On Sunday, Oct. 1, three teams of entrepreneurs took a giant leap toward launching their businesses during the seventh annual Startup Weekend Buffalo, Sept. 29-Oct. 1. Online bulk-selling site Take It All, pitched as “Storage Wars for the web” by its co-founder Derek Williamson, won the top spot, while Enertea, an energy drink using tea extracts, placed second, and ThirdStor3y, a commercial real-estate marketing platform, placed third.
The event was part of a global Startup Weekend organized by Techstars, a worldwide entrepreneurship network and startup incubator. The co-working space dig was the venue for the weekend, during which more than 100 participants vied for a prize package that included credits for a co-working space and membership at some of Buffalo’s top business and entrepreneurship organizations. The first-place winners also were invited to pitch their idea to an audience of 6,000—including investors—at the 43North finals on Oct. 5.
The event began on Friday, when 24 teams pitched their business concepts in a preliminary competition. Participants chose their three favorites, whittling the field down to 12, who then were able to recruit members from the other teams. Two of those 12 disbanded and joined other teams, leaving 10 finalists to perfect their ideas in time to present them during the Sunday evening competition. Judges Dan Magnuszewski, CTO and founder of ACV Auctions, Lynn Oswald, Director of Niagara County Community College’s Small Business Development Center, and Mike Hungerford, entrepreneur and former CEO of Employii, evaluated each company on several factors, including their technology and financial viability.
“The field was a lot stronger than I thought it would be,” noted Hungerford. “Out of the original 24 ideas, I thought a lot had merit.”
Some of the concepts were inspired by personal experiences. Williamson’s winning idea for Take It All, for example, was borne from his difficulty getting rid of the contents of his apartment when he moved to Buffalo. In the case of Clyde Chaplin, a harrowing night stranded in a dangerous area of Boulder, Colo., inspired his route-mapping app SafSts (pronounced “safe streets”), which uses crime data to help users determine the safest route through a city.
Other participants had been thinking about their ideas for a while, including ThirdStor3y’s Maggie Hamilton Winship. Her idea for the platform developed over the last couple of years while she worked as a commercial real estate broker in the Buffalo area. Richard Izzo, a Ph.D. candidate in biomedical engineering at UB, says the idea for Eye for an Eye--a hyper-realistic model of the human eye to aid in the training of medical professionals in eye surgery--was something he and Rahul Kapoor, a fourth-year UB medical student who originally came up with the idea, had been discussing for several months.
While some of the teams began as groups of friends or colleagues, the final 10 teams expanded to include other Startup Weekend participants, who offered their skills in coding, business development, marketing, and other fields. Both experienced and beginning entrepreneurs were represented.
Although Startup Weekend events serve primarily as an educational and networking opportunity, organizer and MC Matt Hostetler reminded participants on several occasions that real companies—including ones still in operation—have been launched due to past Startup Weekends in Buffalo.
While 54 hours doesn’t sound like enough time to put together a viable product, complete with credible growth predictions and marketing plans, with the help of coaches and other mentors, the teams were able to complete these in time for Sunday’s competition and, in some cases, even implement working tech demos.
It took some hustle and long hours, though. After the teams formed at around 8 p.m. Friday, many stayed until 11 p.m., the latest the venue allowed. On Saturday, teams began working at 9 a.m., and much of Sunday was spent tightening up the final pitches and revising decks until the very last minute.
As the competition ended and the majority of the participants headed home (or next door to Ulrich’s for a drink), the Take It All team remained to enjoy celebratory beers, take selfies, and learn about the next step on their entrepreneurial journey to 43North and beyond.