Startup Weekend Cedar Rapids 2016: Meet the teams

Startup Weekend Cedar Rapids 2016 - photo by Flow Media
Startup Weekend Cedar Rapids 2016 – photo by Flow Media

Teams are hard at work at Startup Weekend Cedar Rapids 2016, with ideas ranging from sarcastic political humor to manufacturing education to help for the elderly.

“I’m amazed at how quickly time flies – you think ‘all day? We’re doing this all day?’” said Julie Shields, the director of the Millikin University’s Center for Entrepreneurship, who traveled from Illinois to be part of the weekend.

“But it goes by so quickly, it’s so intense, it’s so deep. Everyone is being so open and honest about conversation, and asking tough questions – you don’t get that in an office setting.”

While startup-curious designers, developers and idea-builders were a core part of the 60-some weekend warriors, there were also other types of participants. Large local companies, including our sponsor Rockwell Collins, sent groups; carloads of curious community builders came from Black Hills, South Dakota and Decatur, Illinois; a few groups of Iowa Startup Accelerator alumni came to be part of a hackathon environment, and high school students and youth as young as 12 participated.

“It’s really fun and cool that you can be there, they don’t treat you any differently because you’re a kid, you can still participate,” said Mats McGrath, a 7th grader who spent Saturday working on customer discovery interviews.

Without further ado, here are the 10 teams of Startup Weekend Cedar Rapids 2016 (in alphabetical order):

Alzheimer’s app

  • We talked to: Actually, this team spent so much of the day out of the building doing customer discovery that we couldn’t track them down for quotes.
  • The idea: A wearable tracker, or a way to raise awareness about existing technologies, for patients with Alzheimer’s to give their loved ones greater peace of mind.

ASAP venues

  • We talked to: Anna Lessman, a freelance graphic designer
  • The idea: A simple website with details on renting local venues, including the cost, location, number of people, etc. “Finding venues for people who have life events – we’re geared towards bridals, baby showers, any type of anniversaries.”
  • Teamwork makes the dream work: This group said they have utilized every person’s strengths. “We’ve been very organized, everyone has a lot of input and everyone is very cooperative. Everyone wants to take their time and make sure everyone’s opinions are heard. We seem to work together quite nicely.”

Bounty Learner

  • We talked to: Vero Smith, a recent graduate of the Harvard Graduate School of Design
  • The idea: “Get paid to learn’ is our main concept – it is a platform that connects manufacturers to high school students, and places [like makerspaces] where those students can learn basic manufacturing skills and get paid to learn.” They narrowed this from “a platform for anyone to learn anything,” which was too vague in value proposition and too competitive in the market.
  • Up and down moments: “I feel like it’s continuous – we think we have a lightbulb, and then it flickers out, or smashes, and we have to go find a new lightbulb in the dark.”

“Boy Scout camp for adults”

  • We talked to: Brian Rupert, designer, web developer and Black Hills, South Dakota road-tripper
  • The idea: Get a satisfying sense of fulfillment and completion through an outdoor experience that lets you try new skills. “It’s a vacation destination based on providing new and fulfilling experience, related around doing some new or forgotten skills that attendees are interested in learning more about.” By the end of the weekend, the team hopes to have a date set for their first event and start booking it.
  • Questioning the process: With a few Startup Weekend veterans on the team, this group jumped into customer discovery quickly, but still had room to learn and grow. Some of the younger members came back from initial interviews saying, ‘We got almost perfect validation, so we think that probably means our questions are bad,’ – rather than taking the feedback at face value and just saying ‘we’re awesome.’

Collaborative Music

  • We talked to: Aaron Van Noy, web designer
  • The idea: Rapid-fire jam sessions. “It’s essentially a speed dating for musicians – they go in a certain time interval from room to room, and meet potential new members of a band.”
  • Validation? “That [idea] is where we’ve seen the passion, where people’s eyes light up and say ‘I’d love to do that’…it was amazing.”

Podcast Pal

  • We talked to: Bryan Rennekamp, a software developer and serial Startup Weekend attendee
  • The idea: “’Many podcasts suffer quality problems’ – but that’s very broad. We spent some time analyzing, and really drilling down into what, exactly, was the heart of these problems.” The solution might take the form of content analytics, a consulting model, technical help for podcasters, or all of the above. “Our goal is to have something that we’re proud of, that we’re invested in, and if one of us decides we really feel that urge, we can take it and run with it. We don’t want to half ass it.”
  • You get out what you put in: “Startup Weekend is for everybody – there is something for everyone here to contribute. If your idea doesn’t take flight, you’ll be better prepared to make it take flight when the time is ready.”

