Reflection from Feb 2014 Startup Weekend from Mentor, Chad Williamson


What a weekend. 54 hours of “No Talk. All Action.”

Welcome to the Startup Weekend process that I witnessed at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. The main reason for my visit was to soak in the experience and learn anything possible that would serve as insight to launching the first ever High School Startup Weekend. I also acted as a “mentor”, but to be brutally honest, I wasn’t quite sure what I would offer on that front. At the end of the day, I’m a teacher and coach…not really a businessman.

Registration started at 4 p.m. and you could feel the energy as students walked through the doors to pick up their Miami Entrepreneurship red packet, which had the schedule and valuable resources in the form of handouts that included Alex Osterwalder’s business model canvas. The man responsible for bringing Startup Weekend to Miami University is Mark Lacker, Professor of Entrepreneurship. The person in charge of implementation (which means EVERYTHING else) is Jessica Reading, Assistant Director, Page Center for Entrepreneurship…what a team!

If you’ve never been part or witnessed a Startup Weekend, it takes a tremendous amount of preparation and commitment to create a great experience. To say it was a great experience is an understatement. Miami University Startup Weekend was absolutely amazing. In other words, they CRUSHED IT!

Prior to listening to the keynote speaker, students gathered around to get the introduction from Mark Lacker…”Trust the process, just bring great energy and great attitude.”

The keynote was Dave Knox, co-founder of the Brandery in Cincinnati and he dropped quite a bit of knowledge, and the students were very engaged. I even saw many of them taking notes! Dave talked about having an idea for a startup, “Are you scratching an itch? Does it keep you up at night?” He continued and framed out a good Startup Weekend participant to be a “hacker, hustler, or designer” and then clarified that a designer is not just someone that creates a logo, “A designer is someone that thinks about the user and about the overall experience.”

Dave Knox

He ended with, “Don’t have a business that’s inspired by something too small…you gotta swing…you gotta go for the fences!” That set the stage for Nick Seguin. As a Miami Alum and Up Global board member, Nick has been to hundreds of Startup Weekends and he explained ground rules for the weekend. He also provided his own insight and wisdom, “Entrepreneurship doesn’t start until you start. No one will ever put you on their back and carry you in entrepreneurship. Startup Weekend is an access point to entrepreneurship.”

Now they were ready. Over 40 students performed 60-second pitches to attract possible team members to join them in working on that idea for the entire weekend. After the pitches were complete, students voted on who they liked, which was dwindled down to 17 teams. They were set and off to the races.

Some teams stayed till 1 a.m. working on the initial phases of the lean canvas to nail down the problem statement to then tackle the next phase of customer development. This sounds easy, but every single team will tell you…it’s hard as hell, especially when you have professional mentors coming in to poke holes in assumptions and/or lack of focus on PROCESS.

At this point, you must understand that it was the entrepreneurship department at Miami University who first launched the college version of Startup Weekend and this was their third year. Therefore, students of the entrepreneurship track acted as peer-to-peer mentors in addition to acting as support staff. The really cool thing was to see alumni come back and act as professional mentors. These were proven businessmen and women with significant experience as entrepreneurs and had founded many different companies in many different sectors around the country.

Saturday continued the grind at 8 a.m., which started with a simple breakfast and a ton of coffee, much needed for all involved. There was also a guest speaker from Procter and Gamble, Joyce Ross. She was great and it was interesting because she set the stage for what the students should have done right after the presentation…customer validation through consumer interactions. Some teams did and many teams didn’t.

In regards to asking the right questions, Joyce stated, “It can allow you to quickly assess your idea, build it, and change direction if needed.” The line that stuck out to me was her insight about how people usually approach asking questions, “I’m gonna go talk to some possible consumers.” Joyce then reframed, “No…I’m gonna go listen to some possible consumers.” Brilliant. It also reminded me of Startup Weekend’s motto of No Talk. All Action. Maybe listening in the best action?

So back to work they went and internal stories were starting to emerge. Some of the students that worked together knew each other prior to the event but some did not. It was evident that teamwork was so critical to the process, which can be a difficult process, especially when you have more people than you need. Again, reminded me of going through Tuckman’s stages of group development…in 2 days no less. Not easy at all…and most times, impossible.

The word of the day on Saturday had to be “pivot” because many teams were still receiving customer validation that changed how they approached the problem. They also had mentors coming in throughout the day to question them about everything.

I had the opportunity to pop in and out of all the different rooms, which the teams were working in and started to get to know the teams quite well…my favorite part. As a side note, these students were awesome and they had constant energy. It was very refreshing to witness them embracing the Startup Weekend process and even better, it was proving to be a great educational experience.

