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It’s time again for Startup Weekend Louisville! Our 11th consecutive event is coming up this October, and we’re so excited to be bringing this 54 hour frenzy of fun, innovation, networking, and entrepreneurship back again!

Check out the recap of Startup Weekend Louisville #10, held at the Kentucky Science Center and LouieLab in April 2017.

Since this will be our eleventh event, we’ve learned a great deal about what Startup Weekend actually is, but many people that haven’t been still don’t know. One of the most common questions we get is “What is Startup Weekend?” We want to answer that with the words of the people that have been there.

Welcome back to “What is Startup Weekend Louisville?”

In this ongoing series, we’ll present what past attendees have to say about their time at Startup Weekend Louisville. We hope it will give you a better picture of how and why we do Startup Weekend in Louisville. We’ll be posting accounts, results, and stories from past attendees as we get closer to Startup Weekend Louisville #11 on October 13-15, 2017.

For this installment of “What is Startup Weekend Louisville?” we’re going long-form and all the way back to the very first Startup Weekend Louisville. Melissa Chipman was the only woman to attend that inaugural event and she ended up on the winning team, City Anchor. What she had to say about her experience at the very first Startup Weekend Louisville in September 2012 first appeared in a series of articles at Insider Louisville, reprinted and linked here with the author’s permission.

This is a long read, but it’s probably the best play-by-play of Startup Weekend Louisville we’ve ever seen. Also, Melissa has been active with Startup Weekend Louisville ever since. She has been and attendee, a volunteer, and part of the organizing team.

If you’re interested in the original articles, they can be found here: Part OnePart Two, and Part Three.

Part One:

For the first forty-five minutes, I am the only woman at the event.

It’s Startup Weekend Louisville, a 54-hour marathon event that gathers developers, designers, and business people and propels them from startup pitch through business creation to presentation to local entrepreneurial leaders.

And it’s a room full of men at the U of L Med Center 2.

We network.

We eat from a buffet provided by Taco Punk.

We drink Rooibee Red Tea or Falls City Beer.

And then the presentation starts. Just minutes after Zachary Cohn, the Seattle-based representative from Startup Weekend, starts to speak, a second woman shows up.

By the end of the night, I’m no longer sure that she’s stuck around.

Startup Weekend is a boot camp for entrepreneurs. There have been more than 700 Startup Weekend events in 85 countries from the United States to Kenya to Mongolia. Three hundred and twenty cities have hosted Startup Weekends, but this is the first time the event has been in Louisville.

More than 70,000 people have participated in Startup Weekends worldwide.

This weekend alone, there are 14 Startup Weekends happening everywhere from Louisville to Auckland, New Zealand.

The non-profit organization is headquartered in Seattle where Cohn works also with Google, national sponsor of the event.
Local host sponsors are University of Louisville and Forge. Adam Fish, of Forge and Roobiq; Nick Such of Awesome Inc. in Lexington and BuildingLayer; and Nick Huhn, a digital strategist and consultant brought the event to Louisville.

The kick-off guest speaker is Fred Durham, former CEO and founder of Cafe Press. Durham described himself as a “recovering entrepreneur” who began Cafe Press in 1999 in his garage in California.

He’s a slight man, wearing a striking red tee-shirt with the words “Cassius Clay” on it. Appropriate, of course, that his tee-shirt makes an impression as Cafe Press made its bones by printing tee-shirts on demand and has grown to offer more than 600 customizable products on demand.

It’s been a huge success, Cafe Press, but this was Durham’s tenth business, and up until Cafe Press took off, he described himself as a “serial failure.”

He says, “If you’re going to fail, do it fast, and do it cheap.”

While his other nine businesses felt like trying to “push a car uphill,” when he launched Cafe Press he said it was like trying to “push a car downhill.” It ran away from him and his partner, and they had to scramble to fulfill the promises that they made to potential clients.
Durham sold Cafe Press right before it went public, which, he said, is the right way to do it. He came to Louisville to transition the business to the new CEO, and he ended up falling in love with the city. He completed the transfer and then moved his wife and children to Louisville.
He’s confident in the “possibility” inherent in “Possibility City,” and hopes to start a small-business incubator in the city in the next year.
Durham gave this advice to the Startup Weekend attendees: “If you can fail for 99 bucks [the cost of the event] in a single weekend the way we used to fail for a million bucks over the course of a year… shit, that’s a really big deal.”

