Innovation to encounter ‘real-world’ market tests at Startup Weekend

innovate-ms3Aspiring technology entrepreneurs and their more established counterparts are starting the New Year with a “Startup Weekend” Jan. 18-20 at Millsaps College in Jackson.

Innovate Mississippi, formerly the Mississippi Technology Alliance, hopes the 54 hours of entrepreneurial brainstorming and mentoring builds on the success of last year’s Startup Weekend. February’s Start-up event drew 73 participants and included 37 ideas pitched, 12 of which judges selected as potential businesses.

Organizers’ created teams that spent the remainder of the weekend creating prototype companies. The result: Gotha Universe, an automated, web and text messaging-based game that assists college organizations in raising funds; and AutVantage, an IT staffing agency focused on employment opportunities for people with autism.

Participants immersed themselves in the world of technological ideas and the structuring of business models designed to bring market success. Veteran innovation entrepreneurs worked closely with newcomers to the knowledge-based sector, passing on their ideas and experiences regarding what works and doesn’t work in 1aunching a successful “real-world” startup.

Judging focused on marketing and customer acceptance, the business model and execution of the business plan.

Next weekend’s Startup event in Millsap’s Legget Center will offer more of the same, said Tasha Bibb, Innovate Mississippi’s entrepreneurial development manager. “Startup Weekend’s mission is to provide a high-energy, collaborative environment,” she said.

Long-standing relationships are a likely by-product of the weekend immersion in technological innovation and business modeling, added Bibb, whose non-profit organization has the mission of driving the state’s technological-based economic development.

Participants may even walk away with a job or an investment, she noted.

Parker Stewart, CEO of startup Night & Day Vending, a distributor of breathalyzer vending machines called IntoxBoxes, will be returning next weekend for his second Startup event.

“Last year’s Startup Weekend was an amazing experience,” Stewart said in an email. “It was one of the first opportunities I had to be around so many entrepreneurial-minded individuals.

“The collective energy of the group was felt by everyone who attended. It was wonderful to be able to work with a group of people from all walks of life on a company that literally didn’t exist the day before.”

Startup Weekend jump-started his innovative spirit, said Stewart, who went on to compete successfully in other startup competitions in the months that followed.

It “helped me dive head first into the world of entrepreneurship,” he said.

This time around, he says he is eager to bring the knowledge and skills gained over the past year “to benefit whatever company I end up working on,” Stewart added.

Of course, he has a few ideas of his own that he wants to pitch, he said.

Bibb said more Startup Weekends are planned this year, including ones in Natchez and Tupelo.

The events are part of Innovate Mississippi’s efforts to improve the “eco-system around the tech start-up community,” Bibb said.

She envisions the eco-system as a network of entrepreneurs, mentors, service providers and investors around the “tech” space.

“The creative economy is on the rise and there is more of a demand for that kind of thing,” she said.

She emphasized her organization is focused on innovation of all types — not just IT or technology.

Events such as Startup Weekend also help to encourage fledgling entrepreneurs to use the services Innovate Mississippi offers. “If they want to continue with their idea and bring it to market, we’d love to help them do it,“ Bibb said.

Startups with sufficient potential are invited to have their businesses incubated at Innovate Mississippi. Incubation essentially helps startups work through “whatever obstacles” they are encountering, she added.

Further, Innovate Mississippi guides the people behind the startup to places to pitch for financing. “We do have a network of angel investors,” Bibb said.

“We work with them ore their pitches and presentations and introduce them to our angel investors.”

Often, the ideas have tremendous potential. The problem: The entrepreneur does not know how to effectively communicate the idea and its potential, said Bibb, whose background is in marketing.

First, you must tell the investors what exactly it is about your innovation that customers are going to be interested in, she added. “If you are presenting to investors, they want to know more than what the product does. They want to know how it is going to help them make money.”

>>QUICK FACTS

Registration for Innovate Mississippi’s Startup Weekend starts at 6:30 p.m. Jan. 18 at Millsaps College’s Legget Center in Jackson.

For more details, contact Tasha Bibb at 601-960-3624, or tbibb@innovate.ms, or visit the Innovate Mississippi website at www.innovate.ms.

 

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