Winners of North Dakota Women’s Startup Weekend 2016

The third annual North Dakota Women’s Startup Weekend turned out another handful of early stage startups once again. Four teams pitched and built on their ideas over the course of the weekend, beginning  the evening of Friday, April 11, and concluding last night with the final presentations.

In first place was team “How the F” lead by Hannah Savoy. Savoy’s original Friday night pitch was a project inspired by her own life experience; a content site geared towards twenty-somethings teaching them “how to adult.” Their final project is a website that will produce daily content with a focus on video, each tackling different tasks that cause people to wonder, “How the F do I do that?”

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What they found in their validation process is that there are a host of things that people would like to learn more about, especially through video. Things such as how to check tire pressure, how to cook a quick meal, or how to get started on taxes. And it’s not just twenty-somethings that want to know these things either, Savoy said.

“Turns out people don’t know how to do things just in general,” she said.

In order to retain the attention of an easily distracted culture, Savoy said the videos will all be under 30 seconds. Their voice will be similar to that of Buzzfeed; quick, snarky, with a lot of humor.

The business will be funded by ads, something the team found through surveys was not a deterrent to viewers watching videos. In addition, they will sell swag such as “How the F” t-shirts and mugs, or “a keychain that drops the F-bomb every time you feel like you’re having a bad day,” Savoy said.

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Judges liked the idea because of its humor, and how content sites like Buzzfeed have done well with a similar market. Judge Mari Baker, a Silicon Valley exec and also the keynote speaker, warned against ad-based startups as a very difficult way to make money. That said, Savoy said after the event that the team is planning to focus first on selling swag.

“We are planning to move forward,” she said. “We’ll see where it goes.”

It was an especially proud moment for Evan Balko, a serial Startup Weekend attendee who has always almost won. This time, his sixth time participating, was his first time in first place.

“Evan, not a bridesmaid anymore!” cried attendee Jon Walters from the crowd as team “How the F” took their prize – a $200 certificate to Mezzaluna, Prairie Den week passes and a deal for team t-shirts by Heat Transfer Warehouse. Balko beamed and did a fist pump in the air.

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In second place was team Strumbles, an idea pitched by Tucker Richardson. The idea is based around pairing musicians with clients as a way to buy customized songs and jingles. For instance, a husband could pay a fee of $100 and have a musician write a song specifically for his wife, and send it as a customized video.

The team even set up a make shift recording studio thanks to some team members with photography businesses. On Saturday afternoon a green screen and flood light appeared in the hallway near the bathroom, where a musician recorded a song he had written that day; a demo song for Mother’s Day that team Strumbles used in their presentation.

Judge Brenda Jacobson, Vice President of VISIONBank, said the idea brought to mind many companies that have pitched buying a jingle for marketing to their company.

“They are often very expensive,” she said. “If you could offer jingles for specific marketing campaigns at an affordable price, you could do very well.”

The two other teams each received their own award as well. Team Sprouting Roots, which presented a program that would bring hydroponics into classrooms as a way to teach kids about food and curb the obesity crisis, won Crowd Favorite.

Team Fearless pitched a program to #MakeFargoFearless through partnering with martial arts teachers and offering classes in self defense for men and women on a sponsorship basis. They won the “Just Do It” award from the judges.

As the event wrapped up, participants exchanged contact information and signed the large white t-shirt in the lobby, decorated with signatures and phrases such as, “Make it happen!” and “Not later, now!”

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“I was actually blown away with how fun it was,” said Brittany Butler, who said she signed up just to check it out. Butler, who pitched an idea Friday night, said she is planning to move forward and get it off the ground. “I figure if I always wanted to do this, why not do it?”

Particularly in a country where the percentage of women in leadership roles hovers around 15%, empowering women with the confidence needed to take start and lead companies is crucial – as stated by both keynote speakers, Mari Baker and Edie Ramstad.

Ramstad, who started 65 companies while supporting her 18 children, spoke Friday night about how powerful a female entrepreneur can be.

“I believe in the power of the entrepreneur and the power of the woman entrepreneur is a force that can change lives,” Edie said. “We have the power and all you have to do is unlock it. This weekend is a great step towards unlocking it.”

Photos courtesy of Katie Hutton and Emerging Prairie.

Marisa Jackels

Marisa Jackels

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