Pivot to subleasing app leads to winning idea at Startup Weekend Columbia

Startup Weekend Columbia’s winning team, SL.APP, proposed an app to combat a nuisance familiar to many college students: subleasing.

It’s a problem renters are forced to deal with when, for example, they’ve signed a 12-month lease and get a summer internship in a different city, or when they decide to study abroad for a semester but are locked into a two-semester housing contract.

When trying to sublease a unit, renters are just “putting it out there and hoping someone stumbles upon you,” said Chase Scanlan, a University of Missouri senior and member of the winning team.

The team members behind SL.APP are no strangers to the problems caused by subleasing. That’s how they came up with the idea that won Columbia’s eighth annual Startup Weekend, held this weekend at Veterans United Home Loans.

Mid-Missouri’s version of a Techstars program held in cities across the world, Startup Weekend Columbia aims to bring local entrepreneurial community members together to think about and execute new ideas.

Participants pitched business ideas on Friday evening, the first night of the event. Teams formed around a handful of those ideas and spent the weekend working to make them a reality. On Sunday evening, teams presented their work to a panel of judges, who choose the winners.

Scanlan said he and his girlfriend spent the first night of Startup Weekend looking for places to live next year, because they’re both graduating in the fall, and most housing companies in Columbia don’t do six-month leases.

The next day, when a Startup Weekend mentor asked Scanlan what problems he was experiencing that he’d like to fix, Scanlan mentioned subleasing. It turned into the winning idea.

Scanlan said there’s no singular app for students to use when they want to sublease their place or take over a sublease. He said the team plans to change that by working with Brookside, a local apartment operator, to connect lessors with people looking to rent units.

Using the app, both parties would input their criteria, such as price, location and number of roommates, to make matching quicker and more efficient.

Twin brothers Chase and Ross Scanlan, Jake Eovaldi and James Yoon, all MU students, combined with Jeff Lowe and John Wiehe to form the SL.APP team.

The project started out as a “smart windshield,” Chase Scanlan said. Eovaldi and the Scanlan brothers, friends from Parkway South High School in St. Louis County, pitched an idea for a windshield that would track drivers’ eyes and the position of the sun and tint the necessary parts of the windshield on its own.

The initial idea caught the attention one of Startup Weekend’s previous winners, Jeff Lowe, who joined their team.

Lowe won in 2014 as part of the team behind EquipmentShare, an online marketplace for construction equipment rentals. Today, EquipmentShare has raised tens of millions of dollars in capital and lists nine offices across Missouri, Florida and Texas.

Although the SL.APP team thought the smart windshield was a good idea, the team members realized after a discussion with their mentor that they had no idea how to execute it.

“On Saturday morning, we realized it was infeasible,” Chase Scanlan said. “We had no means of doing it.”

That’s when they switched gears to the subleasing app.

For taking first place, the team won a prize package including aerial drones, consulting services and invitations to pitch to a variety of local investor groups and startup events.

Scanlan said with the amount of resources SL.APP won, the team would have to at least try to continue with the idea after Startup Weekend.

Alyssa Patzius, lead organizer of Startup Weekend Columbia, said it was rewarding to watch the team realize they shouldn’t be working on the windshield idea and find a new idea, which she said fit them even better and solved an even bigger problem.

“The winning pitch was the epitome of Startup Weekend,” Patzius said, “because where they started was not even the idea they ended up with.”

Other teams recognized for their efforts included TagClub, for best execution; The Ex Box for best business model; and FSBOOST for validation.

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