Startup Weekend Iowa City 2019

On the weekend of July 12th I attended Startup Weekend IC, a startup competition held at Merge. The event had three stages. In the first stage, participants pitched their ideas to the crowd and attempted to win a popular vote for their ideas. The six most popular pitches were chosen to continue into the second round. I pitched an idea for self-assembling furniture, but sensing the idea was overly ambitious, was happy it did not go on to the second round.

During the second round, teams formed around the winning pitches and serious business models began to develop. During this time, my team’s own model went through dozens of revisions. Our initial vision was to develop augmented reality workspaces. We quickly came to find that our ideas were too difficult to address in the scope of the weekend. We batted around ideas for applications in drafting and industrial design before dropping the AR/VR idea altogether.

After more discussion, we settled on the idea of developing a platform for freelancers to receive escrow payments from clients, ensuring they would have a way to get paid on time. We validated this idea by interviewing nine freelancers and discovered that problems with late payments affected over 50 percent of them.

Our final model, HandShake, was awarded second place by judges Samantha Ferm, Mark Nolte, and Kimm Harris. First place went to MoRA, an online art rental platform, and third place went to Agble, which trains and connects youth and young mothers with farmers who need laborers in Nigeria.

Almost every single pitch followed some kind of platform business model offering to connect x to y, freelancers to clients, farmers to tech resources, and so forth. I am not a big fan of this kind of model, but I was not disappointed at the lack of diversity because most of these startups are largely learning experiences for students and more experienced entrepreneurs piloting new ideas. The actual viability of our business models was second to the practice we gained in doing market research, refining our value propositions and networking with potential clients.

Attending events such as IC Startup Weekend have taught me about much more than just startups. I learned about the components critical to every business, including market research, customer discovery, value creation and sales. I am particularly interested in the process of value creation, within an entrepreneurial context and without, and regularly think of myself as a participant in the value creation process happening in the companies I work for but do not own. I believe this view has made me more productive at Bio::Neos, as I have an ambition to increase the value of my work as if I was the owner of it.

In addition, there were excellent opportunities for networking. Thanks to events like this, I am able to network with nearly every entrepreneur and entrepreneur-type in Iowa City. In a larger city such as San Francisco, Seattle or Austin, this would not be possible. I feel confident that if I wanted to create an actual startup, I would know where and how to network with local customers, investors and potential employees and co-founders.

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