Kansas City and St. Louis this weekend should see no shortage of would-be entrepreneurs talking up what could be the next hot startup, as both cities host Startup Weekend events.
The events, held throughout the year in cities across the globe, all follow the same basic format: Participants deliver one-minute pitches for business ideas on Friday night; teams form around a handful of those ideas and spend the weekend working to make them a reality; and the groups present their businesses to a panel of judges Sunday evening.
The goal of Startup Weekend is to teach participants the basics of launching a business and, hopefully, to give rise to a handful of viable startups in the process. Though some ideas don’t progress far beyond those Sunday presentations, others have become the foundations for full-fledged companies. Software startups Zapier and Divshot, born out of Startup Weekend events in Missouri in 2011 and 2012, respectively, both raised venture capital and have full-time employees.
But what can Startup Weekend participants in Kansas City and St. Louis expect this weekend? Missouri Business Alert endeavored to answer that question in September, documenting the Startup Weekend Columbia experience of the team behind SmartVisit, an app designed to streamline the paperwork and other processes involved in a visit to the doctor’s office.
Dr. Aaron Gray, a University of Missouri physician, came up with the idea, and he went to Startup Weekend to find the talent to help him build it.
“My problem is I don’t have designers and developers that are running around in my circle of influence,” Gray said this week. “And I’m (thinking), I’m never going to be able to get this idea off the ground unless I can connect with some people like that. That was my main objective, was just to try to connect with some people and get some feedback from others and see if this idea had any legs to it.”
Gray and a team of seven other participants earned honorable mention for their work at Startup Weekend Columbia. Since then, he has continued to work on the project, now called MySmartVisit, with the help of software developer Chad Haney and designer Lauren Okruch. All three have full-time jobs, so they fit in work on the project as time allows, mostly at night and on weekends.
“It’s tough. We all have full-time jobs,” Gray said. “It’s hard to have full-time jobs and find the energy and time to work on a side project, but I think that’s the only way.”
Gray, Haney and Okruch sought the help of the Missouri Innovation Center, a technology transfer organization affiliated with the University of Missouri, and have passed several startup milestones. They’ve opened a bank account and formed an LLC, and Gray said they hope to have a website up soon and a product launched by spring 2014.
Gray says the progress to this point wouldn’t have happened without Startup Weekend.
“The only reason that we have this startup is because of the connections that we made at Startup Weekend,” he said. “I never would have made these connections otherwise.”