Themes, teams emerge from Columbia Startup Weekend’s first night

A range of emotions went through 51 would-be startup founders as they pitched their ideas Friday night to kick off Columbia Startup Weekend.

A flurry of ideas were covered in the one-minute pitches, with concepts ranging from wine tours to buying and selling parking spots, and even an app to help users get over breakups.

By the end of the night, 12 of those ideas had received the most support from event participants and appeared likely advance to Saturday, when teams will work to further develop the ideas into the foundations of viable businesses. The teams will present their progress to judges on Sunday evening, with prizes going to the top teams.

Of the 51 pitches Friday, a large number centered around food and beverages. Ideas for facilitating proper farming, ending world hunger and turning drinking games into apps all generated considerable interest.

With a lot of the ideas being developed by students from Columbia’s colleges and universities, Startup Weekend organizer Alyssa Patzius said it’s only natural for the majority of pitches to reflect the issues facing college students.

“Food is usually one that people enjoy,” she said. “There’s always a couple food, there’s a couple bars, textbooks. That’s a lot of the demographic here — college students — and those are a lot of the issues they are facing.”

Many of the participants who pitched Friday were presenting their ideas to an audience for the first time.

Daniel Johnson is a facilitator for Startup Weekend, the Seattle-based organization that hosts hundreds of these weekend-long events all over the world. Johnson tried to keep the presenters optimistic and confident by encouraging those in attendance to give their idea a chance. In addition he orchestrated a “power clap” from the crowd at the beginning of each pitch to help encourage the presenter.

“You just have to share the problem,” he said, “and if it resonates with people they’ll start listening.”

Added Patzius: “You can tell there’s usually a few crowd favorites. When people get done there’s usually a few people nodding their heads, thinking, ‘This is what I need.’”

Despite the attempts to create a relaxed atmosphere for the presenters, nerves still got to some.

Bryan Scanlan, a junior studying business at the University of Missouri, had one of the most popular ideas of the night with his “Take My Spot” app, which would let people claim parking spots at major sporting events and malls before they open up. Although he practiced before presenting, Scanlan said he may have rushed things a little.

“It was my first pitch,” he said. “I thought I was going to do really good, but I was a bit nervous. I practiced at home and I barely got it to a minute. When I pitched (on Friday), I only got to 45 seconds.”

Still, the pitch impressed enough people to let Scanlan move ahead with his idea.

The 12 ideas that garnered the most support Friday were:

  • Plus One – A dating app that focuses on users’ mutual interests
  • HuntClub – An Airbnb-like hospitality app for premium hunting locations
  • NIU To See You – An app that allows parents to show the milestones of their baby with the nurse that delivered it
  • PlayDraft – An app that creates a drinking game based on music playlists
  • Machine Learning for Businesses – A way to train people that uses specific machines for certain businesses
  • Local Influencer Marketing – A way to get local influencers in touch with small businesses that they can help support and invest in
  • Take My Spot – An app that would allow people to buy and sell parking spots at crowded places like sporting events and malls
  • Miles Optimization Plan – A way for people to earn frequent flyer miles through ways other than credit card purchases
  • One80 – A vinyl subscription and delivery service
  • EZ Farm – A sensor-based system that allows gardeners to optimize the results with their plants
  • Loser Up – A motivational app that tries to push users to do more and do better
  • Mo’ Wine Trails – A way for people to book tours of all of Missouri’s wineries through their phone

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