Startup Weekend Showcases Fresh Business Ideas

February 2012

Written by Larua Baverman and originally published in the Cincinnati Enquirer on February 20, 2012. Amelia Carpenter at Miami University contributed.

A catchy mobile application that helps grocery shoppers ease hunger in their communities took home the top award at Miami University's first ever Startup Weekend.

The 48-hour event brought together 104 Miami students to brainstorm businesses and build prototypes. It's only the second local entrepreneurship event to be held by Seattle-based Startup Weekend, and it's the first of its kind in the world to be offered exclusively to students - and to award those students course credit for participation.

"We invented this university model for Startup Weekend," said Mark Lacker, an entrepreneur and Miami entrepreneurship professor. He hopes many new businesses will come from it.

The best opportunity for that, a panel of judges said, was the app called NomNom, which makes it easy for shoppers to scan barcodes of items they wish to donate. Because grocery stores already give items daily to local food pantries, the customer donations add to that tally.

The six students who built the business plan and designed the site will apply for a grant from the Kroger Co. to develop the nonprofit concept. Some of the students will also enroll in a unique eight-week entrepreneurship course created this year to help the Startup Weekend participants launch their businesses. At the end of the program, they'll have the opportunity to earn a $25,000 investment from the Miami University Venture Fund, a student-led seed investment firm.

"We invented courses in order to make the Startup Weekend a success," Lacker said. "They see us as an experiment and after the course, we'll debrief and see what we learned."

The students presented 37 business ideas at the event's kickoff Friday night.

Nineteen became prototypes for businesses, ranging from a website that allows for koozie customization to a recycling service for used IV bags to a site that matches study-abroad students with local guides in the country they'll visit.

Second place went to a team of students behind InfoVote, a mobile application that aggregates election information on local, state and federal candidates and issues. Dainvest won third place for its online platform that allows investments of as little as $1 into growing companies, helping to create a new generation of investors.

"I liked the breadth of ideas and the heavy focus on socially conscious," said Rahul Bawa, director of digital and software investments. "I don't think you have many Startup Weekends where the winner is a nonprofit. It was a great idea and it makes sense."