Entrepreneurship, learning takes center stage at Startup Weekend

April 2018

Jay Murdock

StartUp Weekend. It’s like a 72-hour marathon. For three days, 76 students from multiple programs pitched ideas, formed teams around the best ones, went out into the community to research and validate their plans, prepared their product pitch, and presented it to a group of judges. More than two dozen entrepreneurs were on hand to mentor the participants.

Mark Lacker, the John W. Altman Clinical Professor of Entrepreneurship and a 1979 Miami graduate, explained that the purpose of Startup Weekend is to bring together people who want to expand their entrepreneurial knowledge and skills by taking an idea and seeing if it can be transformed into a workable business.

But participants get even more out of the experience.

“You learn about how to deal with ambiguity, work in fluid situations, and validate good ideas vs. bad ideas. You learn how to pivot off of a bad idea and start over,” Lacker noted. “You learn how to collaborate, you learn how to give and take, and how to respectfully move things forward, do your share, empower others to help others.”

He noted that on average, a participant spends 34.5 hours of the weekend working on site. “You can walk into a room, and you can see them whiteboarding, and you can see them respectfully disagreeing, you can see them really searching for ‘Where is the better answer, or the better opportunity?’” Lacker remarked. “So it’s not just doing an assignment, it’s actually collectively working for a greater purpose, which is ‘us’ as a team.”

While judges ultimately chose the top three ideas from those presented, Lacker pointed out that Oros Apparel, a cutting-edge outerwear company that got its start at 2014’s Startup Weekend, wasn’t one of the three winners chosen that year.

While the goal is to give students an intensive and enlightening experience, the entrepreneurship program also benefits from the weekend in several ways.

“We get to meet students that we haven’t met before, that aren’t in our program, some of whom will end up becoming entrepreneurship students, which is great,” Lacker said.

“We also get a chance to touch base with our external constituents, the mentors that come in, stay current with them, show off our great students at Miami,” he explained. “But also hear from them … what they’re working on, what new tools, processes and things that they think our students ought to be learning, so it helps keep us fresh as well.”

Lacker also pointed out that “It gives us a chance to reinforce some of the learnings we’ve been trying to get across in the classroom in a more applied way.”

Ultimately, he said, the purpose is to prepare young minds for life after Miami. “If you think about what the work world is going to be like for them post-graduation, you’re going to work with people you haven’t met before, you’re going to work with people that don’t think like you, that come in with a different perspective. And to be able to do that, and get some practice with that here is valuable long-term.”

This year’s winners were:

3rd Place: Code Red -- a distribution channel that provides an alternative solution to menstrual management for the women of India which improves their health and economic outcomes. This is a social enterprise which has a one-for- one business model. Team members: Vedha Nayak, Carolyn Dinehart, Alexa Williams, Kelsey Forren, Silvija Zvirblyte, Lydia Landwehr.

2nd Place: Choice Project: -- a platform to streamline sexual assault reporting which provides users with an individualized action plan so that they are able to move forward and recover from their assault. Team members: Kat Holleran, Carly Joseph, Courtney Simons, Nikki Gundimeda, Karan Gupta, Jessica Zachman.

1st Place: Mix and Munch: -- a customizable trail mix vending machine to be used in high traffic areas such as airports. Team members: Elly Cross, Driana Smith, Maddy Perna, David Lardakis, Heidi Zimmer, Guillermo Henoa.

Mix and Munch also won the People’s Choice Award.

Mark Lacker talking with group of students Participants demonstrating their idea with plastic water bottles Startup Weekend group in lecture hall listening to speaker Students making presentation about Mix-N-Munch Winning group Mix-N-Munch