This post is courtesy of Lehigh University’s Baker Institute for Entrepreneurship, Creativity and Innovation. It shows a great example of the power of Startup Weekend, where, even if you don’t win, a great company can come together and be born.
A year ago, Jake Huber and Greg Horn were two guys with an idea, showing up at their first Startup Weekend. Today, they’ve moved to Silicon Valley and launched the company that grew out of the 54-hour startup fest.
Their company, Gigawatt, an online crowdfunding platform for colleges that engages young alumni, was recently accepted into a 12-week accelerator program that offers housing, office space, mentorship and a small investment to early-stage startups.
“I personally give Lehigh Valley Startup Weekend a large amount of the credit for really kicking us in the pants and getting us going and showing us what we could do in 54 hours,” Horn said.
How It Started
It all started in November 2011, when the two Lehigh University alumni (Huber ’09 MBA ’14 and Horn ’07), started talking about an idea for crowdfunding to help nonprofits engage younger people that would show them where their money was working. While Horn, who worked in technical sales, left on a four-month trip and Huber quit his senior auditor job to start his MBA at Lehigh, the idea kindled.
Each explored different directions of the concept but reconnected last November, when they crossed paths at a Lehigh-Lafayette football tailgate. Huber asked Horn if he’d like to participate in Lehigh Valley Startup Weekend, the first event of its type in the Lehigh Valley.
“We said, ‘Let’s go, let’s dive in,’” Horn said.
What Happened At Startup Weekend
Though they had different ideas (Horn was looking at nonprofits generally and Huber at higher education applications), Huber encouraged Horn to pitch his version at LV Startup Weekend, promising to join his team in support. He wasn’t alone. After the pitch and Q&A, seven others joined behind the concept to work together as a team throughout the weekend.
Part of testing the idea during the weekend was observing real-time engagement with giving, via American Red Cross buckets set up at the Startup Weekend to raise money for victims of Hurricane Sandy, which occurred a week before.
Horn suggested multiplying the collection buckets from one to five, each labeled for a particular cause: the general Red Cross, Jersey Shore, Lehigh Valley, Long Island, and Staten Island, to see if giving were affected by the donor knowing where the money would go.
The most popular buckets were Jersey Shore and Lehigh Valley, which Horn and Huber felt proved their hypothesis that people want to know where their money goes and to help specifically. “It was very encouraging to see we were on the right track,” Horn said.
They also realized Huber was onto something with his focus on fund-raising for higher education – and decided to go in that direction. What emerged from the weekend was Power In Giving, an online crowdfunding platform for higher education that evolved from Horn’s idea of crowd-funding for nonprofits with a rewards-based system.
It turned out there was a fair amount of existing competition in the nonprofit world with a similar model, Horn said. But colleges, in addition to total amounts of donations, had a need for individuals to give to build affiliation and positively impact college’s national rankings on alumni participation.
With basic crowdfunding, such as Kickstarter and indiegogo, organizers set a goal and multiple people contribute at levels they wish to reach the goal, receiving an incentive gift or product if the effort is fully funded.
“We realized with higher education, schools don’t necessarily want to give a gift in return for every donation. It takes away from the gift and the person doesn’t get a full tax deduction,” Huber said. “So we introduced the element of gamification, to show people that if they are climbing a leaderboard and incentivize by sharing – ‘Hey check out this thing,’ with a unique link, the more they share, the closer they get to the top of the leaderboard, they get competitive about it. This is a unique thing we have gotten and evolved.”
Huber and Horn give credit to their team at Startup Weekend for the brainstorming, expertise and idea development that occurred during the weekend. Among team members were Katelyn Noderer and Randi Tutelman, graduate students in Lehigh University’s technical entrepreneurship master’s degree program who graduated in 2013, and Tony Bagdon, who is currently enrolled in the program and participated in LV Startup Weekend again this year. Bagdon and Tutelman had both launched startups and Noderer brought experience in nonprofits and design.
The experience validated an idea Huber had only explored academically before Startup Weekend. Seeing it prototyped during the weekend made him realize “this could be an actual thing – there is value in what we’re putting together and what we collectively built.”
“What Startup Weekend did for us was inspire us,” Horn added. “We took this concept and in 54 hours we could see it and understand how it could work: Now it’s like we’ve got something and we’re getting somewhere. It’s like having a baby born. You have that passion for something. You feel so strongly that it could work and all of a sudden it is taking shape, taking flight. It’s exciting.”