Remember When…

  • We talked to: James Bailey, IT manager at Rockwell Collins
  • The idea: “We’re focused on helping people proactively capture important family memories and stories.” Rather than building on a technology solution, the team is trying to simplify the process of capturing memories – the minimum viable product might be a set of best practices or a guide to existing tech platforms. When we talked to them, the team members were just coming back from customer discovery interviews, so the idea may change again.
  • Trust the process: “I want to get through the process, reach the finish line, and get through the whole process having done everything.”

Side Project

  • We talked to: Julie Shields, director of Millikin University’s Center for Entrepreneurship
  • The idea: “Identifying untapped potential.” For entrepreneurs or would-be entrepreneurs who are working on passion projects on the side, “how to make side projects more profitable, a bigger story, a bigger part of the entrepreneur’s life.” Whether the side project is a potential business or simply a creative outlet, identifying resources to help it grow.
  • When a writer starts asking you questions in the middle of Startup Weekend (sorry!) “It’s a little confusing still – we’re in the stage of deciding how we’re going to narrow our project.”

Snark Nation

  • We talked to: Caleb Meyer, a computer science student at University of North Dakota and a Rockwell Collins co-op
  • The idea: Postcards with “snarky sayings or witticisms about political figures or topics, that you can send to your friends, to your coworkers, to the political figures themselves.” A way to show your political stripes either directly – by sending a message to your representatives – or among your family and friends.
  • Ah-ha moment: “I think every time we hit a good zing or a good topic for a card, that’s a lightbulb moment.”

Vacation planning app

  • We talked to: Mats McGrath, 7th grade at McKinley Middle School
  • The idea: Have a local plan your vacation for you. An app akin to AirBNB or CouchSurfing, where local people can share their knowledge and talents with travelers to earn cash.
  • Lesson learned: “If you have an idea, just say it. There’s no point in holding it back.”

Getting comfortable being uncomfortable at Startup Weekend Iowa City 2015

Photo via Startup Weekend Iowa City on Facebook
Photo via Startup Weekend Iowa City on Facebook

Startup Weekend Iowa City 2015 is in the books!

We had 65 attendees, 6 half-baked ideas, 7 tasty local meals, 1 team fall apart and then fall back together, and 8 solid final pitches.

There were moments – like seeing a 12-year-old mock up an app or hearing the winning team share what Startup Weekend meant to them – that reminded us why we do this crazy event in the first place.

Plus, we were one of four Startup Weekends happening across Iowa in one weekend – with almost 300 people involved (including mentors, organizers and judges), 213 of those fully engaged in a hands-on learning experience, and 26 new business prototypes pitched on Sunday night. (Stats here)

Startup Weekend isn’t new in Iowa – it’s been in the Iowa City/Cedar Rapids Corridor since 2011, and in Des Moines before that – but connecting the state in this way, through a somewhat-separate but also shared experience, feels like it might be a game changer. (Having all of Startup Iowa on slack, so we can all chat in one place, helps too). Major shoutout to our fellow organizers in Ames, Cedar Valley and Sioux City.

We were especially glad to have participants, organizers and mentors from the Quad Cities join us in Downtown Iowa City. We now have stronger ties to one of our closest neighbor communities and a bunch of new friends. It was interesting to compare where our two startup communities are in their lifecycles, and to see how we could both learn from each other.

So what did we learn?

Getting comfortable being uncomfortable

Chris O, who planned to spend his weekend coding but ended up leading the winning team through customer discovery and business model exploration.
Chris O, who planned to spend his weekend coding but ended up leading the winning team through customer discovery and business model exploration.

Our friend and mentor Andy Stoll told us, this is a central part of the experience of being an entrepreneur. Uncertainty is guaranteed, change is a constant, and you have to be ready to deal with it all – fast.

Our 8 teams definitely learned that this weekend. Almost everyone pivoted, like the team that went from a satirical think tank seeking “general smart asses” to a children’s book, or the one that went from a “mom app” for college kids to a CRM for your personal life.

And there were plenty of interpersonal struggles along the way. Working on a team of strangers is hard enough, but then Startup Weekend also layers on long days and intense deadline pressure. We also had some unexpected challenges, like the first snow of the season turning into a severe winter storm.

Several people bounced around between teams on Saturday, looking for the right fit. A few left in the middle of the day (note: not recommended).

But through it all, people seemed to be happy and having a good time. It might have helped that we had a few light-hearted concepts being developed – from a humorous political concept to a subscription service for adult products.

