Monday August 18, 2014 0 comments
By Phil Lindeman
BRECKENRIDGE -- "Startups are fun."
On Sunday, the third and final day of Breckenridge Startup Weekend, that was the giddy, almost deceptively simple post left on the event's Facebook wall.
It came paired with sights and sounds from the weekend, one of more than 80 like-minded events meant to inspire - and hopefully uncover - some of the best entrepreneurial minds across the world.
Like any promising startup, the catchy post was a legitimate mission statement for the Breck weekend, Aug. 15-17, as a whole. But the photo it ran with was the real selling point: Taken in the hallway of Colorado Mountain College in Breckenridge -- the event headquarters -- it shows members from one of six startup teams donning official weekend headbands to bounce and yell and, well, prove that startups really are oodles of fun.
But all that fun didn't come easy. After 54 hours, nearly 20 pitches and more than a few gallons of coffee - the lifeblood of any burgeoning entrepreneur - the teams gathered on Sunday evening for the moment of truth: a final round of pitches in front of three Colorado-based judges who played the role of potential investors and startup mentors.
At the judges' table were Ross Iverson, president and CEO of the Vail Leadership Institute, along with Myra Elby of natural skincare company Rejuvila and her fellow Boulder entrepreneur, Jose Vieitez, co-founder of the Boomtown Accelerator.
The three heard a wildly eclectic round of pitches, ranging from a social media app for nonprofits to a sprawling, tech-heavy cable service for Spanish-language apartment complexes. As usual in the startup world, the names were just as enticing: Magic Wand (a protective cover for window blind cords), Quizki (a quiz app for students in the vein of QuizUp), Earthbook (e-books made by kids for kids) and Awesome Timer (a playful app to track a user's daily awesome deeds).
When the final pitches wrapped up, the judges awarded the weekend to Gra8tful Giveback, the social media app for socially conscious folks.
Along with feedback from the judges and a collection of eight business coaches, the Gra8tful Giveback team walked away with three months of donated time at Evo 3 Workspace, a brand-new co-working space set to open in downtown Frisco by late October or early November - the first of its kind in the town.
The donated workspace was a testament to the weekend's other selling point -- community building. Although it attracted entrepreneurs from across the state - a few even came from Texas - it also tapped into the healthy, on-the-rise business world in Summit County.
For organizers like Lindsey Stapay, executive director for the local branch of the Colorado Small Business Development Center, events like the startup weekend prove that major metros don't have a stranglehold on smart, inventive entrepreneurs. Small towns, particularly resort areas, can have an equally deep talent pool.
"I find that there is a niche in our rural communities for location-neutral businesses, but sometimes it can be difficult to get all these people together," says Stapay, who spearheaded the weekend with Thomas Gerber. "But it's a big economic driver, sort of a hidden nugget. You don't only have to work in a ski shop."
Before tempting the judges, the six teams faced a tall order: Pitch, perfect and own a brand-new startup. Attendees came with a slew of ideas, but once they finished running through the basics on Friday night, the entire group whittled the list down to six of the finest, most promising concepts.
From there, the startup process began in earnest. From Friday to Sunday night, teams had just 54 hours to fine-tune their startups, and for most, that meant balancing early brainstorm sessions with late-night designing and website coding. Each team had at least one person who specialized in a startup must-have - marketing, coding - but like any business team, everyone had to be on the same page at the same time, even as the clock kept counting down.
Take the team behind Gra8tful Giveback. While trying to kick-start a men's yoga apparel company, the three team members almost accidentally stumbled upon the idea for an app linking nonprofits to their ever-elusive supporters. They had the spark, but thanks to a brainstorming session with mentor Yvonne Bryant, they parsed the idea down to its most meaningful, eye-catching parts.
"Startups have all these wonderful ideas," Bryant says. "They want to do it all -- and they can eventually -- but they have to start somewhere. This helps you really figure out what works and know the 'why' behind your idea."
Colorado has played host to more than a dozen startup weekends, from Denver to Aspen and now to Breckenridge. With backing from Google for Entrepreneurs, the company's startup-friendly outreach branch, the events have attracted thousands of hopeful startups and successful mentors.
Their rallying cry? Startups are fun.
"This is much different from the old-fashioned way of doing things," organizer Gerber says. "This is constantly checking in with the people who will use your product. You learn by doing, not depending on what's already been done."