Startup Weekend Orlando — A Wrap

Orlando, where most of the Envy Labs team calls home, has a noticeably growing technology and startup presence. With this growing community, we see an influx of new (and very cool) tech events. One of the most involved is Startup Weekend Orlando, which took place last weekend, November 9 - 11.

Startup Weekend isn’t specific to Orlando though. Chances are, there is already a Startup Weekend organized in your nearest major city. This November, there are Startup Weekends happening on every continent—ranging as far as Iran and Ghana.

(Source: @mohnacky)

The format of the weekend is important, and it goes like this: participants pitch ideas, the best ideas are chosen, teams are formed, teams work for 54 hours, teams present to a panel of industry judges. The judges then pick the top three teams, and a winning team is crowned.

The prizes given to the winners are based on the local community. This week, the Global Startup Battle for Startup Weekends started with 140+ cities crowning their own winners—each of which will put together a video pitch. One pitch will be determined as the global winner (which comes with some impressive prizes).

The Pitch

Friday night at Startup Weekend, things start off slowly. Around 6:30pm, people begin to trickle in during the registration and dinner timeslots. By 7:30pm, it’s pitch time. Everyone with an idea lines up and gets one minute to pitch their best idea to the crowd. This is an elevator pitch—no slides or fancy props. There were 44 pitches in Orlando last weekend. Everyone gives their project a name, which they write on a big sheet of paper. Those pitching then line up around the edges of the room, available for questions from potential teammates.

Once everyone has pitched, each attendee (over 105 at our Orlando event) gets three post-it notes—each representing one vote. Attendees go around to the speakers who pitched, asking questions and deciding who will win their votes. They can cast all three votes on one project or spread them around. There were some amazing ideas pitched here in Orlando last weekend. A few pitches that stood out for me:

  • No Wait - Realtime bus schedules in Orlando (yeah, we don’t have this)
  • Fuelzee - Fourquare meets a rewards program for gas stations
  • Acronym - An iPhone game as an ice breaker in social situations
  • Happy Couple Happy Home - Real estate wedding registry
  • Hovercraft - Gamification for advertising

During the pitches I jotted down 10 presenters that I wanted to talk to, and eventually I cast my 3 votes. The organizers of the event, including the ever-present Orrett Davis, tallied the votes and announced the 15 most popular pitches. The organizers of these top 15 pitches then formed teams. This process is hard to describe, but it always seems to work. Attendees gravitate towards ideas they love; and if their skillset, enthusiasm and personality click with a speaker’s presentation—they often join the team.

At the last Startup Weekend, I pitched and formed a team, so this time around I wanted to try sharing in someone else’s vision. I found a group of 6 guys interested in changing online advertising; and I joined their project called Hovercraft.

Friday Night involves a lot of brainstorming. One of the topics that’s good to discuss is what everyone wants to get out of the weekend. Are people here because they want to quit their job and work on this idea? Or are they out to have fun and share in the startup experience for a short-time?

The Work

From Saturday until Sunday at 5pm, teams work as much as they can on their idea. It’s important to note though this isn’t a hackfest. No team leaves with a product they can launch—that’s not the goal. Instead, the focus is on flushing out an idea on a number of levels: as a business plan, for customer validation, and for execution.

For Hovercraft, we talked to some people on the streets about the idea and got some unique insights (for instance: men would prefer to shoot an ad, while women would rather punch it). In our case, none of us were experts in the advertising space, but luckily a number of the 22 mentors on-hand were, and from them we learned a great deal.

We came up with the idea of tweaking the interstitial advertisement page (another term I learned over the weekend). This helped us collect additional data for the advertiser through targeted engagement. The end result was higher revenue for publishers with better targeted ads.

Our goal was to work smart with the 4 minute pitch in mind. Any work that isn’t going towards the pitch may be awesome, but it won’t help with judging criteria. Last time, I had a working Rails app that people could actually sign-up for and use (but suffered on other judging criteria). This time, our team kept it very simple with a Javascript only implementation and straight HTML. For rapid prototyping, I think this is the best way to go. It’s better to see something actually working than develop a complicated app. Some other teams had wireframes or iPhone/Android screenshots, which also did the trick.

Final Presentations

At 5pm Sunday, after everyone has been working hard for 54 hours, it’s presentation time! There were 13 teams in Orlando that presented their ideas to a group of judges and attendees. This is my favorite part of Startup Weekend. It’s like watching a version of Shark Tank that was made is a pressure cooker. People are tired, minds are fried, but everyone still gets up and gives their best pitch.

Some ideas that may not have stood out in the first pitch are now flushed out. We brought a little fun into the presentation by shooting ads and having an annoying ad (played by a former Marine) try to take over our speaker.

Envy Labs’ own Dan McGaw gave a great presentation for Fuelzee at the end of the night, raising everyone’s energy level a notch or two. The judges decided on their top three teams and announced the winners to a very tired group of attendees.

The top three winners of Startup Weekend Orlando were:

  • 3rd Place - BannerSmash!
  • 2nd Place - Dart - Digital market for artists
  • 1st Place - Fuelzee!

The Fuelzee Team

Congrats to all the teams! These (and many others as well) had well-researched and polished pitches. It’s always amazing to see what a team can do—even one that was put together in only two days.

Huge props to all the organizers of the event, including Orrett and Voxeo for hosting the event, and the Orlando Community for coming out for a fun and exciting weekend!

- Adam Fortuna

11.14.12 ← See All Posts
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