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The start-up weekend held in Jackson focused on minorities.

SUMESH ARORA: 0 to 60 in 54 hours!

The time it takes for a vehicle at rest to achieve a velocity of 60 miles per her is a commonly used performance measure in the automotive world. Given that today’s high performance cars can achieve this acceleration in less than four seconds, you may be thinking that I am talking about a new electric buggy that runs on AA batteries and takes 54 hours to get there.

Well, what I am talking about is how do you crank up a new business starting from the idea stage or ground zero, and get it going a mile an minute, figuratively that is. It turns out that a Startup Weekend is precisely the vehicle to do just that. Startup Weekends are held around the world in cities big and small, where people gather on a Friday evening, pitch their ideas, form teams around the ideas that get the most votes, develop the idea into a product or service, and launch the business by Sunday evening, all in the span of 54 hours.

As the Startup Weekend website states, “in just 54 hours, you will experience the highs, lows, fun, and pressure that make up life at a startup. As you learn how to create a real company, you’ll meet the very best mentors, investors, cofounders, and sponsors who are ready to help you get started.”

Measuring the 0 to 60 speed of vehicles is usually done in a controlled setting such as a race car track or closed lot used for professional drivers. This is done to reduce risk to the drivers, their teams, and the public in general. The closed course is set up for test-drives in order to reduce any variables, such as wind, weather, and traction. Each variable can have a dramatic impact on the friction of the track and the drag placed on the vehicle, which will influence the overall 0 to 60 time that is recorded. Accurate and precise measuring tools attached to computers are set up by the crew to monitor the vehicles’ performance.

Think of a Startup Weekend as a closed course for test driving your new business. The entrepreneur is in the driver’s seat and the crew consists of Startup Weekend organizers, mentors, judges and sponsors. To summarize, the following seven things happen at a

Startup Weekend:
1. You connect with people driven to build something new.
2. You network and may meet your next business partner, friend, mentor or investor.
3. Rich and diverse talent is a Startup Weekend staple.
4. Discover where you are on the entrepreneur’s journey.
5. Learn what it really takes to start a company.
6. Find the resources available near you.
7. Leave knowing the next steps you need to take on your road to success.

But wait, there is more…no book, panel, speaker, or blog post will give you the hands-on experience of actually starting a business, which you get within the compressed duration at a Startup Weekend.

Innovate Mississippi has been organizing Startup Weekends for the past four years all across Mississippi and the most recent one was held in Jackson from April 29 – May 1. This event had a special focus on education technologies and brought in support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for increasing entrepreneurship among minorities through a collaboration with the 4.0 Schools organization based in New Orleans. The event was held at, and sponsored by the Coalesce cooperative working space in downtown Jackson.

In typical Startup Weekend manner there were 23 pitches on Friday night which led to the formation of eight teams. It was probably one of the most diverse Startup Weekends in Mississippi in which I have participated. Entrepreneurs from five continents – Africa, Asia, Europe, South America, and of course North America pitched their ideas.

Tasha Bibb, entrepreneurial development manager for Innovate Mississippi, said, “We had really good participation at this event and feel really bad having to turn people away who came to register on site! The ideas were terrific and there were several ideas on solutions to improve education delivery and quality. We at Innovate Mississippi look forward to working with each of those entrepreneurs to continue to build these solutions into viable businesses.”

Several local and national sponsors supported this event by providing prizes and mentoring for the newly formed companies. These included Algix 3D, Baker Donelson, Code South Labs, Good Design and Code, Google for Entrepreneurs, InnovateMEP Mississippi, Jackson Area Web Developers, Lazy Magnolia Brewery, Maris West and Baker, Red Laser Technologies, Revolution TV Mount, School Status and ThinkWebstore. Entrepreneurship faculty and staff from Jackson area colleges as well as a local entrepreneur served as the judges. Some of the individuals have been presenters at previous Startup Weekends themselves, and found this as way of giving back to the program.

The team coming in first place was called “TinyJXN,” and had a concept of developing small, 400-square foot homes targeted at students and those who are looking to downsize. They proposed to build these units on vacant and distressed areas in Jackson, which could help revitalize those areas. In second place was “Embrace the Waste,” which hopes to market a portable system to convert dog waste at animal shelters and dog parks into renewable energy. Or as I call them poop-2-power (P2P) systems! The idea was to help the animal shelters with their waste disposal costs while providing them with lower cost electricity. The third place was won by “Alfred Analytics,” consisting of students from Millsaps College who built a voice-command enabled search engine that returns quick, easily understood answers to financial questions such as looking up P-E ratios or analyst ratings for a particular stock.

Other teams were going to pursue their ideas, even though they did not formally place in the top three during the event. For example, STEM Labs was an idea pitched by Catherine Sarenac, a teacher at Brown Elementary School in Jackson. She met other individuals during the Startup Weekend for the first time who have come together to realize the dream of building a makerspace in the Midtown area.

The winning companies received prizes such as on-going consulting, legal, marketing and mentoring services, free webhosting, 3-D printing services, and mobile app development assistance. The first place winners also received a six month membership to use the Coalesce co-working space.

Entrepreneurship training is the workforce development for the 21st century skill set. Even if you are providing basic skills such as welding, carpentry or plumbing, layering in entrepreneurial training will help the trainees think about how they could go in business for themselves. While starting a business may not be for everyone, practically every job description these days also calls for one to be a “self-starter” or “self-motivated.” Getting hands-on experience is among the best ways to learn something new. Attendees at the Jackson Startup Weekend experienced the thrill of launching a business for less than $50 and to top it all, got seven meals with beer, pizza and energy drinks!

Dr. Sumesh Arora is Vice President at Innovate Mississippi, a non-profit organization with a mission to drive innovative business growth in Mississippi. His doctoral research was focused on how new ideas spread and its applications to business, economic and policy development. Follow him on Twitter @DrSumeshArora or contact via email at sarora@innovate.ms with questions about developing innovation strategy for your company or organization.

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