October 24, 2013

StartUp Weekend combines entrepreneurs, ideas and adrenaline

The first Portland event in March spawned a handful of new businesses.

By Jessica Hall jhall@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Maine has no shortage of groups that help entrepreneurs start small businesses, and one fledgling effort seeks to bring together a mix of business people, designers, financial experts and programmers in a freewheeling atmosphere aimed at spurring creative thinking.

click image to enlarge

Emily Bernhard, second from right, with BizzieMe partners Julie Kingsley, John Moore and Dragos Stancu. Bernhard came to a StartUp Weekend last year – which led to the creation of her BizzieMe media venture.

Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

StartUp Weekend, which begins Friday at 4 p.m. at the Portland Public Library and continues throughout the weekend at Peloton Labs – with only minor breaks for sleeping – is a brainstorming business workshop on steroids.

Saturday’s event is the second of its kind; the first, held in March, yielded at least three new companies from the weekend-long event that brought together 70 entrepreneurial-minded strangers with a variety of ideas.

Portland’s StartUp Weekend is one of more than 700 similar events that have taken place in more than 100 countries and spawned the creation of more than 10,000 startup businesses, organizers said.

“Portland is a very entrepreneurial town. StartUp is a communal expression of that entrepreneurial nature,” said Chris Hall, chief executive of the Portland Regional Chamber. “It’s feeding the social and economic dynamic in the city.”

Small businesses define Maine’s economy; about 80 percent of Maine businesses have fewer than 10 employees, according to the state Department of Labor.

At Portland’s first StartUp Weekend in March, 70 people listened to 45 quick business pitches and sifted through those ideas to pick the 10 best. Teams were then formed to build businesses that were then voted upon by judges. By the end of the weekend, at least two groups and one business connection were forged, growing into ventures that are still going concerns today.

Among the teams still working together include BizzieMe, which is creating multimedia, interactive programs for children, and 4370 Labs, which is developing Goals with Friends, a mobile application to help make accomplishing personal goals more achievable.

Meanwhile, the co-founders of Buoy Local, which has created a gift card redeemable at local businesses, met at StartUp Weekend and later teamed up to form that company.

“With a 30-plus percent success rate, it’s not just a feel-good weekend. It’s a success story,” Hall said. “Some people will be skeptical and say ‘Show me the money.’ Sure, the statistics say that most small businesses don’t last five years. But with the network of support and encouragement around these ventures, we hopefully will be able to move the needle a bit.”

The second StartUp Weekend will include 76 participants and 16 coaches to help mentor teams throughout their brainstorming and development exercises. The four judges are Bob Martin, president of the Maine Technology Institute; Jason Cianchette, founder and general manager of Liquid Wireless, which was acquired by Publishers Clearing House in 2012; Emily Madero, managing director of Idea Village in New Orleans; and Jon Ayers, chairman and chief executive of Idexx.

“A lot of what people got out of this was ecstatic enthusiasm,” said Liz Trice, one of the organizers of the event. “People were buzzing for weeks afterwards.”

Trice said the nature of the weekend helps people get involved with an entrepreneurial idea without feeling locked into a major commitment.

“We face what seem like external barriers, but are actually internal barriers. This helps build a lot of confidence for people to think big and take risks,” said Trice. “You join a team that you want to join. Something that speaks to you. And then you’re off on this race.

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