Bismarck-Mandan’s first ever Startup Weekend included several members of the YP Network, some of whom even took top honors!
Over sixty entrepreneurial-minded individuals turned out for Bismarck-Mandan’s first ever Startup Weekend (SW) this past weekend, January 23-25, to create a business in under 54 hours! SW is an event held in cities across the world, year-round, to inspire entrepreneurs, spur ideas and create connections. Started in Boulder Colorado in 2007, the model quickly caught on and to date there has been thousands of Startup Weekends.
The event began on Friday evening at the Bobcat Company Acceleration Center in Bismarck, a beautiful facility, less than a year old, which is perfectly suited for spurring innovation. The building is state-of-the-art with numerous high-tech meeting rooms, monitors enabled with ClickShare, walls you can write on, and a cafeteria. This was the perfect setting for entrepreneurs who would be spending the majority of their weekend here. The event’s facilitator, Nirav Amin, said this was the best facility in which he has ever had the pleasure of hosting a SW, out of nearly 20.
Each Startup Weekend includes a facilitator who is sent by the national not-for-profit organization to help the event go smoothly. Start Bismarck, a group of volunteers and entrepreneurs who organized the event locally, was responsible for the rest! And trust us, this event was a huge undertaking – over 20 volunteers, coaches, and judges, and months of preparation.
Friday night kicked off with a high-energy address by North Dakota entrepreneur and innovator Jeff Stamp, creator of the Baked Lay! The energized crowd was then ready to “pitch”. Any participant can pitch an idea at SW. In fact it is highly encouraged, with facilitator Amin refusing to proceed at points until more participants came up. All in all, thirty people pitched ideas from a dog-sitting app to a 3D robot-of-the-month club. Out of those, each participant was given three votes (via sticky notes), and the top eight ideas were selected.
- BrewAha! – A hardware controller to automate the brewing process for home brewers and microbrewers
- CheckN – An app that allows families to check in with each member and offers the ability to disable text and data while the vehicle is in motion
- The Hanger – A bouldering gym and expanded recreation coop in Bismarck-Mandan
- How Was My Day – An app that provides quick communication reminders for elderly, children and those with depression
- Hunters Gateway – An app to facilitate communication between landowners and hunters
- Lofted – An app to manage, collect and pay rent between renters and landlords
- Tightwad – An app for local food and drink specials
- Star Spangled Burgers – A food service truck in Bismarck-Mandan specializing in burgers
From there, participants broke off and formed teams around these eight ideas, and got down to business. Participants chose teams based on the idea they liked best, the need for their specialty, and even some friendly begging. If you ever have had or get the opportunity to attend SW, you’ll immediately notice it’s not a popularity contest, it’s truly a community atmosphere.
The next two days would be an intense challenge of teamwork, validation and pivoting. The goal is to have an MVP (minimum viable product) by Sunday evening’s Demo Night. Throughout the days coaches mentor the teams and provide feedback. The assembly also gathered over meals to describe their progress and ask for advice.
The grueling weekend culminated on Sunday evening at Dakota Stage in Downtown Bismarck. After a keynote address from Vern Dosch, President/CEO of NISC, all eight teams demoed their businesses to a panel of four judges that included, Andrew Christensen (Arthur Ventures), Kari Warberg Block (Earth-Kind), Mary Miller (Communication Manager – Basin Electric), and Tim Moore (Corporate Finance Manager – KLJ). This portion of the weekend was open to the public. Each team was limited to a five-minute presentation and three minutes of Q & A with the judges.
After some private deliberation, the judges chose these top three winners:
- Star Spangled Burgers
Team BrewAha! included YP’er and Marketing Team co-lead Michael Quinn. The team’s top honor includes three months office space and 10 hours/week of business coaching from the IDEA Center, a website and year of hosting from Todaymade, and a year subscription to CoSchedule.
“For me, Startup Weekend was all about trying something new and taking that first step towards entrepreneurship. I would do it again in a heartbeat! I met some terrific people, made great connections and had blast. This culture and these people are going to change the face of Bismarck-Mandan,” said Quinn.
Star Spangled Burgers included YP’ers Hannah Hayners (also the YP Network’s administrative assistant), Mariah Rittel, and Jaden VanEckhout. Their team won a strategic marketing plan from the IDEA Center, valued at $650.
“At Startup Weekend, individuals can break through there comfort zone and reach what they thought they never could. It allowed me to go out side of my comfort zone and pushed me to think outside the box,” said Haynes.
“My favorite part was being able to throw out any big ideas we had for the concept and be able to flesh out the ideas by validating either with each other or market research. Our team also got a long really well so it was pleasure to work with them. We were able to just take the idea and run with it however we chose to, unlike in business school where you are given limitations,” said Rittel who is considering Fargo’s Startup Weekend this March.
For more about Startup Weekend and events like it in Bismarck-Mandan, visit StartBismarck.com.