After Durham speaks, Cohn launches a very welcome alternative to traditional “ice-breakers.” It’s a game of “Rock, Paper, Scissors… WAR!” where attendees battle each other in a game of “Rock, Paper, Scissors” where the losers must cheer on the winners. By the end of the contest (which takes less than five minutes), two winners are left, backed by 30 or so roaring cheerleaders. Adam Klaers, owner of Xterra Consulting and Derby City Pedicabs emerges victorious.

Then the meat of the evening begins, 16 attendees give 60-second pitches for startups. Ideas range from tangible products to aps to services. And after the pitches conclude, we’re given 25 minutes to network – to ask further questions of the pitchers, to see if the pitchers need our services.

By the end of the fifteen minutes, I’ve given out nearly all of the healthy chunk of business cards I’ve brought, and then we’re asked to vote on our favorite projects.

I choose to throw my support behind two projects, both of which are, in their startup phase, Louisville-centric. Seven projects receive enough votes to be pushed through to development phase, and only one of the two that I supported makes the cut. So I join that team.
We split off into business meetings, each attendee rallying behind the startup that they most supported. And business plans start to emerge.
I have to admit, ever since I paid the $75 early-registration fee and committed to attend Startup Weekend, I’ve been concerned. I know that the Louisville startup and tech communities are heavily man-centric and not as welcoming as I’d like to non-tech folks. I worried that as a female, creative professional, I’d be the last kid picked for the dodgeball team.

But fifteen minutes into the business meetings, Dave Durand of Forest Giant pokes his head into my conference room and tells me that even though his idea hadn’t made the cut, he’s still forming a team (totally allowable in Startup Weekend rules). And he wants me to defect.
And after much bellyaching and feelings of betrayal, I do.

We’ll see how it all works out tomorrow.

But I still don’t get the man-centric nature of these events.

Why is the Louisville startup/tech community so dominated by men?

Hopefully I’ll be able to unpack that this weekend.

Part Two: 

I’d like to be able to say that the one benefit of being the sole woman among approximately forty male participants of Startup Weekend Louisville (not to mention all of the mentors, all of the hosts, all of the judges, the keynote speaker, and the Startup Weekend representative) is that at least the women’s bathroom is super clean.

It’s not. It smells pretty awful in there, like maybe the cleaning person made lunch of a couple dozen raw oysters that had turned.
There is one major benefit to being the only woman at Startup Weekend: I stand out. And at a networking event, you can’t beat that with a stick.

A bunch of times today, I had people I didn’t know call me by name, reference my blog, ask about last night’s Insider Louisville post.
Several times on Twitter today, I was asked – by men and women – two questions: (1) why there are no women at Startup Louisville? and (2) how to get women to come to these kinds of events?

The answer to (1) is very simple: I have no idea.
The answer to (2) is more complicated.

But before I get into that I want to be clear: the past 30-plus hours have been a dream. I don’t think I was this excited when I started my own freelancing business.

My concerns about being a woman in a man-heavy environment were unfounded.

I’m on a team with three brilliant guys who value my input and who share the work of our startup equally. Not a soul at the event has made me feel like a “girl” (which is good, seeing I left “girl”-hood behind around a decade ago).

I will be sad when this event is over, even though I am sleep-deprived and way over-caffeinated.

Seriously, I consumed so much Heine Brothers’ coffee (an event sponsor) today that I may, in fact, be levitating.

Startup Weekend is like summer camp. For nerds. These are my people.

Back to the “women problem” of startup events in Louisville. I point to the parenthetical statement I made in paragraph one of this article. When you have no women hosting, mentoring, judging, speaking, or representing the parent organization, that’s a problem.

