It’s late afternoon on Sunday, March 29, and the Fargo Theater is packed with sleep-deprived but excited participants of Startup Weekend Fargo 2015.
Teams sit together, talking in hushed voices, practicing their pitches and going over key points. Developers double check their work, praying the apps run smoothly when being used on stage. Presenters take deep breaths. Designers make last minute changes. All 75 participants sit on the brink of nerves and excitement, waiting to present their newly born startup to the panel of judges seated at the front.
An unforgettable weekend
Less than 54 hours before, these same people were eating tacos at The Offutt School of Business at Concordia College, as Shane Reiser – long-time moderator of Startup Weekend Fargo and an overall Startup Weekend expert – gave the lowdown of what was about to happen.
First, ideas are pitched and voted on. Next, teams are formed. From there, the madness sets in. And by madness I mean you then have the next day and a half to validate your idea, pursue the idea, and then effectively present your work to the judges at the end.
What occurs during this process, the Startup Weekend process, is something that is hard to put into words. It’s a building up, a breaking down, a stretching of the mind to new limits. There are moments when you feel hopeless, and moments when you feel on top of the world.
And in the end, as each of the 14 teams present the final manifestations of their ideas, what remains is a powerful bond. Team members have just spent most of their waking hours with each other – many having just met on Friday night. Every team is united by the shared feeling of being chewed up and spit out; the knowledge that what we all just experienced was like nothing else.
“It was a long weekend of late late nights and early mornings but in the end it paid off,” wrote James Van Raden, who was a member of winning team, Infynt. “Everyone that surrounded me this weekend were motivators and the best part is each and every one of them inspired and sought change.”
Startup Weekend Fargo 2015 is more diverse than ever
Fargo’s third annual Startup Weekend wrapped up with 75 attendees, 45 pitches, 17 sponsors, 250 cups of coffee, 2 speakers, and 14 teams.
This year saw a lot more diversity in both the ideas presented and the participants, Reiser said.
“Last year was mostly web apps,” he said. “This year we had some hotcakes, the University idea, there was a nonprofit, there was SAS, there was B2B there was C2C, there was mobile, there was Web, and that’s only across 14 teams.
There was an amazing diversity of the people that came. More developers than anyone. Way more designers. Most underrepresented group was marketing, business so that’s tremendous – that’s never the case. Designers are always like 15%, this time it was more than a third.”
Reiser, who previously worked for Startup Weekend doing over 20 events a year, has since cut back on his participation. But he chooses to come to Fargo’s Startup Weekend every time.
“It’s the people,” he said. “I feel super welcome every time I come here. I always get a handwritten thank you card, and nobody does that anymore. Nobody.”
The Startup Weekend Fargo team, he said, is doing it right. They consistently have everything together to make for an awesome event, he said. This year the team consisted of Andy Christensen, John Machacek, Camille Grade, Greg Tehven, Brittany Sickler, and Shane Neuerburg.
Before the final pitches, the audience also heard from Jon Dahl, CEO and co-founder of Zencoder. Zencoder provides a video encoding service and was successfully acquired by Brightcove in 2012. But it was Dahl’s fourth attempt at pursuing the idea.
Dahl encouraged the attendees to 1) make something people want, and 2) pursue it with tenacity.
There was also dancing
While we waited for the judges final decisions, we were led in an energetic dance routine…
The top three winners of Startup Weekend Fargo were judged on three main factors:
Business Model: Why will the business be successful?
Validation: Did they find that their idea answered a real problem?
Execution & Design: Did the team establish a Minimum Viable Product?
The judges were James Burgum, Jon Pederson, Kris Bevill, Ross Manson, Chuck Hoge, Jim Gartin, and Greg Cant.
First place went to Nick Waverek and his team, with their project called Infynt. Waverek pitched the idea (among a few others) on Friday night, explaining the difficulty he has with tracking the data about his son while in daycare. Rather than using a slip of paper, as most daycares do, Waverek and his team developed a software/app to efficiently track and store info on your child such as poopy diapers, nap times, etc. Among the reasons why Infynt won first place was that it seemed the most validated, judges said. Many parents out there do want a product like this.
Second place went to Jake Joraanstad and his team, with his idea for an Emerging University. Joraanstad addressed the problem that college students really don’t get much experience in “the real world” before they graduate. With Emerging University, he wants to bridge that gap to create a school where students get their general education, but also get hands on work experience at places where they want to work.
Third place went to Rob Burke and his team with FieldLeash, a portable dog collar and control system that prevents dogs from running away. When hiking, for example, one can program perimeters into the system and if the dog crosses them they’ll get a small electric shock – keeping them close to you without the hassle of a leash.
Winners received a trophy that is also a functional lamp, hand crafted by Justin Morken. All team members from the top 3 received Rhombus Guys certificates.
“We’ve heard from a couple people that they use them to meet back up as a team,” said co-organizer John Machacek.
1st place also received four 5-visit punch cards to CoCo as well as free Infynt logo T-shirts courtesy of Heat Transfer Warehouse.
But more than just getting the prizes, these teams laid groundwork for their innovative ideas. In 54 hours, they built up and validated their project. They presented it successfully to judges and to well over a hundred people in the audience. They made valuable connections with venture capitalists and community leaders. And now, they have something to pursue – if they so choose.
Reiser said about 30% of Startup Weekend teams stick together to keep building the project after the weekend is over. Even fewer continue longer than a few months after to see the project through. But there have been successful startups that emerge. What will be the next for Fargo?
Check out a few other neat pitches here:
Klink – Honorable Mention
Fargo Hotcakes – Honorable Mention
Here’s some valuable insight for pursuing ideas: 7 Tips for the Monday after Startup Weekend.
Stay tuned for upcoming articles featuring the winners. Learn more about Startup Weekend Fargo, here!
Photos by Zach Davis Photography.