Startup Weekend Cedar Rapids 2015: Meet the teams

Our 2015 facilitator, Max Farrell, corralled more than 40 ideas Friday night. Photo by Sculpt - find more on Facebook at
Our 2015 facilitator, Max Farrell, corralled more than 40 ideas Friday night. Photo by Sculpt – find more on Facebook at

The flurry of activity that happened Friday night – food, drink, games, pitches, and lots of post-its – has faded as ideas have come to the forefront. The teams of Startup Weekend Cedar Rapids 2015 are hard at work.

Teams got to know each other Friday night (Photo via Braden Kopf on Twitter)
Teams got to know each other Friday night (Photo via Braden Kopf on Twitter)

Saturday is largely about learning and answering questions – do you understand the problem to be solved? Really? Do you know what customers have that problem? Have you talked to them? And sometimes, the best learning moment is knowing when to walk away. “Our original idea, we invalidated immediately because of heavy competition, and our team wasn’t having any fun. It was bad,” said Brian Rupert, who worked on a team called Lunch Line before starting a totally new idea. “We switched ideas, and it switched the whole mood of the team – everyone is having fun, and contributing and being active. We can see the change, we can see the benefits.” Names, pitches and teams may change again and again before the weekend is over, but here are the ideas, as of now:

Career and Company

We talked to: Julie Troendle, an independent personal trainer The idea: Letting employers and potential employees “date” to see if they’d be a good fit. “It’s almost like a dating app for careers or jobs. Which means you’re not necessarily looking for the job you’re going to be with for the rest of your life, but looking at what you might want to be doing in the future.” Goal/challenge for the weekend: Coming together as a team – “It feels like we’re everywhere right now…Figuring out who we’re targeting, and exactly what problem we’re solving.” Personal growth moment: Being an introvert in a high-energy, close-quarters events. “That’s why I’m here, I wanted to learn about myself and how I would handle it.”


We talked to: Brian Rupert, a web designer and developer The idea: “Using digital registration to make setup and collaboration at 1 Million Cups events better.” The team wants to prove the idea with a community event they know and regularly attend – 1MC – before moving to other events. Goal/challenge for the weekend: Getting a late start – this team spent Friday night working on a completely different idea called Lunch Line. They are working on customer discovery and hope to have a few features ready to test by Wednesday’s 1 Million Cups. Personal growth moment: Balancing a few different goals – Rupert is working on customer discovery, the vision, building the product and mentoring another team member. “Just making sure the vision is clear across the whole team. Just constantly verifying that we’re all on the same page. And since the experience Friday wasn’t super great, just making sure everyone is happy, and making sure everyone is doing what they want to do.”


We talked to: Stone McNamara, a high school junior at Cedar Rapids Washington and Iowa BIG The idea: “Empower is a platform for people to anonymously post what they need encouragement on, what they need support on.” Negative comments are filtered out by the community before reaching the original poster. Goal/challenge for the weekendThe tech side – the team of 3.5 (one person has to leave midway through the weekend) hopes to launch a website tonight and an app before the final pitches tomorrow. Personal growth moment: “I’ve definitely been more vocal – during BIG I’ve been told I don’t really talk that much. Here it’s an open work space, you feel comfortable sharing your ideas…Everyone has the same goal. Even though we’re in competition, no one is unwilling to help anyone else in their journey.”

Family Caregiver Service

We talked to: Connor Schulte of The idea: “The process of being a caregiver for someone with a chronic illness is really difficult – we’re trying to come up with a solution.” Goal/challenge for the weekend: Really identifying the right customer segment and their problem to solve. “To hone in on one problem we want to try to solve, and develop an MVP or some kind of prototype.” Personal growth moment: Working on customer discovery – with a design and development background, Schulte has been pretty task-focused at previous Startup Weekends. “I think it’s a great experience to have – it’s very important to any business, I’m glad I get o be a part of it this time around.”

Iowa Bike Bar

We talked to: Scott Swenson, director of the Kirkwood SBDC

The idea: “Offering Cedar Rapids an active, fun activity. A group bike bar – a  mobile bar with six seats, a driver, it’s interactive.”

Goal/Challenge for the weekend: “We hope to have validated a need – is this a product-market fit for Cedar Rapids. And validate, perhaps, a pricing model.” Bikes like this are available but they may design their own.

Personal growth moment: “I can pick up and learn things form the other coaches and mentors. I’m trying to improve my own coaching. Each one can have different input, which sometimes conflicts, and that’s ok. – it gives you that different way of looking at things.”

Perfect Night 

We talked to: Rebecca Sullens – Cornell college career advisor The idea: “Helping people find options for a night out.” Simple as that. While the original idea had to do with dating, the project isn’t just for couples anymore. Goal/challenge for the weekend: “Identifying the biggest pain point – generating and creating the method to survey people….How much do we want to start a business, or how much do we want to identify a problem that needs to be fixed, and start trying to fix it.” Personal growth moment: Switching teams mid-morning after the Lunch Line idea fell apart. “Changing your mind…finding a project you can commit to as it evolves, and finding out how to work with people when everybody has big ideas, and everyone wants to work together.”


We talked to: Mike Clancy, a teacher at Muscatine High School The idea: “Trivia crack meets the classroom. It’s targeted at AP exams. We wanted to be able to give teachers feedback on their students.” Goal/challenge for the weekend“The edtech world is inundated with products – making the message clear that our product is unique and solves a real challenge.” This team hopes to stand out through gamification and providing data to teachers. Personal growth moment: Diving headfirst into startup life. ““In my mind it’s simple – create the app, send it out – but there are a number of variables I never really considered,”

Social Runner / Fit Together

We talked to: Leon Tabak, a computer science professor at Cornell College The idea: “A lot of people like to go running – they see other people in the community, but they don’t know who they are, and they want some companionship in their activities.” Goal/challenge for the weekend: Plenty of alternatives for fitness and socialization. “There are lots of opportunities for how people could go out and solve this problem – how do we distinguish ourselves? How do we define our market more clearly?” Personal growth moment: The academic, getting a taste of entrepreneurial life. “It’s all a little bit different than getting together to do it for the experience…I’m very happy my students are here.”

Sunday Dinner 

We talked to: Jonathan Bunjer, CEO of KASA Solutions The idea: “When you have a social gathering where multiple people are involved in bringing things to the event, dealing with the logistics of that…A central place that keeps track of that information.” Goal/challenge for the weekend: Develop a working webpage and test it on a few potential customers. Personal growth moment: His own business evolved from a need, so he hasn’t done a ton of customer discovery before. “You can have a great idea, but if nobody wants to buy your great idea, you’re out of luck. That can be kind of crushing at times.”


We talked to: Madison Gingery, a senior at the University of Iowa studying marketing and entrepreneurship The idea: “A fashionable personal security bracelet that will send help at the press of a button.” Goal/challenge for the weekendThe team is working on a minimum viable product (MVP) this weekend, but Gingery is more focused on finding teammates who might want to continue on after the weekend. Personal growth moment: Gingery is passionate about the problem she is trying to solve, and did a lot of research before the weekend – so opening her idea up to other perspectives was tough. “Communication – learning how to lead a group. I haven’t had a group of smart individuals lean on me to tell them what to do.”