Archive for November, 2009


Cleveland Startup Weekend

November 23, 2009

I dropped in last night for the finale of the first Cleveland Startup Weekend, which brought together a motley crew of developers, marketers, finance people, etc., to hatch and prototype a potential startup business in just one weekend. In short, certain people brought ideas in on Friday night, pitched them, then the attendees decided which projects they’d like to work on. Then the teams spent the weekend doing as much as they could do bring the idea to the prototype stage, or at least to create a presentation that might interest potential investors.

It was a very well-attended event — sold out initially, then seats were added to get to just over 100 attendees at the Idea Center on Playhouse Square. Definitely a dudefest, with the man/woman split about 90%/10%, maybe even a bit higher on the guy side. Between local corporate sponsorship and the moneys from attendees, Cleveland Startup Weekend generated the highest revenue of any of the Startup Weekends so far developed by the national Startup Weekend organization.

Some of the ideas seemed fully formed, some a little pie-in-the-sky, some a little unrealistic, but all were pretty creative concepts for a weekend’s work. And the teams made their presentations fun with a lot of enthusiasm.  Here’s a quick synopsis of the 9 groups that presented last night.

1. MoonDog – Online marketplace to bring together entrepreneurs and technical people for one-off projects. Good presentation and the prototype actually appeared to be a finished product ready to roll. Interesting pricing idea — entrepreneurs pay less at first and then scale up for techies whose work they like, and techies might take lower pay initially or even company equity (these programmers may be moonlighting from day jobs and willing to work for lower pay initially).

2. – For what you’d guess to be a techie crowd, a very un-techie startup — a company that would build greenhouses on currently vacant land to grow food that would be sold and consumed locally. Unlike a farmer’s market or urban garden, the greenhouse and hydroponics would allow year-ground growing in large quantities, and the distribution method would be through wholesalers versus direct to the public. The idea has good PR potential, because the idea of keeping more food dollars circulating locally versus shipping food in from elsewhere is a newsworthy concept.

3. – Hyperlocal news delivered online by volunteer citizen journalists in the community. By “hyperlocal” you’re talking about down to neighborhood level versus local news stations that only cover your ‘burb if there’s a fire or a murder. I live in Lakewood & this made me think of our newspaper the Lakewood Observer, which is completely volunteer-run. It’s a bit uneven in quality and choices as to what is newsworthy, but it definitely does cover the city in a way no other outlet does. [UPDATE: I should’ve mentioned that the site is for video content only, not print.]

4. Sync System – This would create a “digital wall calendar” that a family could use as their central calendar to keep up with what’s coming up, where the kids have to be and when, etc. Basically the same concept as an online calendar that group members can update to have a central calendar for projects, but the difference would be that this “calendar” would be on the equivalent of a digital picture frame, and family members could access it directly from its place within the house without having to go to a computer or mobile phone to access it (although they could access it in those ways as well). Personally I really liked this one, because I have plenty of experience in my own home trying to schedule events that fit into the schedules of my wife & kids.

5. Gracie – A household energy management system that would use predictive modeling to control the energy usage in your home to drive down costs — the obvious example being to lower your home’s temperature in the winter when you are not there and raise it when you are. Although present thermostats can be programmed to do something similar, the Gracie team’s argument was that people either don’t use it or they program them based on when they THINK they’re going to be home and away, but often get it wrong. Gracie would use actual activity patterns to guess more accurately.

6. – Twitter matchmaking. The site would basically parse your tweets and the tweets of those you follow (plus the tweets of those THEY follow) for keywords to make matches. If you tweet about your poodle a lot, there just may be some other dog lovers out there among your extended Twitter universe. This concept was a crowd-pleaser, the team seemed to think their big challenge was Twitter’s rules on usage of their API.

7. Copernicus Listening System – I was a little confused on this one. My impression was that it was a speaker system; I’m not sure what the technology or concept was that would make it competitive in the marketplace.

8. – A Web site to find the lowest prices on individual groceries in your area without having to go the stores first. If I understood correctly, this would be crowdsourced, so in theory you are not just a taker, but you also would hop on occasionally and tell how much the Crest is at your local supermarket.

9. Makerbot – A three-dimensional printer. Connected to your computer it can actually make plastic objects based on your on-screen design. It already is a workable concept, its owner (whose name I missed, update: it’s Rick Pollack) is looking for others with interest in the concept.

Two prizes were given based on the presentations, with voting done by both the teams and others in the audience  — one was a $5000 prize from Microsoft for the best concept using Microsoft technology, and the other was a $2500 prize created based on the better-than-expected revenue from the event (originally there was only the $5000 prize). took the $5000 prize from Microsoft. In the voting for the $2500 prize there was a tie between and After toying with the idea of a rock-paper-scissors throwdown to break the tie, the teams, in the spirit of the event, decided to split the pot and take $1250 each.

For a first-time event, this really seemed to exceed all expectations, and showed there was a ton of bottled-up interest in this sort of thing.  My guess is they’ll need a bigger venue next time to accommodate all those interested.

Congrats to all the organizers & everyone who committed their weekend to make it a success.