The day moved into night and teams were working hard to create apps, websites, marketing plans, business models, and possible prototypes. In addition, they continued to receive customer validation from the survey’s they sent out earlier in the day. Some teams even left the building (even though it was snowing) to question different business about product development. They were actually going through the IDEO Human Centered Design circles but didn’t know it, i.e. is our idea desirable, feasible, viable?

There were a couple “Gut Check” times where teams would check in with Nick and give an update where they were in the process. It was a very cool piece because you could sense the urgency to deliver but also the frustration in the process to solve a problem. This part had me reflecting on feedback I received from Bob More, Head of Venture Investing for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. I asked Bob what he thought were the top three qualities and/or skills of an entrepreneur and this was his response:

  • A thorough understanding of a problem (emphatically not a solution, but a problem)
  • Intellectual honesty to themselves and others
  • Ability to convey a dream through the telling of a story

I often refer to these three points in our curriculum at the high school level and it serves as a great “Gut Check” for the serving over steering mentality. In addition, I introduced a couple of the teams to my favorite storytelling video, which some students had already seen through classes at Miami University.

A big issue during the day was an impending snowstorm that was moving in and threatened travel plans for many of the mentors and judges that had come in from across the country. However, everyone decided to stay and I would have to chalk that up to how great the event was going. It really was seamless and so well planned, which provided the opportunity for everyone to focus on the students instead of possible poor planning glitches. Kudos to Jessica’s team for sure.

The second day came and went. Some teams actually worked until 3:30 Sunday morning and were getting into the planning stages of their final 4-minute pitch. These were people that didn’t know each other 48 hours prior but were committed to something bigger than themselves…it was a TEAM mentality that drove them.

Here it was…the final day and everyone had on their Sunday best, meaning that most shirts were tucked in. The level of exhaustion was evident but so was the level of urgency and engagement in the process. All the teams were making final adjustments on their presentations and were also “dogged” (Dave Knox language) in their practicing of the pitch. I witnessed many of the practice pitches and these students were ready.

Judges were in place and it was time. First group up! 17 teams later, the judges had very difficult decisions to make. The Startup Weekend judging criteria is based around three distinct measures:

  1. Business Model – customer identification, basic value proposition, revenue sources, main expenses, key partners and resources, distribution channels, sales and marketing strategy
  2. Customer Validation – evidence to back up business model, target market feedback (quantity and quality)
  3. Execution – minimally viable concept features, mockup or prototype

The judges deliberated for about 30 minutes and went back and forth on who should receive the top prize based on all the criteria. It was also difficult for them to decide who would be second and third.

As they deliberated, one of the judges summed up his view between this year’s Startup Weekend to last year’s, and said, “Last year, students pitched ideas. This year, students pitched businesses.”

That statement alone was the evidence needed to show that all the time and effort put forth resulted in a tremendous educational experience. I’ve heard people say that Startup Weekend is like getting your MBA in 54 hours. It was also cool that Miami University gave official college credit to all the participants that completed the weekend.

Votes were in and a winner was selected. All the participants, mentors, and alumni piled back into the auditorium to hear the results. Prior to announcing the winner, one of the judges and also an alum, Ravi Pandey wanted to express his thoughts about the weekend. “It’s something I wish existed when I was a student.”

Nick Seguin was then tasked with announcing the winner. And the winner was Recruit Her, which is an app to keep sororities organized and efficient through a paperless process. They not only had a great pitch, but they worked well as a team the entire weekend and also addressed all aspects of the judging criteria.

So there you have it. 40+ original pitches, 100+ students, 15+ peer-to-peer mentors, 15+ professional mentors, 17 teams, and one final picture.

Whole Group

Last, I must express my thanks to Mark, Jessica, Brett, and the Miami Entrepreneurship team. I learned more than I can remember, which translates into selfish motivation for this blog. I figured that if I can write it out, maybe it could serve as a constant reflection document to reference when thinking of Startup Weekend best practices.

However, we all know this blog doesn’t represent the half of it. Each team had their own amazing story. The bonds that were made have a great chance of turning into life long friendships and partnerships. We might even see some legitimate companies launched, and that would be icing on the cake.

The third Startup Weekend at Miami University didn’t just serve as an educational experience…it was an invaluable life experience. Thanks for all your work and dedication.


Until we meet again,


Startup Weekend in Review!

Startup Weekend

We are proud to announce that Miami University’s third annual Startup Weekend was a HUGE success!  With over 100 students participants, 18 student mentors, 20 professional mentors, 3 all-star judges, 48 hours of entrepreneurial energy, and tons of brilliantly innovative ideas, #SWMU 2014 was our biggest and best yet!

