Startup Weekend Tampa: Synergy = Real Outcomes

A 54-hour mash-up of technologists, business minds, students and dreamers with a penchant for "doing,'' Startup Weekend Tampa is a boot camp for people who want to develop entrepreneurial thinking (and doing) skills.

Capturing the level of excitement and entrepreneurial energy that was present during the July 8-10 event in Tampa is difficult to do in words, but here goes:

"You will now receive three post-it notes so you can vote on the projects that you would like to work on over the course of the weekend,'' an attention-getting voice tells more than 100 eager participants.

An assortment of sticker-laden laptops begins to fold and attendees start scurrying about the lobby of the Microsoft offices in Tampa, visually declaring support for their "that-looks-exciting'' shortlist. As soon as group voting finishes, nine implementation teams -- all top vote-getters -- are established, and a strange combination of energy drinks and dining habits reminiscent of your college dorm room takes over.

(The keg won't arrive till 10 the next morning.)

Startup Weekend Tampa sponsor and all-around sweet online music streaming service (seriously, go try 'em) Grooveshark rolls in a little idea juice.

Not only do these guys bring the beer, but the Grooveshark team also provides a fantastic level of intellectual support, encouragement and mentorship to the teams throughout the course of the weekend.

They've been there and done that.

Two days later, by way of entrepreneurship-in-action, each of the teams has built a fun and/or interesting product or service.

Check 'Em Out 

    •    NeverMissARace (@nevermissone): An iPhone and Android app designed to help track parents and coaches better organize their athletes and time better by providing real time calls for starts of field events and races.

    •    Z-Level Financing: Web-based micro-financing to startup projects that will provide equity based funding.

    •    Driip (@driipapp): An open platform that allows for unified, real-time communication and sharing on peer-to-peer level.

    •    Drop Post It (@dropostit): A location-based mobile app that sends messages and reminders tagged with GPS coordinates.

    •    CityQuest (@city_quest): A city scavenger hunt that brings new customers to local businesses.

    • (@boatingconnect): Connecting boat owners who want their gas costs subsidized with want-to-be owners who have extra capital to pitch in for gas.

    •    Locaster (@searchlocaster): A real time location-based search engine.

    •    Checkoutmyurl (@checkoutmyurl): A fast, cheap way to get real user feedback on your website, prototype or mockup.

    • (@bebreadly): Delivering savings of 20-70 percent off products you use and love based on "how balanced of a life you are living.''

After a final round of presentations on Sunday night, a panel of distinguished judges weighs in. First place goes to CheckoutMyURL; second to CityQuest; and third to Driip.

Measuring Impact

It's difficult to quantify the impact that this event has on the individuals who participate, but the words of Ty Mathen, co-founder, seem to do justice: "Thank you for changing my life forever!''

Nick Kypriotakis, who worked on the City Quest team, says about the experience: "Startup Weekend is the ultimate test of a person's knowledge, endurance and commitment. There are plenty of opportunities to challenge yourself, and I think the most successful contestants tried to take advantage of all of them. It was a grind, but I was rewarded with a ton of new friends, a lot of technical feedback from experienced professionals, and a winning venture!''

Zoom out to the ecosystem level, and measurement becomes a bit trickier. One positive indicator: At least four project teams from the weekend are continuing to develop their technologies, and two have applied for funding and mentorship in the inaugural class of Tampa Bay's local TechStars affilitate program, Gazelle Lab.

Companies off and running are ideal. They are the home runs of the event, and at the same time, the notion of so many people with similar passion and energy coming together to collaborate and share this kind of experience is a community coagulant, and must not be overlooked. The ecosystem has grown tighter, and become a bit more robust.

Reuben Pressman, an entrepreneur living in St. Petersburg, agrees: "Startup Weekend was a huge opportunity for Tampa Bay, More than 100 movers and shakers at one event all ready to make something happen. The connections and relationships built at SUW is exactly what will make Tampa Bay a startup hotspot.''

Only a week after Startup Weekend, dozens of people who didn't know each other before are already working on new projects together; they are following each other on Twitter, they've connected on LinkedIn, and they're now friends on Facebook (these are early adopter types, so we may as well throw in Google+ as well). All of this boils down to more sharing. More doing.

Event organizer Susie Steiner believes the connections are important for people as well as for the ideas they have: "There are advantages to connecting people with resources that they may not have had access to on their own. This event really pulls the community together and allows for a melting-pot effect for ideas to happen.''

What's Next?

When asked about next steps (in a Google+ "hangout''), the event organizers mention that they have already picked a date for the next Startup Weekend in Tampa Bay: 4/20/2012, and they predict it will be bigger, better and more innovative in terms of how they deliver the experience.

Kim Randall is excited about building on the success of year one: "We think it's really important to let aspiring entrepreneurs know there is a community of like-minded individuals out there, and people in business who will support them.''

Ryan Sullivan agrees: "There are a lot of people who want to have a startup culture in Tampa, and this event is another step in that direction.''

Tight-lipped on specifics, the startup supporters share the words: "Startups Happen,'' smile with brief intensity and then get back to work.

Nathan Schwagler is a freelance journalist, creativity researcher and adjunct professor of entrepreneurship at USF St. Pete who will buy you a cup of coffee or a delicious pint if you promise to tell him something interesting -- on the record. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.
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