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Startup Weekend Cedar Rapids 2016 - photo by Flow Media
Startup Weekend Cedar Rapids 2016 – photo by Flow Media

Teams are hard at work at Startup Weekend Cedar Rapids 2016, with ideas ranging from sarcastic political humor to manufacturing education to help for the elderly.

“I’m amazed at how quickly time flies – you think ‘all day? We’re doing this all day?’” said Julie Shields, the director of the Millikin University’s Center for Entrepreneurship, who traveled from Illinois to be part of the weekend.

“But it goes by so quickly, it’s so intense, it’s so deep. Everyone is being so open and honest about conversation, and asking tough questions – you don’t get that in an office setting.”

While startup-curious designers, developers and idea-builders were a core part of the 60-some weekend warriors, there were also other types of participants. Large local companies, including our sponsor Rockwell Collins, sent groups; carloads of curious community builders came from Black Hills, South Dakota and Decatur, Illinois; a few groups of Iowa Startup Accelerator alumni came to be part of a hackathon environment, and high school students and youth as young as 12 participated.

“It’s really fun and cool that you can be there, they don’t treat you any differently because you’re a kid, you can still participate,” said Mats McGrath, a 7th grader who spent Saturday working on customer discovery interviews.

Without further ado, here are the 10 teams of Startup Weekend Cedar Rapids 2016 (in alphabetical order):

Alzheimer’s app

  • We talked to: Actually, this team spent so much of the day out of the building doing customer discovery that we couldn’t track them down for quotes.
  • The idea: A wearable tracker, or a way to raise awareness about existing technologies, for patients with Alzheimer’s to give their loved ones greater peace of mind.

ASAP venues

  • We talked to: Anna Lessman, a freelance graphic designer
  • The idea: A simple website with details on renting local venues, including the cost, location, number of people, etc. “Finding venues for people who have life events – we’re geared towards bridals, baby showers, any type of anniversaries.”
  • Teamwork makes the dream work: This group said they have utilized every person’s strengths. “We’ve been very organized, everyone has a lot of input and everyone is very cooperative. Everyone wants to take their time and make sure everyone’s opinions are heard. We seem to work together quite nicely.”

Bounty Learner

  • We talked to: Vero Smith, a recent graduate of the Harvard Graduate School of Design
  • The idea: “Get paid to learn’ is our main concept – it is a platform that connects manufacturers to high school students, and places [like makerspaces] where those students can learn basic manufacturing skills and get paid to learn.” They narrowed this from “a platform for anyone to learn anything,” which was too vague in value proposition and too competitive in the market.
  • Up and down moments: “I feel like it’s continuous – we think we have a lightbulb, and then it flickers out, or smashes, and we have to go find a new lightbulb in the dark.”

“Boy Scout camp for adults”

  • We talked to: Brian Rupert, designer, web developer and Black Hills, South Dakota road-tripper
  • The idea: Get a satisfying sense of fulfillment and completion through an outdoor experience that lets you try new skills. “It’s a vacation destination based on providing new and fulfilling experience, related around doing some new or forgotten skills that attendees are interested in learning more about.” By the end of the weekend, the team hopes to have a date set for their first event and start booking it.
  • Questioning the process: With a few Startup Weekend veterans on the team, this group jumped into customer discovery quickly, but still had room to learn and grow. Some of the younger members came back from initial interviews saying, ‘We got almost perfect validation, so we think that probably means our questions are bad,’ – rather than taking the feedback at face value and just saying ‘we’re awesome.’

Collaborative Music

  • We talked to: Aaron Van Noy, web designer
  • The idea: Rapid-fire jam sessions. “It’s essentially a speed dating for musicians – they go in a certain time interval from room to room, and meet potential new members of a band.”
  • Validation? “That [idea] is where we’ve seen the passion, where people’s eyes light up and say ‘I’d love to do that’…it was amazing.”

Podcast Pal

  • We talked to: Bryan Rennekamp, a software developer and serial Startup Weekend attendee
  • The idea: “’Many podcasts suffer quality problems’ – but that’s very broad. We spent some time analyzing, and really drilling down into what, exactly, was the heart of these problems.” The solution might take the form of content analytics, a consulting model, technical help for podcasters, or all of the above. “Our goal is to have something that we’re proud of, that we’re invested in, and if one of us decides we really feel that urge, we can take it and run with it. We don’t want to half ass it.”
  • You get out what you put in: “Startup Weekend is for everybody – there is something for everyone here to contribute. If your idea doesn’t take flight, you’ll be better prepared to make it take flight when the time is ready.”

Remember When…

  • We talked to: James Bailey, IT manager at Rockwell Collins
  • The idea: “We’re focused on helping people proactively capture important family memories and stories.” Rather than building on a technology solution, the team is trying to simplify the process of capturing memories – the minimum viable product might be a set of best practices or a guide to existing tech platforms. When we talked to them, the team members were just coming back from customer discovery interviews, so the idea may change again.
  • Trust the process: “I want to get through the process, reach the finish line, and get through the whole process having done everything.”

Side Project

  • We talked to: Julie Shields, director of Millikin University’s Center for Entrepreneurship
  • The idea: “Identifying untapped potential.” For entrepreneurs or would-be entrepreneurs who are working on passion projects on the side, “how to make side projects more profitable, a bigger story, a bigger part of the entrepreneur’s life.” Whether the side project is a potential business or simply a creative outlet, identifying resources to help it grow.
  • When a writer starts asking you questions in the middle of Startup Weekend (sorry!) “It’s a little confusing still – we’re in the stage of deciding how we’re going to narrow our project.”

Snark Nation

  • We talked to: Caleb Meyer, a computer science student at University of North Dakota and a Rockwell Collins co-op
  • The idea: Postcards with “snarky sayings or witticisms about political figures or topics, that you can send to your friends, to your coworkers, to the political figures themselves.” A way to show your political stripes either directly – by sending a message to your representatives – or among your family and friends.
  • Ah-ha moment: “I think every time we hit a good zing or a good topic for a card, that’s a lightbulb moment.”

Vacation planning app

  • We talked to: Mats McGrath, 7th grade at McKinley Middle School
  • The idea: Have a local plan your vacation for you. An app akin to AirBNB or CouchSurfing, where local people can share their knowledge and talents with travelers to earn cash.
  • Lesson learned: “If you have an idea, just say it. There’s no point in holding it back.”
Sarah Binder