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Start it up! Budding entrepreneurs to compete next week

Startup Weekend can be intense and high-energy, but prospective entrepreneurs and coaches/mentors also admit that the marathon event is a lot of fun.

Startup Weekend can be intense and high-energy, but prospective entrepreneurs and coaches/mentors also admit that the marathon event is a lot of fun.

Prospective business owners’ dreams and plans will be on the clock next week during a high-energy competition offered through Innovate Mississippi.

Startup Weekend Jackson, now in its third year, will be held May 16-18 at Millsaps College. Dozens of entrepreneurs and a group of mentors/coaches are expected to be on hand for the 54-hour marathon competition aimed at giving a boost to new business ventures.

“This is the most fun startup event we host because it shortcuts the process between ideas and implementation,” said Tony Jeff, president and CEO of Innovate Mississippi. “It’s great to see simple concepts on Friday night that sometimes transform into businesses with real customers by Sunday.”

Begun in 2007 in Colorado and now headquartered in Seattle, Wash., Startup Weekend, which is powered by Google for Entrepreneurs, over its history has grown into a global event with more than 1,000 competitions involving over 100,000 entrepreneurs in 100-plus countries.

According to Startup Weekend, the event has been effective. More than 36 percent of Startup Weekend winners are still going strong after three months, and roughly 80 percent of participants plan on continuing working with their team or startup after the weekend.

Startup Weekend Jackson will begin with aspiring entrepreneurs giving 60-second pitches of their proposals the night of May 16 to a group of programmers, coders, developers and other business-minded individuals, who then vote for the most promising 10 to 15 ideas. The group then divides into small teams, each spending the rest of the weekend focusing on a single business idea and developing a proof of concept, demo or finished product. Mentors help fine-tune the idea into a “working company” with potential profits. A panel of seasoned professionals evaluates each group’s created company and their chances of real-world success, and the event will conclude Sunday, May 18 with an awards ceremony where the top three teams receive in-kind prizes from local service providers.

It means long hours and serious business, but participants say the rewards are worth it.

“You have to be business/entrepreneur nerd — staying up all night. You eat pizza when it’s hot and the cheese is stingy, when it’s cold and when it’s brick-hard,” said Josh Mabus, owner of the Tupelo-based advertising firm Mabus Agency and veteran Startup Weekend mentor/coach. “It is a lot of fun.”

Mabus, a member of the current class of the Mississippi Business Journal’s Top 40 Under 40 awards program, said he received “gentle guidance” when he was a new entrepreneur, and the event gives him a chance to return the favor.

He said that he gets inspiration not only from the ideas that are pitched, but also from the spirit of sharing exhibited among participants.

“You here some really great ideas — new, fresh businesses,” Mabus said. He added that he has been moved by the willingness of competitors who did not make the cut to volunteer to help those who did win.

One of those winners is Darren Schwindaman, owner of Jackson-based Creative Distillery. Creative Distillery’s product, Gotcha Universe, was chosen as a winner during a prior Startup Weekend Jackson.

“It was a grueling weekend — Friday night until 1a.m., all day Saturday and all day Sunday. Working that intensively on the product, however, taught me many lessons,” Schwindaman wrote. “We wear many hats at Creative Distillery, so in any day I might be working on a design project, talking with potential clients, connecting with contractors, or doing a press check at a print shop. On top of that is the constant barrage of information from social media sites. Startup Weekend gave me a structure to spend the entire weekend thinking and working on one thing.

“There’s a lot to learn about remaining profitable as we look to expand. I’ll take away a new set of tools and approaches in order to make our business more successful.”

Tasha Bibb, entrepreneurial development manager for Innovate Mississippi, heads up  Startup Weekend Jackson. “The event provides an environment where entrepreneurship can happen,” she said when asked why Innovate Mississippi participates in Startup Weekend. “It is definitely high-energy, but also a lot of fun.”

This year’s Startup Weekend Jackson will offer some firsts. For example, in addition to the traditional mobile and tech-related startup ideas this year’s Startup Weekend Jackson is placing an added emphasis on the medical and telehealth industry with a special health care track sponsored by Humana.

For more information on Startup Weekend Jackson and/or to purchase tickets, visit Bibb at tbibb@innovate.ms, or visit www.jackson.startupweekend.org. The ticket price includes all events and meals for the weekend, and students receive a 50 percent discount.



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