The following is a guest post by Anthony Casson covering the recent Startup Weekend hosted by Oregon State Athletics on May 10th – 12th. The event was a “new approach to student-athlete development” that allowed OSU athletes to get a 54-hour introduction to the entrepreneurial life and develop their own business ventures via Startup Weekend.
“Student Athlete Exchange,” the event facilitator announced.
The five-person team jumped and cheered, receiving a round of applause from fellow participants, organizers, coaches and judges. They had been named Crowd Favorite minutes before the final announcement.
Charlie Gilmur, current OSU football player, unknown as a walk-on to most Beaver sports fans, had delivered a succinct, potent five-minute pitch about his team’s business, Student Athlete Exchange (SAX).
SAX is designed to provide student athletes with flexible short-term project-based work experience by connecting athletic departments and businesses.
“I’m just so excited,” Gilmur said. “It’s pretty cool for us to be nominees to get into the Venture Accelerator. And it’s cool seeing the weekend’s work and the support behind it. I think we all feel pretty passionate about SAX – helping student-athletes and OSU as a whole.”
Startup Weekend is a 54-hour event during which participants take business ideas and begin making them reality. OSU Startup Weekend was the first time an athletics department played host.
“I thought they all did fantastic,” said Marianne Berglund, a judge, two-time Olympic cyclist and director of the Oregon Leadership Institute. “I was really impressed. They accomplished a lot.”
Receiving the first-place award came with a team’s nomination into OSU’s Venture Accelerator, a program designed to identify ideas or research innovation that might form the basis for profitable companies, then streamline their development by providing analytical, technological, legal, marketing, financial and mentoring resources.
Gilmur’s teammates in the venture were current OSU football players Grant Enger and Steven Christian, OSU student Colton Thomas and local entrepreneur and Vietnam veteran Bill Ford. Selection was based on interest and skills needed to move the idea forward; team formation is a participant responsibility.
“I feel good,” Christian said. “I think we were the only group with a functioning website at the end of the weekend. It validates it. We can do something with it.”
Christian helped with the SAX logo, illustrated concepts and building the team’s website.
“It’s given me a lot of good experience,” he continued. “That’s why I came here, and I wouldn’t be opposed to trying this again. This is a no-brainer. This is a team environment. Student-athletes understand the team concept.
“The disconnect has been, how do you translate that on-the-field chemistry off the field? That’s exactly what we did here.”
The event started Friday night, with an opening speech by OSU football coach and chief of staff Jay Locey, and a round of idea pitching. A handful of Beaver student-athletes were involved. Student-athletes helped lead four of the seven teams that survived the venture fest.
Saturday focused on customer validation and building a business model, key components of the final presentation on Sunday.
Head basketball coach Craig Robinson opened Sunday with a talk about the importance of sales and communicating ideas, and former OSU football player Taylor Kavanaugh discussed his startup, Quarter 4 Sports, and the importance of “being remarkable,” Sunday afternoon.
“I went to a pretty good business school,” Robinson said to the crowd. “We didn’t have anything like this. This is fantastic.”
All teams pitched their weekend efforts on Sunday evening. Judging criteria included clarity of the problem and solution, and the businesses’ viability.
Second-place went to OSU wrestler Anthony Harris and his team, TutorApp, which seeks to provide students with a convenient, effective way to learn math through solutions, practice problems, and relevant resources.
“I’m a little bitter we got second-place,” Harris said. “It’s not what we were shooting for. But I’ll go to the judges and see what we can work on. We’re going to find out so the next time we get people to buy the idea.”
Harris had an idea for Startup Weekend well before the weekend.
“Work started months ago,” he said. “It started with Akili King and Marianne Vydra hosting a leadership class and talking about Startup Weekend. I’ve had the idea growing for a while, so this was a platform to express what’s been in my mind.”
Third-place went to Just 2 Nice, a clothing company started by OSU football player Malcolm Marable.
“I really enjoyed this,” Marable said. “I’m serious about my clothing line, and this was a great experience for me. The first night I didn’t think this was the place for me. Everyone’s pitching technology. But I got the votes, and then I got a good team. It was like a perfect team.”
Marable didn’t know any of his teammates prior to Friday night. They showed up and wanted to help build his idea, and they plan to continue working together.
“He and I are planning on meeting next week,” said Marable’s teammate Jaycob Cooper, an OSU pre-business student. “I’m going to take a look at his new clothes and come up with a pricing spreadsheet for him.”
Akili King, managing director of the OSU Athletics Leadership Institute and former OSU football player, and senior associate athletic director Marianne Vydra saw an opportunity for the department to contribute to student-athlete development in a new way. The first step was hosting a Startup Weekend. They hope it sets the tone for future programming.
“This was awesome, and it exceeded our expectations,” King said. “The teams did such a great job. Probably the best thing was having such an enormous mix of people with various backgrounds in one place.
“This is the beginning. Now we have to keep building. We had great validation from Coach Locey. Coach Robinson was phenomenal. We have the support to really move this type of development forward.”
OSU Athletics has plans to host a second Startup Weekend later this year.