Columbia Startup Weekend Success Stories: Where Are They Now?

Zapier — Winner of the 2011 Columbia Startup Weekend

zapier, startup weekend

The Problem:

Bryan Helmig knew he was on to something when he came to Columbia Startup Weekend with co-founders Wade Foster and Mike Knoop in 2011. He understood the convenience that innovative web apps offer, but integrating them was a complex and frustrating process. People needed an app that would help connect their online usage and automate tedious tasks that impede productivity. Companies had built departments dedicated to developing app integration for personal use, but without technical knowledge, creating these solutions was expensive and inaccessible to the public.

The Solution:

With the customer and specific problem in mind, the team came to Columbia Startup Weekend and created a demo of code that’s the foundation of Zapier today. Three years later, this app offers a simple way to automate common tasks on more than 400 web-based apps including Gmail, Google Docs, Evernote, Trello, and Twitter. The team supports more than 250,000 users, with people at BuzzFeed, Spotify, and Groupon among them. Zapier has been featured in publications including The Wall Street Journal, WIRED, and Lifehacker.

MedSocket — Third-Place Finalist at the 2012 Columbia Startup Weekend

medsocket, startup weekend

The Problem:

  1. Karl Kochendorfer knew that studying modern healthcare was a complex and imperfect science. It often produced results that weren’t reliable enough to extrapolate or use to sufficiently educate healthcare providers. With a desire for trustworthy healthcare information, he enlisted the help of Joel Kaplan, Eric Margheim, Matt Botkin, Ryan Frappier, Chad Haney, and Jayne Williams to devise a solution. He wanted to blend information technology and healthcare to create a medical search engine and clinical support system.

The Solution:

Using his new connections and the great minds he met at Startup Weekend, Dr. Kochendorfer laid the foundation for his product. Keeping the clinician’s perspective in mind, MedSocket quickly compiles the best evidence-based information for patient care.

In April 2013, the University of Missouri System invested $100,000 in MedSocket through its Enterprise Investment Program, and practitioners at the University of Missouri Health System use it routinely in patient care. MedSocket is one of five companies that received $50,000 in seed funding from Capital Innovators, along with project-based mentoring and follow-on funding opportunities as part of Capital Innovators’ 2014 spring class in St. Louis.

SafeTrek — Participant at the 2013 Columbia Startup Weekend

SafeTrek, Startup Weekend

The Problem:

As former president and vice president of the Missouri Students Association, Nick Droege and Zach Beattie noticed an alarming number of crime reports on campus and heard many students talk about their safety concerns at the University of Missouri-Columbia. The university had a blue lights system in place, but these alarm systems only work if a student is nearby or an active observer understands the threat. Calling 911 was too alarming for a person who was merely uncomfortable, and many people felt the need for a little extra protection when traveling alone on campus.

The Solution:

After Zach Winkler and Aaron Kunnemann joined their efforts, the team built SafeTrek, an app that offers people protection while walking alone. When users feel unsafe, they press the button on the SafeTrek app. When the danger is gone, they’re prompted to enter a four-digit PIN to disable the app. If no PIN is entered, the phone connects to the police and relays the location of the incident.

Since 2013, SafeTrek has introduced apps for Android and iOS that cost $1.99. It’s been featured on BuzzFeed, Tumblr, ABC, CBS, and The Huffington Post, and it has more than 10,000 downloads on the Google Play Store. It works anywhere in the U.S.

Gladitood — Honorable Mention at the 2012 Columbia Startup Weekend

Gladitood, startup weekend

The Problem:

Ryan Brennell’s 2011 trip to Samoa would forever change the way he saw the world.  Volunteering to clean up after a tropical storm, Ryan learned about the positive influence volunteerism can have while abroad. However, connecting with these opportunities proved difficult. Geoffrey Raymond was brought on during Startup Weekend in 2012 with the plan of building a network that would combine travel opportunities with a passion to help others.

The Solution:

Gladitood changes the way people travel and crowdfund by connecting passionate volunteers with worthy causes around the world. Creators reach out for the assistance they need, backers support the projects financially, and volunteers offer their time and expertise to help out. The fundraising and volunteer goals have deadlines, which encourages a rallying effort and creates momentum for major accomplishments.

Gladitood launched in late August and is currently crowdsourcing volunteers to develop English skills for poor children in India and build a beauty school in Africa to promote community and entrepreneurship in women. Gladitood is planting seeds of generosity in the world’s most vulnerable communities.

TimeKitJS — Honorable Mention at the 2013 Columbia Startup Weekend

startup weekend

The Problem:

As experts in website development, David Hansen, Brad Griffith, Steve Powell, Jeff Daniel, Jared Davis, and Ceili Cornelisonnoticed something was missing in their field. Engaging multimedia formats were becoming more common, and this introduced video to the landscape of website design. As a result, programmers were faced with fewer SEO-friendly options when presenting content.

The Solution:

The group designed TimeKitJS, which offers a JavaScript library for building timeline-based web page experiences with and without video. It helps create social- and multimedia-integrated websites that sync easily with video media. Plus, using JavaScript allows you to retain crucial SEO data. Although TimeKitJS is still young, it won the CLIMB Mizzou entrepreneur competition and continues to make strides.

DoctorOn — Participant at the 2011 Columbia Startup Weekend


The Problem:

Nahush Katti’s grandfather lives in a remote Indian village with no access to costly medical facilities. In India, the country with the largest blind population, many vision impairments can be corrected with proper diagnosis and treatment, but access is nearly nonexistent. Nahush knew that mobile and portable technology had revolutionized the way people, even in remote places, connected with the rest of the world. Teaming up with Vikram Arun, the two began looking for ways to marry healthcare and mobile technology.

