When Jeff Henriod made his way to UNC’s campus to participate in last weekend’s Triangle Startup Weekend, the only thing he brought with him was an idea for a startup company.
“I literally just showed up,” says Henriod, a second-year MBA student at UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School and soon-to-be first time father. Henriod had an idea for a website and app to help new parents raise friends-and-family money for significant purchases, such as a baby crib. “I wanted to pitch this idea called Let’s Chip In and see what would happen next.”
What happened next was a round of quick-pitches on Friday (Nov. 15). Participants voted for the top ideas and then self-selected into teams. Henriod’s concept did well in first-round voting, attracting potential teammates from among the 86 aspiring entrepreneurs in attendance.
Annalisa Winther, a UNC Kenan-Flagler undergraduate student and Global Learning Opportunities in Business Education Fellow, introduced herself to Henriod and became his co-lead for the next 48 hours. Two local software developers, Andrew Ice and Leonel Galan, rounded out the team of eight and were critical in developing a working minimal viable product by mid-way through the weekend. This gave Henriod and Winther a chance to test the idea with potential customers and raise early revenue – a winning feature for the judges who awarded Let’s Chip In first prize on Sunday.
Between the first pitches on Friday and the final presentations Sunday, startup teams worked continuously with the goal to get their product to a viable launch by the close of the event. Ten experienced entrepreneurs from around the Triangle provided coaching and support.
“It was impressive how seriously the teams took customer feedback,” said Alec Guettel, a coach for the event who is also the UNC Campus Y Social Entrepreneur-in-Residence. Guettel, who co-founded several companies, including Sungevity, Inc. and Axiom Law, believes that pursuit of the customer viewpoint distinguishes successful ventures in their early days. “It trumps everything,” he says.
For teams like the Durham Urban Innovation Center (DUIC), an urban laboratory developing local solutions to community issues, the weekend was about bringing together needs of low-wealth neighborhoods with people, technologies and potential investors to meet those needs. Wanona Satcher and her team worked on improving a program concept that had been in development.
“I’m overwhelmed, but also found the experience to be really exciting,” says DUIC team member Dawn Hill-Alston after the final presentation of their concept for BcubeD, a mobile resource for helping communities address local issues block by block. “Now we want to take this energy back to our community and encourage people to participate.”
Second-place went to Get Back, an app solution for businesses to get valuable real-time feedback while customers are on site by offering discount incentives. Third-place team Moneyball++ was a favorite of several of the judges. Founder Darshan Singh is pursuing a doctorate in computer science at UNC and hopes to develop a model for cricket that provides insights about the best players and the probability of teams winning in a game, which would attract not only cricket fans but also gamblers and team managers.
“There are 1 billion people in India watching cricket on TV, but nobody came up with an advanced analysis of the players,” said Singh.
As the winning venture, Let’s Chip In will get a six-month lease at 1789 Venture Lab, an incubator for younger businesses in downtown Chapel Hill, as well as free consultation from marketing, social enterprise, accounting and legal professionals.
The entrepreneurial ecosystem both at Carolina and in the region offers a lot to help the other startups as well. Launching the Venture, the Carolina Challenge, Launch Chapel Hill Accelerator, Blackstone Entrepreneurs Network, and the CUBE Social Innovation Incubator are campus resources available to UNC entrepreneurs. Launch Chapel Hill and the 1789 Venture Lab are also open to the community, as are places like the HQ Raleigh and the American Tobacco Underground in Durham.
“The Triangle region has really expanded the resources it has to offer entrepreneurs in the past several years,” says Judith Cone, special assistant to the chancellor for innovation and entrepreneurship at UNC. Of course, for Carolina students or graduates with a startup, Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt would like to keep them local.
His message to the entrepreneurs: “This is a community that’s committed to helping you be successful so that you can help us realize the dynamic community that we can be.”
Kenan-Flagler Business School Professor Ted Zoller, who directs UNC’s Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, thinks these kinds of events are important for bringing idea people together with the technical help and support services critical to get off the ground.
“Many of these teams didn’t know each other before this weekend,” says Zoller, a judge for the final presentations. “It’s just amazing what can happen when you put the technical experts together with great entrepreneurial thinkers and let them tackle real-world problems in a compressed time.”
By Michelle Bolas.
Published November 19, 2013.