Weekend Health Edition. The social enterprise is a buy one, give one subscription based model for tampons. Following the weekend, and in just five months, I have hustled to take the business idea to the crowdfunding stage, be featured in a variety of publications, gain over 14k Twitter followers, and receive numerous awards for the business plan.

The business does not stop there. My true passion is to lessen the taboo of talking about tampons (and be on Ellen.) In this effort, I have created a YouTube channel where I ask women to share their most embarrassing period stories and I talk with men (Flow Bros) about everything menstrual related from cramps to period sex. Learn more about Aunt Flow at

Twitter @GoAuntFlow
Instagram @GoAuntFlow

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.