Startup Weekend Columbus: An Empire Is Born

The power is out in Ohio thanks to a series of rough storms that lashed down trees and left us in a sweltering swamp. As I sit here with 75% of my laptop battery left, drenched in sweat, in a totally dark house, recapping my first Startup Weekend experience — unfortunately I am one of the last of the 500,000 central Ohioans affected by power outages due to last weekend’s storms — I realize that I love the Startup Weekend concept.

That concept, which we have covered before on several occasions, is simple: take a bunch of people with ideas and lock them into a room for 54 hours until the create something. The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation funds a brilliant model. It gets people to do stuff, make stuff…a push to action.

At a local level, I’ve seen enough success stories like, Venueseen and Fundable emerge from the platform that I was intrigued to attend the event when it traveled to Columbus Ohio. I’m a big believer in rapid prototyping and I found that StartupWeekend is rapid prototyping for businesses.

For the uninitiated, the event went down like this:

About 150 people gathered in a big, beautiful cement room on the top floor of the Loane Crane Center at the Columbus College of Art and Design. After hearing the effervescent and fairly inspiring Dan Rockwell, kick off the event by decreeing that, among other things “TechCrunch is not traction” (it got a few chuckles from the crowd, myself included), the event proceeded with the precision of a a well oiled machine.

National Startup Weekend representative Nick Seguin laid out the rules and local organizers Brian Billingsley and Suzy Bureau efficiently moved the event forward.

A cast of local and national mentors were introduced and agreed to participate including a gentleman from Dallas named Bruce Parker with whom I had previously spoken regarding his mobile payments platform called ModoPayments — a nice surprise.

More than 41 people stood in line to give a one minute pitch about an idea. After the initial pitches were completed, a quick vote identified the most popular concepts and teams coalesced around those concepts. There ended up being about 12 teams or so.

68% of my laptop battery left.

The rising cream of this particular weekend were not necessarily the picks I called in the the “march-madness” style bracket in my head. Of the 41 pitches I watched, I was much more interested in the food recycling concept, the Google Street View of apartment interiors and the queen mother of them all…a doorbell that streams a picture of whomever is ringing it (I think it already exists but I still loved it).

The winner — Posh Haven — was a fine idea. The concept revolves around curated online shopping experiences. You basically shop for interior designs based on picture themes and the service helps you find items like those in the picture. For example, if you look at an image of a “beach bungalow” themed interior, Posh Haven helps you find places to buy the items in that image (multiple lamps, chairs, etc that all match that theme).

The team did an pretty good job of showing the potential for instant profitability with an affiliate-style purchase (earning 4%) using their site right in their final presentation — an excellent kung fu move that the judges instantly noticed. However, it wasn’t the fireworks display I had hoped for.

One of the runners up was a prototyping/layout sharing website called Mockly. It was pitched with speed, grace and confidence. Much utility housed in this familiar concept (see InVision).

The other runner up called Chameleon — probably the most out-there of the bunch — actually built a demo app that gets rid of facial blemishes, in real time, during Skype video calls — a slightly narcissistic concept but definitely the coolest demo of the lot.

53% battery left.

About mid way through the 54 hour marathon, I spoke with a few of those teams to hear about their idea and their progress. Below are a few of those conversations:

11% left. Man, Final Cut Pro eats up a ton of battery. I’ll wrap this thing up.

I’ve been to many a hackathon…heck, we do a great one ourselves, but the scale and pace at which Startup Weekend proceeds is truly monumental with events happening all over the world, month by month. With this scale in mind (and for a wannabe data nerd like me), it would be interesting to see, at a macro level, how different solutions and winners map to the needs of their regions.

I found it interesting that in Columbus — a city housing retail and service behemoths like, Limited Brands (and many post-Limited Brands spinoffs), Nationwide Insurance and Cardinal Health to name a few — so many of the concepts we saw emerge from this Startup Weekend event were retail mobile apps or websites.

It therefore seems likely that the events themselves and the solutions that emerge are directly tied to and mirror the economies of their hosting city – entertainment apps in entertainment cities, retail apps in retail/service oriented cities. Makes sense.

Organizer Nick Seguin confirmed my somewhat obvious observation when he let me know that in Mongolia, for example, one of the best Startup Weekend solutions had nothing to do with an iOS nor Android app but was rather a solution for growing chili peppers.


All in all, it was a pretty fascinating weekend and the biggest take away for me is that, regardless of placing in the competition, many, many ideas are spawned during these 54 hour rampages. Many of those non-placing ideas are also good and really compelling in some way and a few of them are just plain whacko. No matter, it is definitely worth the efforts of all involved.

Lo and behold, the power is on (and in the nick of time). Looks like this story  will get uploaded after all.