Throughout the weekend, every challenge was received as a learning opportunity. Even when things were tough, people stayed respectful and open-minded. They seemed to trust the process.

They found solutions – which is what entrepreneurship is really all about.

Welcoming diversity

Getting to know each other Friday night
Getting to know each other Friday night

Part of getting uncomfortable – and also part of finding the best solutions to real problems in the world – is opening yourself up to different ways of thinking.

We had lots of people from diverse backgrounds at Startup Weekend Iowa City (several of them traveled in from the Quad Cities or Cornell College). We had participants as young as 12 and as old as 71. We had several women-led teams (although our total participation was still far below 50 percent women – this is an area where Iowa has a lot of work to do, and we’re still working on it at Startup Weekend too). 

The teams with diverse backgrounds and leadership also seemed to be the teams that were having a lot of fun and finding some early success. The teams without diversity were more likely to fall into old patterns of thought – when really, Startup Weekend is all about breaking out of those self-imposed boxes.

Meet the teams:

First place:
Sexy Life: A monthly, date-night subscription box to help couples re-discover their relationships.

Second place:
TICLER: An app to help you maintain strong relationships with those you care about by providing reminders (call your mom!)

Third place:
Leksify: A mobile foreign language-learning platform, focused on vocabulary, that uses fun games to teach

Most Promising Opportunity – wins a free pass to Venture School!
Rock the Gift: A service to help online shoppers find unique, high-quality gifts

Corn Caucus: Engaging and empowering young people in civic life with humor and storytelling

Fashion Fit: Solving the problem of ordering the wrong size of clothes online

Passion U: A service to connect high school students with life coaches so they can discover their strengths and passions earlier in life

We Suck: An online forum for entrepreneurs to anonymously vent about their struggles 

So what’s next?

Startup Weekend is the spark that has started so many people in our community on their entrepreneurial journey (myself included) – and really it is just that, the start of a journey.

We’re hoping to see our teams again at…

Global Startup Battle. At least one has already applied! This is a fun online competition where teams can potentially win prizes. GSB, and the surrounding event of Global Entrepreneurship Week, was also the impetus to organize multiple Startup Weekends across Iowa in one go.

1 Million Cups. Happening weekly in three (ICR, DSM, CV) communities across Iowa, this is a chance for new entrepreneurs to present their ideas and get constructive feedback.

Venture School. This six-week program from the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center (JPEC) at the University of Iowa is a great next step for these ideas. They’ll dive deep into customer discovery and business models.

In one of Iowa’s lovely coworking facilities. Our Iowa City organizers are particularly attached to  IC CoLab and Vault Coworking but there are many more great coworking facilities across Iowa too. This is where the community goes to work.

Five Startup Weekends coming to Iowa in November

Startup Weekend Cedar Rapids 2015.
Startup Weekend Cedar Rapids 2015.

Startup Weekend has been in Iowa since 2009, touching hundreds of lives, but for the first time community builders from across the state are collaborating to bring multiple events to fruition at once.

Five Startup Weekends will happen Nov. 20-22 in Iowa, including Council Bluffs, Ames, Cedar Falls, Iowa City (that’s us!) and the Quad Cities.

As organizers, we’re thrilled by the chance to increase connections and opportunities across the state. For this special collaboration, teams will be able to videoconference with mentors from across the state and learn alongside more fellow entrepreneurs.

Some background: Startup Weekend is an exciting event that begins with participants pitching ideas on Friday evening, and then forming teams around the most promising concepts. These teams spend the weekend creating a business model, developing prototypes and seeking their first customers. The event culminates with presentations to a panel of local judges and mentors Sunday night.

Several notable Iowa startups have found their initial idea at Startup Weekend, including:

  • CareDrop, a support network for non-professional caregivers nationwide and current participant in the Iowa Startup Accelerator (Startup Weekend Cedar Rapids 2015)
  • Fanstreamm, a mobile sports ticketing application and graduate of the NMotion Accelerator (Startup Weekend Cedar Rapids 2014)
  • Goquets, a quick and easy way to order beautiful flowers and current participant in the Iowa Startup Accelerator (Startup Weekend Ames 2013)
  •, a health tech startup that pairs fitness tracker data with health coaching and graduate of Techstars (Startup Weekend Iowa City 2011)

These five cities will also be part of the Global Startup Battle, happening in 200 cities around the world during Global Entrepreneurship Week. The winning teams from each city’s event will compete in a global video pitch challenge to see who created the best new idea.

Long story short: You want to be there.

Get your ticket today!