Grace Simrall, a tech-driven entrepreneur and founder of iGlass Analytics, dropped in on the event at my invitation. But she’s not on the list of mentors or hosts. Michelle Jones, of the Consuming Louisville empire, whose iPhone ap, Menu and Hours was recently called the “perfect restaurant ap” by Fast Company, couldn’t attend because the event overlaps Rosh Hashanah (come on, Louisville– do better).

The closest we have to women “representing” at Startup Weekend Louisville is a sponsorship by Rooibee Red Tea.

Many mentors were afoot today, and I’m afraid that most of the other teams made better use of them. They included:
Alex Frommeyer, Beam Brush
Andrew Spendlove, GlowTouch Technologies
Greg Langdon, angel investor
Lou Kelmanson, Kelmanson Holdings
John Williamson, UCloser

My team was nose-to-the-grindstone starting at 9 a.m.

I’d been up until almost 4 a.m. working (of course, some of that midnight oil was spent writing last night’s article); a couple of my team members are morning people who’d started working at 5am.

As far as I’m concerned, I have the best possible team. There are only four of us, so we make decisions quickly. All four of us are so diversified that there’s no jockeying for responsibility. We’re a designer, a back end coder, a front end coder, and me– the project manager and networker. Our roles are clearly defined, and we’re largely autonomous.

Today was full-speed ahead for us. But other teams weren’t as lucky.

Some teams were pivoting as late as 7 p.m. today. One team went through more than seven business models before deciding on one that had nothing to do with the original pitch.

My team is CityAnchor. I need to keep the specifics a little close to my vest, but it’s our hope to not only be live, but perhaps even generating revenue by the time we present to the judges tomorrow at 5 p.m.

That’s huge. And exciting.

And I have faith in this.

Today Startup Weekend was 100-percent work. The designer is designing, the coders are coding, and I pulled in a number of social media experts for focus groups and to check out the mock-up for our mobile website and I am working on the website copy.
Tomorrow we start back up again at 9 a.m. and have work time until we break at 5p.m.

We’ll have dinner (tonight’s was provided by J.Gumbo’s – looking forward to seeing who’s bringing dinner tomorrow), and then we’ll pitch to the judges.

The panel of judges are:
Kent Oyler – founder of High Speed Access (first tech IPO from KY) and OPM.
Doug Cobb – Entrepreneur-in-residence at Chrysalis Ventures
Bob Saunders – Managing Director at Saunders Capital
Lou Kelmanson – angel investor
Fred Durham – Founder & former CEO of CafePress (who was Friday’s keynote)

We’ve been given a set of judging criteria, but what the “winning” team wins is still unclear to me.

But that’s just fine, in my case. Unless something goes terribly awry tomorrow, we’ll have an actual business founded and launched by 5 p.m., and that’s enough of a win for me.

People are tweeting about Startup Weekend Louisville using the hashtag #swlou.

And I know I said I have to keep my team’s information on the down low, but we’re already tweeting at @CityAnchor, and you can friend us on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/CityAnchor.

I’ll be live-tweeting the presentation process from @CityAnchor.

If you’d like to see the presentations in person, you can come to the UofL MedCenter 2 on Sunday at 5pm. Read more about all six teams at the Startup Weekend Louisville blog. Join us, we’re proud and excited– all forty-something of us.

By the way, I have no idea what happened to the other woman who showed up last night. I was so consumed by my role as participant today that I utterly neglected my reportorial role.

But either she’s one of the Silence from Doctor Who, or she didn’t show up today.

Either way, I am relatively certain she’s not responsible for the women’s bathroom issue.

Part Three:

Anchors Aweigh!

When Dave Durand, CEO of Forest Giant, came to Startup Weekend, he was there to be a mentor.

After all, he’d started a number of businesses and even sold one. But the thrill of the startup was too much of a pull, and he joined 15 other entrepreneurs in Friday night’s pitch session.

But Durand’s business idea for a local blog aggregator didn’t make the cut when it came down to voting to create teams.
Fifteen minutes after joining a team that wasn’t sure it was going to be able to see its product through in a weekend, Durand bolted and chose to create his own team anyway.