At the end of the weekend, team RecruitHer, a digital sorority recruitment platform,  took first place.  The team was composed of Abby Purdum, Marissa Horwitz, Stuart Yamartino, Allyson Yoder, Maggie Ledbetter, and Rachel Seminara.  After working diligently throughout the weekend, both day and night, they delivered a killer final pitch and handled the judges’ questions like pros.  As far as next steps go, RecruitHer had this to say:

“We plan to keep the momentum going and move forward with developing RecruitHer. Our team is now working with the Miami Entrepreneurship department to finalize a marketing strategy and secure funding.”

Second place was awarded to Kitchen Sync, a mobile app that scans grocery recipes, organizes nutritional information, and generates recipe suggestions.  The team was composed of Laura Meyer, Jeremy Cohen, Caitlin McCoy, Andrea Fiegel, and Bryan Cooper.  As college students on a budget, this team knew how frustrating grocery shopping and cooking could be.  They cooked up a storm (of innovation) all weekend long.  As a result, they served up a fantastic final pitch that was so good, even the judges couldn’t resist!   The team spoke with us about their Startup Weekend journey and their plans moving forward:

“Throughout the weekend, our vision for Kitchen Sync was tested and refined leading us to a clearer business model and an exciting MVP. Moving forward, we intend on exploring next steps for Kitchen Sync by building off of the work we did this weekend and getting guidance from other entrepreneurs.”

Coming in third was Team Passport, a tool geared toward young travelers to document, record, and enhance their journeys all in one platform.  Team Passport consisted of Michael Wallace, Rebecca Peets, Nick Perry, Sebastian Englert, Forrest McGuire, and Wentianfu Zhang.  The idea was conceived as a result of the frustration they faced while studying abroad and trying to meet up with other young travelers.  They worked throughout the weekend to devise a solution to this problem, and thus, Passport was born!  The team took a different approach during their final pitch and performed a skit for the audience complete with the wafting aroma of freshly cooked spaghetti!  Like RecruitHer and Kitchen Sync, Passport plans to move forward with development:

Passport will move on to the next phase in starting our business and making travel documentation more convenient for the global market. We plan to meet with the student venture fund and other venture capitalists to find funding for our model and put it into the market by the summer study abroad term.”

The benefits, lessons learned, successes, and rewards of Startup Weekend don’t end there, though.  While only three teams are chosen as top finishers, every participant walks away with an invaluable experience.  Each year, the peer mentors select a handful of students to be named “Startup Stars” based on their work ethic and entrepreneurial energy throughout the weekend.  This year, our Startup Stars were:

  • Bryan Cooper (Kitchen Sync)  “You have 2 days to fail as fast as you can in order to find success. It’s more about the process and learning how to bring ideas to fruition through action than it is about winning anything.”
  • Lex Rovi (Chasing Geese) “Startup Weekend was a blast! There was so much energy from everyone, and we received one-on-one advice from a number of different mentors. I learned more in a weekend than I have in some classes, and it was  full of hardcore, dedicated individuals. I would recommend the experience to anyone.”
  • Ashley VanBuskirk (Unite) “Startup Weekend was a lot of fun! It was a great atmosphere that taught me so much about entrepreneurship! It was definitely one of the best learning experiences that I have had here at Miami!”
  • Taylor Wicks (EfFit) “The amount of learning that took place and the connections that developed definitely positively influenced the career path I choose to take.This one weekend may have changed my life forever.”
  • Stuart Yamartino (RecruitHer) “Startup weekend was wicked fun. I learned so much about myself, my team, and how a group of strangers can come together in one weekend to make one awesome product.”

Thanks to all the participants, organizers, facilitators, mentors, partners, and supporters who made #SWMU such a memorable and successful event!  Startup Weekend is just one example of all the ways the Page Center for Entrepreneurship at Miami University supports and inspires the dreams of budding entrepreneurs.  For more on our program, visit our websitefollow us on Twitter, and Like us on Facebook.

#SWMU in Full Swing!

It’s Day 2 of Miami University’s third annual Startup Weekend and we’re so impressed by what we’ve seen so far!  Pitches have been made, teams have formed, ideas have been generated, and the whole building is buzzing with entrepreneurial energy!

Hopefully you’ve been following our real-time updates via Twitter (@Miami_ENT and #SWMU), but we wanted to give our followers a more in-depth look at the progress so far.  Here’s a rundown of each team and their startup strategy!



Team Members: Nick Eaton, Sydney Reichert, Maddie Slattery, Corbin Scherzinger, Mike Coutre, and Brian Watson

Team YWalk begs the question “Why walk when you can ride?” YWalk seeks to implement bike-sharing systems on college campuses across the country!