The Solution:

With the DoctorOn app, users can send a photo of an affected eye to a trained ophthalmologist for diagnostic purposes. With a 92 percent accuracy rate and only $10, this app creates an inexpensive alternative to costly travel and diagnostics. Since Startup Weekend, DoctorOn has received two provisional patents and has been funded by the Indo-US Science and Technology Forum. The cataract and diabetic retinopathy diagnostic devices have been through field trials and are on their way to becoming clinically validated. Plans for the future include other diagnostic tools to help rural and impoverished patients access healthcare.


How to be a Great Startup Weekend Mentor

This article was written by Wade Foster, CEO of Zapier, a Mountain View, Calif.­ based startup that got its start in 2011 at the inaugural Startup Weekend Columbia. Zapier went on to participate in Y Combinator and raise $1.3 million from Bessemer Venture Partners, Draper Fisher Jurvetson and others. 

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Startup Weekend has now hosted over 1,000 events around the globe (almost 500 cities at the point of publishing). With a fast­ growing alumni network—currently more than 45,000 entrepreneurs—there’s a pretty good chance that if you’re in the startup ecosystem, the opportunity to participate in a Startup Weekend will come your way. At some point, it may be by invitation to be a mentor.

Through my experience in six Startup Weekends as a participant, speaker, judge and mentor, I’ve seen a lot of good mentoring and witnessed plenty of not so good mentoring, too.

Most people don’t intentionally do a bad job, but unfortunately their mentoring is still pretty bad.

Hiten Shah addressed this occurrence well:

I see it happening all of the time: Entrepreneurs get to a certain point in their lives, and they think it’s suddenly time to “give back,” and instead of listening to and observing their mentees, they spend a lot of time telling them the “right way” to be an entrepreneur/run a business/use their strengths based solely on their own experiences.

Though I’m certainly not a mentoring expert, my experience on both sides of the table has given me a unique vantage point to record what I like and dislike from Startup Weekend mentors. I’ve distilled those characteristics into the following eight Startup Weekend Mentor Tips.

1. Show Up

Most Startup Weekend mentors use just a few hours of the 54 hours available to actually help. Even worse, mentors try to do it on their own schedule. They’ll stroll in on Saturday afternoon and try to help teams that are already in execute mode and don’t have many questions. But late Friday night and early Saturday morning when teams are still figuring things out, many of the mentors are nowhere to be seen.

Instead, as a mentor, make it your goal to be around for as much of the weekend as possible. Don’t mentor on your own schedule. Mentor on the teams’ schedule. If you’re around, as soon as a team has a problem, they’ll be able to ask a question and get immediate help. I know this is unrealistic for some people’s schedule. If that’s the case, then don’t be a mentor. Startup Weekend isn’t every weekend of the year. It’s not too much to ask that once or maybe twice a year you clear your weekend schedule to dedicate your time to budding entrepreneurs.

2. Check in Every 8 Hours

It’s tempting as a mentor to “solve all the problems.” But it’s fine to just hang out. Don’t hound the teams. Instead, check in every 8 hours or so. Ask a few questions about their progress. If they’ve had any problems come up, give them a framework for solving the problem and moving on. If things are going well, then leave. Don’t bother a team if they don’t need advice.

3. Set up Shop in a Visible Area

Teams will need help and that won’t necessarily be on your timeline. And since you aren’t hounding the teams, they may not know where you are when they need help. So set up shop in an area that is highly visible. When the team needs help, they’ll know where to find you.

4. Don’t Encourage Direction Changes after Saturday Afternoon

If a team hasn’t found it’s grove by Saturday afternoon then it likely won’t find it’s grove by Sunday. Instead, encourage them to make progress on what they have already. And definitely don’t point them to a newer and shinier object in the room. That’ll just spur hours of more discussion. And for an event that’s motto is “No talk. All action.” that’s the last thing you want to do.

5. Mentor Whiplash is a Real Thing

These teams will have several mentors come by throughout the weekend. They’ll all have advice and often it’s conflicting. Let the teams know in advance that they will have mentor whiplash. The best thing they can do is to have a framework for thinking and proving out their own business model. Let them know that at the end of the day they have to make their own decisions about their team, their product and their company. So don’t do anything because a mentor said to do it; do it because that’s what is best for them and their business.

More on Mentor Whiplash from Brad Feld and Fred Wilson.

6. Don’t Pile on Your Own Opinions

Often times a Startup Weekend team is feeling out many variations of the same idea. This leads many mentors to encourage teams to build the thing that would be most useful to them, the mentor. While valid feedback for teams looking for a single customer, it’s not necessarily helpful for the business. It’s much better to listen to what the team is trying to do, and then give them a framework for thinking about their product and their business. Let them determine the final direction they want to go.

7. Your Mentorship won’t Change the Outcome

At lot of mentors hope that they can say some magic words or provide the spark for some special moment that will point a team to victory on Sunday night and continued business success past the weekend. That’s not the case.

The most a mentor can do is help a team save a bit of time by getting them to answers quicker. At most, it’s a few ticks better in one direction or a few ticks worse in the other direction. Teams will succeed or not on the merits of their own abilities.

8. Encourage and Celebrate with the Teams

For most Startup Weekend teams, the event is more about learning something new than it is about going all in on a business. The most important thing you can do is encourage the teams and individuals. Let them know that entrepreneurship is a real option and not something that only the Steve Jobs’ of the world can do.

And at the end of the weekend, celebrate with them. Congratulate them on a job well done. Make sure that even if their team or project falls apart after the weekend, they can still look back and know that they had a good time. And if a team or two seems like they have promise, point them to the resources they’ll need to really make a go of it.

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