Startup Weekend 2018: at Notre Dame, Take 2

Author: Eoin Clancy

Eoin ClancyEoin Clancy

Startup Weekend is far more than just a weekend! Weeks of prior-planning by this year’s ESTEEM team ensure that the event runs as smoothly as possible. And smooth it was!

Let me begin by explaining Startup Weekend. This is an event in which developers, business gurus, startup enthusiasts, designers and people of every background imaginable come together to pitch startup ideas, form teams around those ideas, and then work together to develop a working prototype, business model, and presentation. However, as the name implies, this is all to be completed over just one weekend, 46 hours this year to be exact!. Yup. From Friday night to early afternoon on Sunday, teams work to come as close as they can to launching a viable business.

As part of this year’s ESTEEM program, an entrepreneurial graduate program at Notre Dame, a handful of ESTEEMers, along with help from David Murphy, Emily Tyson and Jessica Millen, put in a great deal of time and effort to coordinate this excitingly frenzied event. The IDEA Center at Innovation Park has become a centerpoint for entrepreneurial activities both on campus and in South Bend. Therefore, Pit Road—the large open room at Innovation Park—was the ideal collaborative space for this event. Nearly 45 people participated, including a good portion of Notre Dame and ESTEEM students, in addition to students from nearby universities, and a visiting group of university students from Southern China University of Technology, studying Software Engineering, as part of a trip sponsored by IBM China and Notre Dame International.

The event got underway on Friday evening at 6 pm, with Grant Carlisle, our great facilitator, laying out the exciting plans for the weekend. Following this, participants had the opportunity to gain first hand knowledge of a very successful local startup in South Bend Code School. Co-founders Alex Sejdinaj and Alex Liggins introduced attendees to their success story and the importance of talking to customers and bootstrapping early on. The main message that everyone took away was the importance of developing your understanding of your customers before building out your product. Quickly iterate and improve. Following a quick ice-breaker game called ‘Half-Baked’ which got everyone out of their seats and got the innovative juices flowing. One of the quick ideas that came out of this was ‘Delicious AI’ which would analyze your Facebook news feed and match what recipies you liked to what you can actually make with what’s in your fridge!

Pitches then got underway with an amazing 22 participants pitching their ideas. Ideas ranged from errand managers to an optimized research paper search engine. After a quick voting process, people broke into 6 small teams of between 5-7 people and planned out the tasks that they needed to complete over the coming days. Work was fueled by plenty of snacks and coffee!

Saturday was extremely fast-paced. Participants were fueled in the morning with some great bagels, the first time the visiting Chinese students ever saw such an oddly shaped breakfast! Teams started to flesh out their ideas and prepared for the arrival of the mentors and coaches around midday who could give them an extra push in the right direction. Mentors included a number of local entrepreneurs and faculty from Notre Dame, including some ESTEEM lecturers, with great experience and knowledge in a broad range of areas, including technology, marketing, product development and a lot more! Teams worked on building out their Business Model Canvas and started to better define their assumptions and cost structures. The whiteboards and post-its in Pit Road were in great demand all night long.

Sunday morning gave teams an opportunity to put some finishing touches to their business plans and prepare the final few details for their pitch deck. We were delighted to have 4 great judges with vast experience in both entrepreneurship and industry. The 6 teams that worked hard all weekend had a hard cut-off of 5 minutes in which to deliver their work, followed up by 5 minutes of questions from the judges.

Some of the startups included an app that coordinated all of your errands that you currently outsource, another app that removes strangers from your pictures and insures that your eyes are not closed, another service brings the Google Maps experience indoors. Each group was responsible for presenting the validation of their value propositions, conducting customer interviews, developing a business model and financials, and creating a working prototype or demo. After a long deliberation by the judges, the winning prizes went to the team of ‘Learn A Little’, which built a business plan around improving the education of school kids through gamification of STEM subjects like physics, chemistry, biology and a lot more. They demoed working prototypes of some of the topics like Boolean logic that they developed over the weekend. The judges were impressed by their customer validation and their ability to quickly build-out high-quality demos and recognize a market need.

Overall, it was an incredible opportunity for us ESTEEMers to put into practice the many lessons and skills that we have learned over the past 7 months, as well as share our entrepreneurial knowledge with the other participating students. In addition, many of the participants took away a lot from this weekend, such as new partners, friends, interests, skills, and all-around knowledge. Looking back, the weekend was an amazing opportunity for all involved. Bringing together a handful of people or more with different backgrounds and visions to work on forming a startup in one full weekend is no easy feat. However, each of the groups that formed seemed to come together beautifully—everyone utilizing people’s individual expertise and skills while collaborating and communicating to ensure everyone worked towards a common goal. Although it was a little hectic and stressful at times, we all appreciated the frequent laughing, positive energy, and rewarding experience that was Startup Weekend.

A special thanks is in order to the ESTEEM student organizing team: Eoin Clancy, Alison Hennessy, Austin Fry, Eydis Lima, Emily Russo, Faye Wang, Danny Hogan, and ESTEEM staff members Emily Tyson and Jessica Millen. A thank you should also be extended to Isabella Martinez who captured all of the key moments of the weekend on Facebook Live and to Kunigunda Szentes who was also on photographic duties. Finally, we extend our thanks to Grant Carlisle who kept everyone energized over the weekend and to each of the judges and mentors that made the weekend so memorable.