No app for that? Startup Weekend participants hope to build it

2012-09-02T23:45:00Z 2012-09-04T09:37:03Z No app for that? Startup Weekend participants hope to build itBy CORY MATTESON / Lincoln Journal Star JournalStar.com

On Friday night, someone might step in front of a crowd of software developers, graphic designers and marketers and propose the next Words With Friends, CloudTalk, Flipboard or other monstrously successful smartphone app.

Maybe something will be proposed that sends scores of people scurrying to fund a future Kickstarter online campaign. Maybe someone will propose a better Kickstarter altogether.

And if that person's idea gets a group of audience members on his or her side, off they’ll go, working into the wee hours and full-bore over the next two days, until they’ve designed a prototype for, ideally, a life-changer.

That’s the big goal of Lincoln Startup Weekend, to place about 100 attendees in an environment where their tech industry-based entrepreneurial dreams can flourish -- quickly. Another key goal, said lead coordinator Amanda Thonen, is to show the people who attend that they can realize those dreams in Lincoln.

“So many people think they have to go to Silicon Valley or New York or Miami,” Thonen said.

The keynote speakers are Paul and Stephanie Jarrett, a pair of Lincolnites who moved to Silicon Valley, and then moved back to start Bulu Box, an Internet-based business in which users subscribe to receive monthly samples of various vitamins and nutritional supplements.

They are but a few of many who are interested in seeing Lincoln’s first Startup Weekend succeed.

Startup Weekend is a nonprofit entity funded by the Kauffman Foundation and backed by some of the biggest names in the tech world (Google, Microsoft, etc.).

Like TED and Ignite Talks, the idea of Startup Weekend began elsewhere and has resulted in satellite events all over the place. Events will take place this month in Lincoln and Omaha ... and Uruguay and Mexico.

Thonen said the push for Lincoln to host its first Startup Weekend began after she attended one in Des Moines last winter. From the DesignData CEO Damon Skaggs, who allowed Thonen, an employee, to coordinate the event on company time after learning its purpose, to the Lincoln Partnership for Economic Development, to a host of sponsors, the response has been overwhelming, she said.

"It’s taken on a life of its own," Thonen said.

It’s a similar feeling to the one she had at her first Startup Weekend. The long weekend begins Friday night with a quick mixer before participants get down to business.

Registrants then address the group with a problem. It could be that PowerPoint presentations aren’t stylish enough (like the creators of Startup Weekend-built Haiku Deck) or that there should be a better way to solicit bids for, say, a housekeeper (like the founders of the popular app Zaarly). Then the presenter offers a solution, in the form of the product he or she wants help building.

This all happens in 60 seconds. Then it’s the next person’s turn. At the end of the presentations, everybody votes on their favorites and groups into teams to design, build and sell judges on their prototypes over the course of the weekend.

If pitching a business idea that hasn't been patented in one minute or less sounds like a vulnerable experience, it is.

One of the Frequently Asked Questions at startupweekend.org is, "How do I protect against people stealing my idea?"

You can’t. But that’s not as bad as it sounds, according to the group behind more than 670 such weekends.

“The truth is that over 90 percent of ideas pitched at any given Startup Weekend have already been pitched -- probably many times -- in the past. This doesn’t imply that the idea isn’t a good one, but rather that what truly matters is how well you and your team execute the idea,” the site states.

Thonen can relate. She said she has an ever-changing list of her 10 best ideas, and didn’t pitch any of them in Des Moines. Then someone else got up and pitched a version of her No. 4.

She and others joined his team, and they worked on the project that judges would declare the second-place winner, an app prototype called MyKitchenGenie. The phone app would provide users with recipes based on whatever people have on hand.

"We rocked it out," she said. "We just nailed it."

The Lincoln event has drawn registrants from Iowa, Kansas and parts of Nebraska. (Another Startup Weekend will take place in Omaha beginning Sept. 21. Other Startup Weekend locations this month include Spokane, Wash., and Sofia ... Bulgaria.)

Spots remain open for the event, which will take place at Avery Hall on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus. If you have a big idea and need some help getting it off the ground, register for the $75 weekend -- meals are included -- at lincoln.startupweekend.org.

Reach Cory Matteson at 402-473-7438 or cmatteson@journalstar.com.

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