What Has Happened Since Startup Weekend
Power in Giving didn’t win at Startup Weekend (prizes went to four other teams to help start companies). But that did not slow Huber and Horn down.
They submitted Power in Giving (later Gigawatt) in the EUREKA! Ventures Competition Series, a student entrepreneurs’ competition hosted by Lehigh University’s Baker Institute for Entrepreneurship, Creativity and Innovation. And they won first place in its Joan F. & John M. Thalheimer ’55 Student Entrepreneurs Competition. The award earned them $5,000 in cash and $5,000 in in-kind prizes, including office space at Ben Franklin TechVentures, the tech business incubator located on Lehigh’s Mountaintop Campus.
Horn and Huber recruited a third co-founder, Lehigh alumnus Jacob Katzen ’11, as chief technology officer and lead developer.
They also pitched their company at the Baker Institute’s LehighSiliconValley entrepreneurship immersion program to more than 50 Lehigh students and alumni – garnering the interest of student Roger Graham, who would become their fourth co-founder and front-end design engineer – and becoming convinced the Silicon Valley was where they wanted to be.
So What The Heck Is Gigawatt?
Huber and Horn hope their platform fills a generational gap in college giving (Horn is 28, Huber is 26, Katzen is 24 and Graham is 20). “We kind of run the gamut of understanding what our peers are looking for,” Horn said.
Millennials, Horn said, aren’t looking to just be solicited – they want to engage and be engaged. That’s where the gamification comes in, with the ability to share their donations with customized links that can be used for Twitter, Facebook or other social media – the donation and exposure help them climb a leaderboard and qualify for prizes.
But it isn’t just for millennials, said Horn and Huber, whose research shows that across the board, alumni want to get updates on and donate to specific groups or causes they care about. Gigawatt specializes in campaigns for specific projects, such as sending an athletic team to an international tournament or developing a new student scholarship.
“That engagement creates an emotional connection and that’s what we are trying to drive towards,” Horn said.
Speaking of driving, what’s with that DeLorean car pictured with the co-founders in their company photo?
Just part of their company identity as Gigawatt (pronounced “Jig-a-watt” – like scientist Doc Brown, who engineered a DeLorean into a time machine, said it in the movie “Back to the Future.” (See tutorial).
The movie has a cult following among millennials and a couple of other generations, making it a touchstone for conversation and connection, Horn said. Gigawatt also gets away from the associations of similar nonprofit funding platforms that emphasize giving in the title, inviting people to take donating from the realm of a chore or obligation to a fun experience, Huber added.
“And with the whole concept of how your past can affect your future – we talk about how now we want to change the future of giving,” Horn said.
Where Are They Now?
From their new home base in Mountain View, Calif., Huber and Horn are continuing to grow the company, which incorporated in August. In September, Gigawatt launched its first campaign, for Moravian College in Bethlehem, Pa. Moravian’s MoCoMotion campaign raised funds for five projects, ranging from a nursing students trip to Honduras to the college’s orientation program.
In November, Gigawatt launched the one-day MuleMentum campaign for Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pa., exceeding its goal of 910 donors (1,345 people gave more than $150,960 to scholarships and the annual fund).
The same month, Huber and Horn entered the exclusive San Mateo, Calif.-based Boost.vcaccelerator program (watch their application video). In addition to a $10,000-$15,000 investment, the program provides housing, office space, business mentors, speakers, legal assistance and a community of other startups to participating companies.
“We couldn’t be more excited to take advantage of the resources and to take our company to the next level,” Huber said.
Both partners feel Lehigh Valley Startup Weekend was integral to where they are now.
“The help and springboard that Startup Weekend gave us – in one weekend it took what we had been mulling around in concept for a year and validated it – really gave us the confidence to go forward,” Horn said. “We looked at each other, shook each other’s hand, and said, ‘Let’s do this.’”
Connect with Gigawatt
Website – http://gigawatt.co
Twitter – https://twitter.com/GigawattCo
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/GigawattCo
Instagram – http://instagram.com/gigawattco
– Amy White, Baker Institute for Entrepreneurship, Creativity and Innovation at Lehigh University (Lehigh Valley Startup Weekend Sponsor – 2012 and 2013)