As a member of the Startup Weekend core team, I hear inspiring entrepreneurial stories from all around the world on what seems like a daily basis. Every once in a while, however, I still catch wind of things that stand out from the rest, and the past Startup Weekend event in Cincinnati had a story I couldn’t help but share.
The story begins at a middle school. Emerson Walker, fourteen, has witnessed a problem for several years now. When I was fourteen I would have been praised for simply seeing the problem at all, Emerson took that twelve steps further and not only came up with a solution but saw it as a startup opportunity. Here’s where the story gets interesting.
All In A Weekend
Emerson decided to pitch his idea, now named mPlanner, at the Cincinnati Startup Weekend event. It’s only a 60 second pitch in front of 100+ ridiculously smart developers, designers and business people. Why wouldn’t a fourteen year old have the courage to do this? And then, Emerson’s idea made it into the top eight. And then, he formed a team of a couple of serial entrepreneurs, one of which works in venture capital. Can you guess what comes next?
Emerson built a product, in a weekend, as a fourteen year old. Not only did he build a product, but he went out and did real customer validation, he made a decision to pivot based on what his customers told him and he lead a team of people who were each old enough to have been his father. (When did fourteen year olds stop playing Tony Hawk Pro Skater and doing, well, nothing else.)
“I don’t have any coding skills, but my thing is having ideas and helping to move them along. I did a lot of social media, went out and did customer validation and pretty much handled and managed everything that didn’t have coding involved. It was also really weird to be leading a VC.” said Walker as he described his experience.
As the weekend wound down, and Emerson and his team finished their product and prepared for the five minute pitch to the panel of judges, the whole team knew they were on to something.
“For us, we were looking past Sunday. We were coming up with other ideas how this could be developed, and be targeted to other markets,” said Nat Finn, Emerson’s co-founder.
What’s Next for mPlanner?
So how does this story end? Well, the truth is we don’t know yet. Emerson and his team went on to win the Cincinnati Startup Weekend event, but Emerson isn’t done yet and feels like this “small” victory was just the start.
“We’re going to get funding, hopefully, and we’re going to go to interalliance, which is basically an organization that gives high school kids jobs coding. Hopefully we can get then to make the app for us,” said Walker.
He’s also working on launching a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for mPlanner and is planning a trip to his teammate, Kelly Schwedland’s, home to talk more about the idea and to potentially connect to developers in the area.
“I’ve been a part of starting over 30 companies over the years. Emerson definitely lead our team, made the calls on our task list, etc., and it was really easy to let him do his thing. He made a lot of decisions along the way and was really great to work with,” said venture capitalist and mPlanner co-founder Kelly Schwedland of his experience working with Emerson throughout the weekend.
So why do I feel it’s important to tell Emerson’s story? No matter how old you are or where you come from, if you have an idea and some courage, and are willing to put in the hard work, you can be an entrepreneur. I don’t want to promote the lie that “anyone can make the next Facebook with a little bit of luck,” but I do want to encourage you to get out of your comfort zone and to do something. “No talk, all action” is the Startup Weekend mantra, and Emerson lived that this past weekend.