Entrepreneurs build businesses from the ground up at CSUSM

Entrepreneurs build businesses from the ground up at CSUSM
Entrepreneurs who assembled a website to connect musicians with markets who might host their concerts pitch their idea to a panel of judges at Cal State San Marcos. Twelve startups presented business plans that materialized over only 54 hours. Photo by Jared Whitlock

SAN MARCOS — Many looked exhausted. Some threw around words like “frantic” and “whirlwind” to describe the last 54 hours. And it’s no wonder. They were racing against the clock for more than two days at Cal State San Marcos during the San Diego version of the international Startup Weekend. On Nov. 16, budding entrepreneurs presented ideas and picked software developers, marketers and others to join their team.

By Sunday night, the newly assembled teams pitched to an expert panel of judges. Even with a limited amount of time, many presented not only business plans, but also functional websites and cell phone applications demonstrating why their businesses are worthy of venture capital.

“What a whirlwind — I’m looking forward to some downtime over Thanksgiving weekend,” said Karen Knight who participated in the event. Her five-member team produced a smartphone app over the weekend that won first place out of a dozen startups, guaranteeing the group free office space, some funding for legal services, $500 and backing from Qualcomm.

The app, Knotty Vines, gives wine enthusiasts recommendations based on past preferences and nearby wineries courtesy of geotagging technology.

Additionally, users can snap a picture of a wine they like, and the app takes them straight to the purchase process for home delivery. Knight had the concept of the app in mind when she walked into the event. But she didn’t know how far it would come.

“Our team had some amazing mentoring from experts that challenged and validated our ideas,” said Knight, whose team also put together a video summarizing their business plan upon winning for a global competition of startups. “Our app evolved more than I ever thought it could from my idea of when we started.”

Entrepreneurs behind nLock, an achievement-based smartphone app, pose with their award for crowd favorite of Startup Weekend at Cal State San Marcos. One of 12 fledgling startups, the team built the app over the weekend and presented to a panel of judges Sunday night. Photo by Jared Whitlock

Technology to power the app was a priority. Additionally, the team had to conduct market research to gauge whether consumers and those in the wine industry would be interested in such an app.

“That was an enlightening experience — very informative,” Knight said. “The responses we got were very positive and helped us tweak our goals.”

Other ideas ran the gamut from a service allowing users to keep track of free online subscriptions to a website aggregating movie discussions and interpretations.

On Sunday night, a panel of experienced entrepreneurs gave advice and encouragement to each team following their presentations. They also questioned participants about everything from how they expect to monetize their creations to the value proposition offered.

One group pitched a service that would let patients consult with healthcare professionals via webcam. Mike Alfred, one of the judges at the event and CEO of BrightScope, said the group successfully outlined “the consumer benefit,” but he wanted to know more about what’s in it for doctors.

“Are you going to get in a situation where only the lowest quality doctors opt in?” Alfred asked.

Robert Reyes, another judge and founder of Startup Circle San Diego, has been a part of a handful of startup weekends, including two in Tijuana. He said the magic of the weekends comes from knowing participants will improve their ideas because of feedback from judges and others at the event.

“You would walk out of the weekend feeling that these people are going to do something,” Reyes said. “Even if it wasn’t that specific idea, you knew that they had a clearer understanding of what they need to do and something would come of it.”

One of the better ideas born from a startup weekend included an app to report potholes to local agencies, Reyes added.

Other pitches have certainly caught fire as well. A team known as Breadcrumbs, made up of two developers, a marketer and two people with business backgrounds, all met at a San Diego startup weekend about six months ago. They built a mobile app that helps users track how and where they spend their time. Qualcomm liked the idea so much that they provided seed funding and invited the team to the EvoNexus Incubator, a springboard for hot startups in San Diego.


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