What better way for the entrepreneurially-inclined to spend a December weekend than holed up at the Microsoft NERD Center in Kendall Square, conceptualizing new companies?
It does beat the mall, you must admit.
Boston Startup Weekend began last Friday evening with an opportunity for any participant to pitch an idea they wanted to flesh out over the course of the weekend. (In 90 seconds or less.) The assembled group winnowed those down to 13 that participants liked best, and then formed teams. They worked all day Saturday, and when the Microsoft building closed on Saturday night at 11, people had to literally be shoved out the door, I'm told. By Sunday evening, nine teams were left standing; each presented a working (or at least semi-working) demo of its idea.
You can get a sense for some of the start-up ideas from this video:
The winning teams receive free coaching from TechStars Boston director Shawn Broderick, legal services, and other goodies designed to help their businesses develop further.
The winners were:
First place: DoodleBugging. Automatically searches Twitter for people interesting in buying and selling the same item (an Amazon Kindle, for example), and then connects them. Business model was a bit hazy.
Second place: ReleaseQ. A site for keeping tabs on all the upcoming entertainment products you're interested in: books, movies, videogames, albums. Release dates can be displayed on your calendar. If you opt not to see a movie in the theater, you can be notified again when it shows up on DVD or iTunes. Best revenue model, since the company can earn money from affiliate fees when you buy stuff. (That's the ReleaseQ team in the photo at left -- the largest team in the competition.)
Third place: iZaazu. Get an update on news, sports scores, traffic, important e-mails or texts, and your daily schedule from your mobile phone as soon as you wake up. The team coined the clever term "informative awakening," and is working on an app for the Android platform first. iZaazu's team consisted entirely of students from Northeastern -- the only all-student team in the competition. (That's Aaron Gerry of iZaazu in the photo below.)
And here are some awards I'd like to (unilaterally) bestow on the other teams:
- Best Branding: Motini, as in "mobile martini." The software lets you "mix your own" version of any Web page so that it will be readable on your mobile phone.
- Best Management of a Hostile Audience Member: OwlCounsel. OwlCounsel is a service intended to connect information-seekers with experts for a fee, using video-conferencing. During the Q&A period, an audience member explained flatly that he wouldn't use the service -- instead of asking a question. The presenters attempted to address his objections, then graciously moved on.
- Funniest. Mac Cowell began his presentation by stating that he was worried the bar outside the conference room might close before the proceedings wrapped up, so he'd stashed a beer behind the projector screen. He grabbed it, and brought it to the podium. He ended by acknowledging that the simple site he'd built for keeping tabs on household chores, ChoreLog, probably didn't have much business potential, unless it could somehow be used to help Procter & Gamble sell more Swiffers.
- The Keeping Teenagers Off the Street Award. The team from "Hey I Got Ya These," a centralized destination for Web comics. (Pictured at left.) The site aims to make it easier for fans to view and discover Web comics, and more likely that the creators will get paid -- a totally worthy mission. And their demo was built in part by Bruce Spang, a 15-year old from Salem. I went up to him afterward (with his parents hovering nearby, waiting to give him a ride home), and he handed me his business card. Priceless.
About Scott Kirsner
Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.
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