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Latest Startup Weekend offers twist for entrepreneurs

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Sometimes the most successful companies are founded under the most unusual circumstances.

That might be the case this weekend when dozens of would-be entrepreneurs pit their business plans against each other in an event known as Startup Weekend.

The Nov. 12-14 session at Purdue University’s technology center near Indianapolis International Airport will be one of many held around the world. The not-for-profit event was founded in 2007 by brainiac Andrew Hyde, who runs the seed-capital firm TechStars in Boulder, Colo.

Both Purdue and Indiana University have hosted Startup Weekend before. In fact, five have taken place previously in central Indiana. What’s different about this year's session for local participants is that the weekend will culminate on Sunday with a panel of judges selecting a winning company. The victorious team then will compete against other winners from cities worldwide in an online contest for the overall top prize.

“Now the fact that we can take our winning team and support them as they go on to the international competition is cool,” said Lorraine Ball, an organizer of the event and principal of Indianapolis marketing firm Roundpeg. “It’s really going to give us the opportunity to show off a little bit of what we do here.”

About 50 fledgling entrepreneurs have registered to participate so far, but Ball expects the number to grow to between 60 and 90 by the time the event starts.

The festivities will begin Friday evening with a “pitch” session in which the entrepreneurs attempt to sell their business plans. The ideas receiving the most votes from fellow entrepreneurs advance, while those whose plans were not selected link up with the winners to form teams of at least two people each.

Teams are likely to stay up late Friday to map out strategies and return Saturday morning to continue fine-tuning their ideas. Meanwhile. speakers, such as lawyers outlining the legal aspects of forming a company, also are on the agenda.

Sunday culminates with presentations to a panel of judges who select a winner. Judges are John Hanak, statewide director, Purdue Technology Centers; Steve Hourigan, executive director, 21st Century Research and Technology Fund; Doug Karr, CEO, Indianapolis-based DK New Media LLC; Tim Capen, associate, Indianapolis-based Ice Miller LLP’s business group; and Brad Wisler, CEO, Bloomington-based business incubator SproutBox LLC.

The winning team will create a 60-second video summarizing its idea, which needs to be submitted within 24 hours of the end of the Indianapolis competition. The video, along with those from winners in other cities, will be posted at www.startupweekend.org.

Ball acknowledged that most business ideas crafted during the weekend will never come to fruition. But that’s not the entire point of the event.

“Even if the businesses don’t continue,” she said, “you make connections.”

Jon Coulter participated in the last Startup Weekend in Indianapolis, at the Purdue tech center in June. Spawned from there was online classified advertising firm Zankit. It’s the product of six strangers who met at the event.

Though Zankit has not progressed as quickly as Coulter would have liked—it remains in the development stages—he values his participation in Startup Weekend.

“It was Disneyland for somebody who wanted to meet random people and work on an idea for an Internet startup,” he said.

His one disappointment—there were no judges in the last event to critique the entries.

“I thought our product was clearly the best,” he said, “but there was no one saying that.”

This time, the winner from Indianapolis will be competing with others in 21 cities worldwide.

Cities holding Startup Weekend Nov. 12-14 are: Beirut, Lebanon; Boston; Chicago; Cleveland; Dallas; Detroit; New York; Portland, Ore.; Seattle; Sofia, Bulgaria; and Tulsa, Okla.

Startup Weekend also will be held Nov. 19-21 in the following cities and countries: Athens, Greece; Chihuahua, Mexico; Kazan, Russia; Lexington, Ky.; Miami; Minneapolis; Reykjavik, Iceland; San Francisco; Sao Paulo, Brazil; and Tokyo.

The events coincide with Global Entrepreneurship Week Nov. 15-21. More information, including ticket prices, can be found here.
 

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