Aspiring Entrepreneurs Can Turn an Idea into a Business At Startup Weekend New Haven

Thursday, November 1, 2012

They arrive with an idea, a creative spark and the willingness to roll up their sleeves and work as a team for 54 hours until they turn that idea into a working business model. They are a new generation of entrepreneurs competing in StartupWeekend New Haven, a global grassroots movement of active entrepreneurs learning how to create tech-based startups and launch successful business ventures in a weekend-long exchange of ideas and competition. The event begins at 6 p.m. Friday, November 9 at The Grove in New Haven and concludes with “Demo Day” – final presentations and judging at Gateway Community College (GCC) Sunday, November 11 at 6 p.m.

“We have a great reserve of untapped talent, creativity, and drive right in our own backyard; and if we give aspiring entrepreneurs encouragement and assistance, they can fulfill their dreams of creating a new company and at the same time create jobs for others. We have clearly seen from our experience that new jobs are created by new companies and new industries,” said Mike Roer, a GCC instructor of Entrepreneurship, the founder of the Entrepreneurship Foundation Inc. and one of the organizers of Startup Weekend New Haven. “The goal is to encourage more and better startups.”

Rose Bednarz Luglio, GCC Professor of Business and Program Coordinator of Entrepreneurial Studies and Retail Management/Fashion Merchandising, said GCC is excited that the Gateway Community College Foundation is co-hosting such an important event. Lindy Lee Gold, Chair of the GCC Foundation and Senior Community Development Specialist of the State Department of Economic and Community Development, will give the welcome. 

GCC is the first university in the new ConnCSU system to be part of Startup Weekend. During the next twelve months, other Startup Weekend events will be held at UConn Storrs, the Stamford Innovation Center, Fairfield University, and the Hartford Public Library as well as in 100 cities across the U.S. and around the world from Seoul, South Korea and Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan to Guadalajara, Mexico.

“A key part of every Startup Weekend is the valuable advice and assistance provided by the event’s speakers and coaches. In the spirit of “No Talk. All Action” organizers keep talks short and sweet, focusing on practical issues such as “how to give a persuasive pitch” or “best approaches to customer validation” that can actually help the teams better achieve their weekend goals,” said Bednarz Luglio. “Mentors – community experts in various fields ranging from entrepreneurship, software development, marketing, finance, law, and more – dedicate their time to providing advice and working with teams,” added Ethan Carlson, the 2012 StartupWeekend Organizer.

The event comes just a week after Governor Dannel Malloy announced that New Haven was named one of four hubs in the state’s newly created Innovation Ecosystem, a public-private partnership created to spur on the development of promising new products and technologies, accelerating the growth of innovative companies and industries in the state. Organizers also point out that the new GCC campus began as an idea that became a vibrant reality: moving the college from Long Wharf to downtown New Haven, transforming a former brownfield into a place of higher learning, a state-of-the-art “green” facility, the largest public project in Connecticut designed to achieve Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. “Holding the final day of such an exciting event at Gateway’s beautiful new campus just made sense,” said Derek Koch of Independent Software, last year’s event Organizer, and the new Director of the Hartford Hub of the state Innovation Eco-System.

Startup Weekends are hands-on experiences where people can find out if their ideas can work. On average, half of Startup Weekend’s attendees have technical or design backgrounds, the other half have business backgrounds. Roer anticipates 120 people participating, 60 pitching ideas and 60 audience members. People interested can register online at Tickets range from $20 for Friday’s demo day to $99 to participate in the whole weekend. In addition to the Gateway Community College Foundation, sponsors include The Kauffman Foundation, The United Illuminating Company, Connecticut Natural Gas, Southern Connecticut Gas, Connecticut Light & Power, Wiggin & Dana, and Fiondella Milone & LaSaracina LLC. National sponsors include Google for Entrepreneurs, Microsoft BizSpark and Domain.Co.     

Beginning with an open mic on Friday, attendees bring their best ideas and have 60 seconds to give their pitch. Teams organically form around the top ideas as determined by popular vote. Then begins, as Bednarz Luglio describes it, a 54-hour frenzy of business model creation, coding, designing and marketing. Over Saturday and Sunday, through many hours and cups of coffee, teams work together to build a viable tech product and to vie for the top prize. Ben Berkowitz, CEO and Co-Founder of SeeClickFix New Haven, named Huffington Post’s 2010 Tech Gamechanger is a featured speaker. Coaches include Paul Hughes, a partner at Wiggin and Dana, Bob Coughlin, a co-founder of a biotech company, and Luke Weinstein, a co-founder of four ventures and the founding director of UConn’s CCEI/Innovation Accelerator.   

Startup Weekend New Haven events culminate at GCC with presentations in front of local entrepreneurial leaders. Investors will also be on hand and may consider funding the startups. Kathleen Krolack, director of Business Development, Marketing & Communications for the Economic Development Corporation of New Haven (EDC), said last year’s winner – Shuga Trak – is now a viable business. ShugaTrak is an app that provides incentives for teenagers with diabetes to test their blood sugar and allows parents to help them manage the disease.

“Last year in New Haven we had 14 teams form over the weekend. A year later two are ongoing companies and one has gotten funding from the state of Connecticut,” John Seiffer, a member of the organizing committee and the Business Advisor of CEO Boot Camp.  “People who have an idea for a startup and those who have skills they want to contribute: developers, designers, marketers and business types, can all learn a lot and have a great time.”