StartUp your engines: Local ventures to take off Friday

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StartUp your engines: Local ventures to take off Friday

Rachel Christian

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Kristina Mobley, who works at Papa John’s in her hometown of Floyds Knobs, Ind., said she’s tired of cutting uneven pizza slices.

So the senior public relations and marketing major came up with an idea – the Pizza Guide – a piece of plastic that fits over the pizza and serves as a guide so the pizza artist knows exactly where to cut.

“It’s a perfect slice every time,” Mobley said.

She worked on perfecting the idea with a couple of teammates in her entrepreneurship class last semester. They created a prototype and collected some data. They found there’s a real market for the Pizza Guide.

“Of all the pizza places in town we talked to, two-thirds of them said they would buy it and use it in their stores,” she said.

But there were still some kinks to work out.

What kind of plastic would she use to make the Pizza Guides?

Where would she get the financial backing she needed?

Enter StartUp Weekend Evansville 3.0.

The annual event gives local entrepreneurs the resources, feedback and opportunities they need to get their product off the ground. Participants are given 54 hours to pitch their ideas, team up, create a business model and work together to transform their concept into a profitable business venture.

Mobley attended the event last year, which was hosted in the Romain College of Business, but only as a team member. This will be the first time she pitches her own idea.

“Last year really broadened my horizons and showed me what was possible,” she said.

The schedule for StartUp Weekend will keep hundreds of participants busy.

On Friday night, participants will have 60 seconds to pitch their initial idea to the crowd. The participants will introduce themselves, give a summary of the product and then state what help or what skills set they need.

A vote will determine the best pitches and those ideas will progress. The people behind the remaining concepts will recruit developers, product managers, designers and marketers to help launch their startup.

On Sunday night, the final pitches are presented as Powerpoints to a panel of judges.

“Running a business is intense and sometimes chaotic,” said Shance Sizermore, program manager at G.A.G.E. and a judge at this year’s event. “Developing a business model under these pressures teaches valuable lessons about business startup practices.”

Judges are looking for a team that can adapt and evolve over the weekend.

“Fifty-four hours isn’t a lot of time, but the access to mentors and resources should produce major improvements from the original pitch,” Sizermore said.

They’re also looking for people who are passionate about their ideas.

“I want to see ideas that are able to generate excitement in the room,” said Joe Trendowski, assistant professor of management at the University of Evansville and a judge for the event.

Prizes for this year’s winner include two scholarships to New Venture for further idea development and four free memberships to Innovation Pointe co-working space.

Win or lose, Mobley said she’s looking forward to the networking and development opportunities.

“Last year, I went away knowing a patent lawyer, and I met entrepreneurs of all ages,” she said. “I gained experience and direction that I never would have gotten otherwise.”

Past participants have benefited in big ways. The second place winner last year, Neil Kassinger, filed a provisional patent during Startup Weekend. The week following the event, Kassinger sold more than $200 worth of his product – the StrapHoister.

Andrew Moad won the judges over with an idea called Fence Chips – flat, vinyl tiles designed to fit into a chain-link fence and replace styrofoam cups.

Fence Chips is now patented and available for purchase on Moad’s website, fencechips.com. Local businesses and places on campus like the Children’s Learning Center have used Fence Chips.

“My business wouldn’t have happened without Startup Weekend,” Moad said. “I learned a tremendous amount about business while I was there.”

Even if your idea isn’t ground breaking, there are plenty of benefits to attending, Trendowski said.

“Everyone will be able to make connections and friendships that will extend far beyond Startup Weekend,” he said.

Mobley agrees.

“I think more students should be a part of this,” she said.

FAST FACTS:

It’s not too late to register.

Student tickets are $25 and available on their website. Non-student tickets are $50. Both can be purchased until the day of the event.

There are also “Demo Day” tickets for $25. These tickets are for those who want to watch the final presentations, judging and awards. It permits access to the event starting at 4 p.m. Sunday, and includes dinner and a special speech by Evansville Mayor Lloyd Winnecke.

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