Posted on 26 October 2013.
By Erin Timmons
The panel judges entries at Pensacola Startup Weekend.
Eve Knight’s journey towards becoming an entrepreneur began with the search for something many find elusive while on long road trips – a clean restroom.
Armed with a business plan and a crooked grin, Knight, a sixth-grade student at Gulf Breeze Middle School, took part in Pensacola Startup Weekend on Oct. 11, when she shared her idea for a mobile application that ranks gas stations based on bathroom cleanliness.
“My dad was getting really annoyed with me making him stop at multiple places just so I could use a clean bathroom,” Knight said. “Using my application, you’ll be able to avoid the worst part of traveling – strange gas stations with dirty restrooms.”
More than 30 University of West Florida students joined graphic designers, coders, technology lovers, and hopefuls of all ages as they shared ideas, formed teams, and competed for a chance at launching their own startup business venture.
Startup Weekend Pensacola was hosted as a joint venture of the Greater Pensacola Chamber and Pensacola State College. UWF’s College of Business and School of Science and Engineering sponsored the event. Based in Seattle, Startup Weekend is a nonprofit organization that hosts over 400 events annually in over 100 countries around the world.
The concept of the contest was fairly simple and the energy throughout the building was frenetic, a frenzy of business and technical jargon hung in the air as handshakes were exchanged and introductions were made. Participants had just one minute to pitch their business plan, with 38 of the 90 total participants presenting with the hopes of a big break in return.
After all pitches were delivered, participants voted on their favorite 15 ideas. Teams were formed based on interest-level towards the idea and what skills that team required from assisting members to bring their ideas to life. Regardless of whether their idea was selected or not, team members participated in order to network with like-minded individuals and assist in transforming an idea into a business.
Kiarra Julien, a senior graphic design major at UWF, attended the event in order to make connections with others within the workforce she will soon be joining.
“I’m definitely here to network,” Julien said. “I want to learn as much as I can through those who have graphic design and entrepreneurial experience, especially before I graduate.”
Once the teams were formed, they had only 54 hours to develop their project with the help of their peers and through the guidance of coaches – six business professionals from the Pensacola area from several fields of specialty.
Randy Ramos, CEO at Global Business Solutions Inc., founded his company in his living room in 1995 with $1,000. His Pensacola-based company now employs more than110 information technology specialists in eight states, and it was through this unlikely success that Ramos said he felt the need to share his experience and knowledge with participants.
“When you can help foster ideas into business opportunity and just work with people to do that, that right there ensures me that I am doing what I can to help this entrepreneurial movement grow,” Ramos said. “We are all doing our best, together, to encourage intellectualism and creativity. These qualities in our youth are stifled now a day. I want to change that.”
Event organizer Andrew Wagner said that participants were highly encouraged to participate in Startup Weekend due to the appeal of self-employment.
“College wasn’t a viable option for me,” Wagner said. “My skills and enthusiasm I felt were better suited for my pursuit in entrepreneurialism, and I saw that being fairly prevalent among my classmates when I was in school. Why work for someone when you can work for yourself? If you have the drive and the talent, it’s possible.”
“That’s what we’re fostering here, possibility. Sure, the job market is bleak, but our desire to create something of meaning isn’t. That’s why it was important for us to organize this event, to encourage those in the Pensacola area to be enthusiastic about their ideas and abilities.”
The competition concluded on Oct. 13 after final presentations were made by teams before a panel of judges, five local entrepreneurial leaders.
First prize was awarded to a team that developed an application, CrewCardHR, for businesses to track time clock activity and provide human resources in remote job locations.
The victorious team behind the winning idea received three months of brick-and-mortar office space at the Gulf Coast Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) business incubator in downtown Pensacola in order to further develop their application.
Second prize went to the team that developed Moody.co, a social networking website that uses boards similar to Pinterest for users to browse their interests. Third prize was awarded to the team that developed an online application called Florida Nest that would allow property owners to find renters for their vacation homes.
Second and third prize winners received virtual-tenant access to the CIE and to their many advisers and coaches from various professional fields that will assist the new startup businesses.
Ramos hopes that the first Startup Weekend in Pensacola will not be the last.
“If we focused on the inspiring idea of not taking a job, but creating a job, we can inspire ideas that lay dormant in our area youth,” Ramos said. “Startup Weekend provides them with an incredible opportunity to share their ideas and encourage them to be creative and get involved with other people, and I’m glad I could be a part of it.”