Recruitment App

Team Members: Abigail Purdum, Marissa Horwitz, Margaret Ledbetter, Rachel Seminara, Allyson Yoder, and Stuart Yamartino

This team is on a mission to improve the recruitment process for student organizations.  Their app will create a customizable database for evaluating candidates.  Their hope is that this app will redesign the current paper system to a completely paperless process.


Teach & Train

Team members: Taylor Wicks, Lizzie Arington, Anna Leone, Hannah Corner, Andrew Kozlove, and Ishmael Lucus

Teach & Train recognizes that the educational system doesn’t always engage students the way it should.  They hope to drive success in middle childhood education by catering education to students’ passions and drive.


Fish Tank

Team members: Alexa Davis, Jose Avila, Lawlor Coe, Travis  Amburgy, Tyler Guyot, and Mitchell Budden

Like all good entrepreneurs, team Fish Tank recognized a problem: there is no single location for students with different skills to connect.  For example, if an organization needs a designer, they can be hard to find.  Fish Tank will be a talent platform to connect students in need of services with those looking to market their skills.


Prestige Worldwide

Team members: Nathan Bosse, Cole Ciambro, Brett Watson, Zach Liston, Alan Sincich, and Zach Drago

Prestige Worldwide wants to revolutionize the world of event Planning.  Their system will create a one-step registration, check-in, and payment process to help event hosts manage a spontaneous guests list.



Team members: Tyler Perkowitz is flying solo on this one!

Chances offers users the chance to win free tickets through an online raffling platform.  This gives venues a chance to promote themselves while offering users the opportunity to attend events they might otherwise not afford.



Team members: Joseph Mezher, Joe Lane, Brian Samuels, Brian Munn, Javon Campbell, and Michael Anthony

As students, these entrepreneurs know that sometimes it’s hard to stay connected with friends throughout the day.  BarChatter is a social media solution that seeks to enhance communication between friends.  With features like geofencing and group chat, you will know where your friends are for different events.


Chasing Geese

Team members: Lex Rovi, Blake Jackson, Adam Ferraco, Taylor Martin, and Richard Werden

Chasing Geese wants to put interactive novels at the forefront of reades’ minds. They want to create a place for buyers to purchase them and to inform other customers on what an interactive novel is.



Team members: Michael Wallace, Rebecca Peets, Forrest McGuire, Carol Xhang, Nick Perry, Sebastian E

Team Passport found that there was no good system of communication for young travelers to communicate.  Passport seeks to solve that problem by creating a platform for young travelers to connect with one another while abroad.



Team members: Yadong Qi, Valeriy Voronin, and Jingxuan Li

This team’s mission is to to provide access to farmable property for parking.


Interactive Learner

Team members: Tom Pfeiffer, Logan McGovern, Matthew Rieger, David Gorley, Connor Dickey, Andy Shear, Eric Bode, Cole Desmond, and Jeremy Oseas

As students, this team knows that sometimes it’s hard to ask questions in class. They are creating a mobile-faced platform that strengthens the connection and interaction between the teachers and the students.



Team members: Max Brundige, Erica Griffith, Ashley Vanbuskirk, Kristina Graham, Jacob Sachs, Michael Henry, and Jeff Feiwell

Remember the frustrating process of applying for college scholarships?  There is no streamlined funding process for students looking to affordably attend college.  PocketChange will be a crowdfunding platform for students to connect with investors willing to partially fund their college education.



Team members: Jeremy Cohen, Bryan Cooper, Caitlin McCoy, Andrea Fiegel, Colton Reif, and Laura Meyer

We all struggle to cook because we don’t know how to use the food we have, or we forget what’s in the fridge!  KitchenSync wants to provide automated recipes by scanning grocery receipts and taking an inventory of what’s already in the fridge and cupboards.



Team members: JP Kostelnik and Jason Plagens

This duo knows that employee satisfaction is key to retaining good employees.  Their boutique consulting firm specializes in helping employers provide their employees with everything they need to manage a healthy work/life balance.


Breakfast Bar

Team members: Andrew George, Katy Hord, Liza Hord, and Coli Basinski

Team Breakfast Bar wants to provide college students with an inexpensive, all-you-can-eat breakfast option Friday through Sunday.  Hosted in the bar formerly known as Stadium, Breakfast Bar will be open from 8am-2:30pm and even offer mimosas!



Team members: Michael Markesbery and Rithvik Venna

Michael and Rithvik are building their brand around outdoor gear that is warm, lightweight, low bulk and strong.



Team members: Kedar Khire and Frank Smith

Pedal is an app-based marketplace for students to easily buy and sell anything they want! Connecting buyers and sellers more quickly.


And there you have it!  But in the world of startup, ideas are constantly changing, evolving, and pivoting.  So stay tuned for final pitches tomorrow starting at 1:30pm to hear the final products!