Entrepreneurs Get a Dose of Inspiration at MEDB’s Three-Day Startup Weekend

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Thirty would-be entrepreneurs hit the ground running for the fourth annual Startup Weekend Maui, which began Friday and culminates today at the Maui Research and Technology Park in Kihei.

With the overarching theme of “the hardest part of starting up is starting out,” the three-day event, presented by Maui Economic Development Board, is designed to inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs by providing them with an opportunity to learn how to start a business from the ground up — and quickly. Startup Weekend Maui participants have only 54 hours to put their startup ideas to the test. When the clock runs out this evening, they’ll know if those ideas are ready to launch.

The startup crash course covers topics like team dynamics, market research, business models, rollout strategies, cost structures and revenue streams. There’s a special emphasis placed on value proposition and market validation, which requires participants to go out and interview people in their target markets.

For some, market validation brings a reality check, said Frank De Rego Jr., MEDB’s director of business development projects.

“It helps them see if their idea has any real traction,” he explained. “In the beginning, validation is the most important step; the product is secondary. That’s because validation answers the question, ‘Does this product solve a problem?’”

Facilitator Bryan Butteling listens intently to the “Digital Doorman” team Saturday. — The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

To help participants get those answers, Startup Weekend Maui coaches — a diverse group of business experts and entrepreneurs — are on hand to guide them through the business creation process. This year’s coaches are Erik Blair of The Accidental Consultant; Doug Nelson of Kinection; David Fry, a technology entrepreneur and the winner of the 2015 Startup Weekend Maui; Chris Speere of the University of Hawaii Maui College’s Maui Food Innovation Center; Nick Heyd, co-founder of Galley, a meal delivery app; David Daly, director of MEO’s Business Development Center; Wayne Wong, director of the Hawaii Small Business Development Center-Maui Center; Jeff Milone of Invulu; and David Morgan of @OrganicThemes and @Giving_Press.

Friday’s kickoff was preceded by a workshop Tuesday during which participants learned how to craft and present a compelling, one-minute elevator pitch. Several of those pitches were among the 17 presented Friday; the most viable ideas were decided by popular vote and small teams were assembled to take those ideas from concept to creation in just 54 hours.

Time crunch aside, this isn’t your typical entrepreneurship workshop. In fact, it’s not a workshop at all, said Blair.

“It’s an unworkshop,” he said.

Intended to be a collaborative forum for driving innovation, the event is informal and lively, but has a logically structured agenda. There’s plenty of spirited conversation, but as participants engage in brainstorming and coaching sessions, they keep a close eye on the clock, often working late into the night.

As of noon Saturday, six startup ideas — and plenty of coffee — were still percolating. Those ideas included a storage service for luxury items; locally produced organic baby food; a database for property managers seeking maintenance personnel; a device to unlock doors; an improv comedy service for CEOs and CFOs; and a wearable, waterproof geolocator for ocean recreation activities.

But each of these ideas is subject to change, said Startup Weekend Maui organizer and facilitator Brian Butteling.

“There are a lot of pivots over the weekend,” he said. “That’s just part of the process.”

And sometimes participants find themselves back at square one.

“They get to experience all of the highs and lows of launching a startup,” Butteling said. “And it’s all condensed into 54 hours.”

The six teams will present their ideas today at MEDB’s Malcolm Center to a panel of judges, who will choose this year’s three winners. Judges include Omar Sultan, the co-founder of Sultan Ventures and founding and managing partner of XLR8UH; Donavan Kealoha, a senior associate with Startup Capital Ventures; Brittany Heyd, managing director and general counsel at 1776; Luana Mahi, owner and principal broker of Kismet Brokerage; and Susan Yamada, the executive director of University of Hawaii’s Pacific Asian Center for Entrepreneurship. The winning teams will receive in-kind prizes ranging from consultation sessions to business cards.

Last year’s winners, Danielle Travis and Molly Palmer, took home the first-place prize for their startup idea, called the “Barrier Method” (formerly “The Original Face Guard”). The product, which is patent pending, is a trendy anti-microbial face mask designed to destigmatize traditional white medical masks. Travis and Palmer are planning to launch a Kickstarter campaign this summer.

To learn more about Startup Weekend Maui, visit bit.ly/SUWMaui2017 or facebook.com/StartupWeekendMaui or send email to info@hightechmaui.com.

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