By the time Durand asked me to defect from Game City, he’d already poached two other team members. Shane Logsdon is a back end web developer with Blackstone Media and a freelancer. Ukiah Smith is a front end web developer for Power Creative and owner of Faction42, a company that creates websites.

Durand is the design guy. In addition to being a freelance journalist, I’ve been blogging about Louisville for six years at My Loueyville, and I just launched Chipman Creative, a writing, editing, and social media business.

I’m project manager/networking for the CityAnchor team.

We were the smallest team. We were the one team that wasn’t supposed to exist. And as I have mentioned in my previous articles, I was the only woman at the event.

Over the course of the fifty-some hour event, we went from Durand’s pitch to revenue-generating startup with a live (albeit still buggy) product.

We call it CityAnchor.

CityAnchor is a curated event, arts, music, and food blog aggregator. The live version of CityAnchor currently includes 16 Louisville blogs. We vet our blogs, so only the most trusted voices are collected on CityAnchor. If you’re a local, we’re a one-stop shop for all of the best culture blogs in the city. If you’re a visitor to Louisville, you can check out CityAnchor and see what the locals are doing and promoting.
On Saturday, we put a market survey online and brought in a focus and demo group of movers and shakers in the Louisville arts and social media community, including Kirsty Gaukel, PR Director for Actors Theatre; Kyle Ware, director of Tourism Honors Academy, artist, and member of Le Petomane Theatre Ensemble; and Richard Meadows, social media expert.

We also hit social media hard. As I am writing, we have 110 followers on Twitter and 72 “likes” on Facebook. Not too shabby for a little more than 24 hours. Leveraging my 2150+ followers on Twitter (@loueyville), CityAnchor also pulled in three “founding sponsors” on Sunday: Nuts N Stuff, a bulk retailer on Barret Ave; Social Concierge, a new social media startup; and Derby City Chop Shop, the stylish barber shop on Bardstown Road.

We were the only startup to start generating revenue by presentation time, a fact that won us good favor from the judges.

At 6 p.m. on Sunday, the six remaining teams pitched their ideas in front of a packed room and a panel of five judges:

Kent Oyler – founder of High Speed Access (first tech IPO from KY) and OPM.
Doug Cobb – Entrepreneur-in-residence at Chrysalis Ventures
Bob Saunders – Managing Director at Saunders Capital
Lou Kelmanson – angel investor
Fred Durham – Founder & former CEO of CafePress

Only five of the six teams had an actual startup to pitch. The sixth and final presenting team had pivoted and failed so many times that their presentation, which earned a standing ovation, ended up being about what not to do.

Nick Huhn, the presenter and one of the hosts of Startup Weekend Louisville, gave the presentation, and at the afterparty at Garage Bar, we discovered that it had not been caught on video. If it had, it should have been mandatory viewing at all future Startup Weekend events.
The remaining five startups hit it out of the park with their presentations.

SproutHub is a mobile farmers’ market – a food truck that sells produce direct from farmers. You can find out where the SproutHub truck will be by monitoring a map app or by receiving text messages from the service.

Game City is an app that “gamifies” attending local events. Earn points by checking into an event – a festival, a play, a marathon, a local business– and redeem those points for discounted entry to events, prizes, and other incentives.

Gwaled (pronounced “wallet”) is a mobile app that stores and manipulates loyalty rewards data. Customers can trade loyalty cards and give them as gifts.

PT Pal had a slick presentation for their web-based and app-supported physical therapy monitoring company. Physical therapists can monitor patients’ in-home exercise participation, using guilt-driven accountability and a rewards system to help patients heal better faster.

After Durand’s presentation, Meadows, who also attended the pitch to the judges, came up to the CityAnchor table, grabbed a note pad, and wrote his reaction. The sticky note simply read, “AWESOME.”

While the judges conferred, the rest of us mingled and networked. Twice in that twenty minutes, I was told that there were two or three “viable business models” among the five presenters – and both times, CityAnchor wasn’t one of them.

Zach Cohn, from the Startup Weekend HQ in Seattle, reconvened the meeting to announce the winners.

And CityAnchor won.


Me and my guys? We won the inaugural Startup Weekend Louisville.

Paul Blakeley