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Startup Weekend gives real-world experience

By Megan Bowers, For The Miami Student

The room is buzzing.

Clusters of well-dressed students sit nervously, taking sips of water, wringing their hands and occasionally glancing at their notes.

Mentors in slick black and red jackets discuss the outcome in hushed tones and work on setting up the presentations.

It's Startup Weekend at the Farmer School of Business and teams are preparing to present business models they started forming just 48 hours ago.

Students pitch their ideas, form teams and build business models, before pitching their final ideas to judges. Winners are awarded with potential investment opportunities.

Over 35 ideas were pitched this year, but only 16 were selected to be turned into "prototypes."

One of those prototypes eventually became "TasTable."

"My idea is to build a marketplace where people can buy and sell home cooked meals," said Ben Drellishak in his 60-second pitch. "I believe there is a market out there for quality home cooked meals that are simple, cheap and healthy."

The team was formed - a group of seven students from different backgrounds, business majors and otherwise. Drellishak was joined by Amy Hershberger, Erica Miller, Sam Harper, Claire Markley, Ryan Muniak and Meredith Illig.

They spent the majority of the next 48 hours in each others' company, working non-stop in room 0033 in the basement of the FSB.

Friday night focused on creating their problem statement, identifying their customer segment and coming up with a strategy for the next day.

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"Saturday morning, four of us went Uptown to Kroger and the Farmers Market to get interviews that validated what we thought the problems were," said Markley. "We felt they were relevant problems, but we wanted to confirm it."

They spent the rest of the day strategizing and meeting with mentors. Two in particular gave advice that seemed to help determine how their product was shaped.

Bill Kling, founder of Swiss-American, helped them adjust their market. He could see their product appealing more to an age group with a disposable income rather than college age, which they were originally thinking.

"It was interesting having all these different mentors from crazy different backgrounds all giving you their take on your idea," said Drellishak. "All their takes are different from each other so it's like you have to try and pick and choose. Nobody really knows the true answer to any of these business problems, it's all guesses really."

They also received advice from Thomas Gorczynski, co-founder of Nomful. He told them to replicate their idea by making dinner for people that night to see if people would actually buy it.

"We made a chicken and broccoli meal and, at first, it was shaky," said Drellishak. "Meredith left to go cook, and we started talking to the mentors and almost changed our entire business plan. Luckily, we changed the business plan back and it ended up working out because Meredith was able to sell them to a bunch of random people hanging around here."

This helped them back up their presentation with evidence that people would buy their product for the amount they planned.

"Having the hands on application was so much more valuable than reading something out of the textbook and having an exam over it," said Hershberger. "We were doing real life examples and putting the model out there."

Their team worked long hours, staying at FSB until 2:30 a.m. Sunday.

"I think it was a really good immersion experience because, for the whole weekend, you are only thinking about business and our project," said Markley. "You could be doing so many other things but I'd rather be putting my energy into something that means something."

TasTable's business plan didn't quite meet the judge's standards and the team didn't end up placing in the final competition.

"Furnishare," a startup focused on helping students furnish their apartments for short amounts of time, took home the top prize.

"The weekend was still extremely invaluable," said Miller. "I had been considering picking up a minor in entrepreneurship and this weekend just confirmed it."