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Student entrepreneurs suit up for startup event

By Victoria Tersigni
On February 25, 2014

From Budapest to Hong Kong to Sydney, Startup Weekend has been taking the world by storm. What started as a mere non-profit in Seattle has blossomed to an international competition held in 200 cities all over the world-a competition now returning to Oxford for the third time.

More than 100 students will be competing in Miami University's third annual startup competition, beginning Friday, Feb. 28. The event is open to students of all majors, but is especially geared towards students who are interested in entrepreneurship.    

According to Miami's Startup Weekend website, whether students are itching to propose their own ideas or are looking forward to the teamwork aspect of the competition, they have the opportunity to sharpen their entrepreneurial skills by learning what it takes to start their own business in just one weekend.

Students will pitch their startup company ideas, form teams, develop business concepts, listen to guest speakers, create prototypes for their projects, receive help from peer mentors, develop their presentations and present their ideas before judges in a merely 48 hour process.    

After the weekend is over, students will walk away with one hour of course credit by completing ESP 102: Startup Bootcamp and have the opportunity to meet with successful entrepreneurs, mentors and alumni.

Students are also able to network with other members of the Miami community interested in starting their own business and can walk away with their own free customized business cards.

Jessica Reading, assistant director for the Page Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, is actively involved in organizing and funding Startup Weekend.

She explained that Startup Weekend is a non-profit organization, so their funding comes from ticket sales and any kind of sponsorship they raise.

Reading said they received a generous donation from an alumnus, Bill Kling, to help pay for some of the costs while the rest of the costs are covered by ticket sales. Tickets are generally $100, but students receive a discount for $25.

Reading said she enjoys how natural the process is and how quickly ideas can turn into potential startup companies.

"It is a very organic process. After the students pitch their [startup] ideas, they are written down onto separate, large postage papers and we post them all around the room," Reading said.  "The students get to pick what their favorite ideas are, and what team they might want to be added to. From there, the mentors and coaches help them to form teams."   

Reading said no students are allowed to work alone because a large part of this process is collaborating with peers, which is a crucial skill to have in the workplace.  

Working on projects without any guidance can be difficult, Reading said, which is where coaches and peer mentors come into play.

Jon Leist and his partner Connor Kohlenberg placed second last year with their project and are peer mentors this year.   

"Jessica [Reading] reached out to myself and one of my partners to be peer mentors [for this year]," said Leist. "Our responsibility is to help these groups, whether it's playing devil's advocate or just being an extra resource for them."  

Leist and Kohlenberg conceived their project idea, BasketBeam, in their ESP 201: Introduction to Entrepreneurship class. Their project focuses on a system that projects basketball court lines onto any surface. They said they are still working towards making their concept a reality today.

According to the Startup Weekend website, while sometimes new companies do not form from the process, some continue after the weekend is over.

"Approximately 55 percent of Startup Weekend participants continue working on their idea with all of their team, and 23 percent with only some members of their team," she said.

Leist explained that being a part of Startup Weekend really "pays off" and people whoplace well in the competition receive benefits to further their potential companies.

"Students get different services that are donated by other mentors and coaches," Leist said. "I know last year one of the prizes was a free consultation while some offered services like a website development. And there's also fun little prizes like gift cards to places Uptown or some Miami gear."

Mark Lacker, a John W. Altman clinical professor of entrepreneurship at Miami, is responsible for the Institute of Entrepreneurship's Startup courses, co-curricular programming and internship initiatives. He will be one of the coaches for Startup Weekend.

Having 20 years of entrepreneurship experience and being involved in three startup companies himself, Lacker said he was excited for students to take advantage of this unique opportunity.

"I am excited about the momentum that has occurred around Startup Weekend in the last three years," Lacker said. "We were the first university to run an undergraduate-only Startup Weekend, and now that we have seen that this traction has occurred, it says a lot about the interest in entrepreneurship from our Miami students."

J.T. Fox, a junior at Miami and president of the co-ed Professional Business Fraternity Delta Sigma Pi, was one of the first-place winners of Startup Weekend last year. Fox and his team, Samantha Von Hoene, Steven Zid, Justin Fox and Brandon Holvey, took home the gold with their idea of a water bottle filter, which could be especially useful for study abroad, called TransFill.

Fox will be competing again this year, and he raved about the experience he had last year.

"I learned so much through Startup Weekend," Fox said. "It was an awesome experience for me. I encourage all Miami students who are interested in entrepreneurship or want to get a broader scope of the business world in general to take advantage of this unique opportunity."

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