In an effort to boost the local startup community, New Haven held its third annual Startup Weekend at Gateway Community College this past Friday through Sunday.
Organized by the national non-profit Startup Weekend, the competition aims to give locals the experience of starting their own business ventures. The event, which charged a $99 entrance fee, drew more than 100 attendees of the college — a turnout similar to last year’s.
U.S. Senator Chris Murphy, who made a guest appearance at the event after the final presentations, underscored the need to continually build up startup companies in the American economy, citing evidence that these companies create 3 million new jobs each year. According to Murphy, he and a few fellow Senators are planning to propose a pro-startup agenda in the coming months.
“We need to be a startup economy in this new global economy, where low-value jobs aren’t available anymore,” Murphy told audience members. “The ideas here can power our economy going forward, and these are not just solutions for yourself, or your family, or New Haven, but solutions for the American economy at large.”
On Friday evening, participants were given 60 seconds to present their ideas to an audience of local residents and fellow entrepreneurs, who voted to move forward with their favorite concepts. With the aid of expert coaches, participants then formed 11 teams to work together over a 54-hour period to develop products or business models.
Following formal presentations Sunday evening in front of a six-member panel of judges, Buckit, a web-based application designed to allow users to develop a more efficient, visually engaging bucket list, was announced the winner of this year’s Startup Weekend New Haven.
Derek Koch, one of the organizers of Startup Weekend New Haven and founder and CEO of Independent Software, said that the event is not necessarily about starting new companies, but rather developing talent in the Elm City’s startup community.
“We tend to focus on immediately developing companies, but the reality is it takes three or four ideas until someone can really prosper,” Koch said. “Every year, we have people who stay at it [following the event], and those are the ones that become the new generation of entrepreneurs.”
Stephanie Yacenda, one of the leaders of the winning Buckit team, said that the product’s inspiration stemmed from her own frustrations of having significant life goals but no digital tool to gather research and organize them.
She said the Startup Weekend was most beneficial in helping her realize the differences between what her team offers and the products already on the market, which do not provide graphics, to-do-lists or timeline features to supplement their bucket lists.
“The real benefit is that we provide a tool that isn’t out there,” Yacenda said.
The team already started talking to a local incubator at the Startup Weekend to help with funding, Yacenda said. She added that Buckit faces several major hurtles going forward, including pinpointing an audience dedicated to the product and finding a developer to join the team.
Despite the event’s fledgling nature, Koch noted that the success of past Startup Weekend winners, including Applivate CEO and co-founder John Fitzpatrick, show that people can come into the event and ultimately “change the world” — specifically citing Fitzpatrick’s accomplishments in transforming diabetes management through his company’s mobile application ShugaTrak.
Fitzpatrick, whose company took home first place in 2011, served as one of six judges on the panel to select this year’s winning business idea. He said the winning team had a good idea with good implementation, praising their outreach to their anticipated customer base. Fitzpatrick added that he and the other judges believe the team has great potential, especially given the progress they have made on their website.
Despite the event’s success, Koch said that he hoped more connections can be fostered between Yale and New Haven in the future, noting that only one Yale student, a candidate at the medical school, participated in the event.
Startup Weekend, which is headquartered in Seattle, Wash., presents itself as a “global grassroots movement of active and empowered entrepreneurs” and has held over 400 events in around 100 countries around the world since 2011.