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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. LocalFood365.com – 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. MyCle.tv – 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 MyCle.tv 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. 140match.com – 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. Pricefixr.com – 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).
140match.com took the $5000 prize from Microsoft. In the voting for the $2500 prize there was a tie between LocalFood365.com and Pricefixr.com. 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.
I’ve been asked about it several times, but have been tardy in writing about Mahalo, the new human-powered search engine that Jason Calacanis is spearheading. I did get a chance to talk about it a bit with the New York Times‘ Randall Stross, who wrote this piece on Bessed, Mahalo and other search competitors a few weeks back.
I’m grateful to Stross for including Bessed in his piece, as my initial fear about Mahalo was that people would think that Calacanis had thought this up all on his own, and had thought of it first, when in fact Bessed was launched in October of 2006, long before Mahalo. I was afraid people would think that we were the copycats.
To his credit, Stross did his homework. He realized that Bessed had launched this concept of a “human-powered search engine” before Calacanis came out beating his chest and talking up the VC money he has backing him up.
I’m not upset about Mahalo launching almost a carbon copy of what Bessed is doing—or, as a friend e-mailed to me, “Dude, they stole your idea!” (Although it was a litte disheartening to see them tout themselves as the “first human-powered search engine.”) That’s the nature of competition. Frankly, I’m jealous of the money Calacanis has behind Mahalo. It will be interesting to see what it gets them.
However, there are some differences between Mahalo’s game plan and that of Bessed, and I think those differences are what will ultimately doom Mahalo, or at the very least force it to change course from it’s currently-stated plan. I’m also afraid Mahalo might kill the idea that human-powered search can work, because its current offering doesn’t offer a ton of value. And if that happens, it could hurt Bessed over the long run. So, while I would not be unhappy to see Mahalo fail, how it fails matters to me :)
First, here’s what is good about Mahalo. (Generally it’s the same as what I think is good about Bessed.) Mahalo is having human editors find results, which is eliminating spam from its results. The site looks attractive. It’s allowing visitors to suggest new sites to add. And I think it offers good results for the topics it’s covering.
But Mahalo makes one big mistake. It is attempting to create results for only the most searched-for terms. The problem is, most people are perfectly happy with Google results for the more common searches. They aren’t looking for an alternative. Where Google and other engines often fall flat and and are susceptible to spam is in the “long tail” of searches—searches for specific people, products, facts, etc. These are the searches in which searchers come away dissatisfed and are open to an alternative that can solve their problem and save them time.
I don’t know if any human-powered effort can adequately cover the millions of potential searches that take place each day, but by simply ignoring them Mahalo has no compelling reason to exist. It does not solve a searcher’s problem, so beyond what Calacanis can drum up traffic-wise based on his own personal celebrity, it will fall flat.
Our goal with Bessed is to fill the holes in the long tail, sifting out the junk on those specific searches that so often are maddening—when you find one site selling the same thing on four different domains or you are lured to a site on false pretenses because the site has pasted your keyword (and a hundred others) on a page that is completely irrelevant. Those searches drive you crazy, and Google’s algorithm, which puts so much stock in the links between sites, has a hard time sifting the junk because there are so few links between sites in the long tail, thus making it hard to give any of the pages credibility over others. This is where the humans can and should be; this is where we can make a difference.
This doesn’t mean Bessed will ignore the “short tail,” but it means we know that we can create more value in attacking searches that robots have not yet mastered. If I had Calacanis’ money, this is where I would be spending it. Maybe he’d like to give it to us?
e-mail me: firstname.lastname@example.org
Adam Jusko is founder and CEO of Bessed, a Web site promising “search without spam”, thanks to human-edited search results and ongoing visitor feedback. Do a search, offer your comments, submit your site–help create the “bessed” search site in the world.
Every day Bessed adds new topics, updates others and expands the information you can tap into…
Polly Pocket having a huge product recall due to a few kids being hospitalized for eating the little magnets that fell out of the toys’ hands. Mattell can’t be happy with the timing, right bfore holiday shopping season.
O.J. Simpson won’t get his chance to regale us with the way he “would have” killed his ex-wife.
Alfonso Soriano hit the jackpot with the Chicago Cubs.
Florida’s Gatorland is set to open up this week after a fire killed several animals and shut down the park for the past few weeks.
A new photography book, Elvis at 21, tracks Elvis Presley in the year just before he hit the big time.
Got a site that needs attention? Add yout URL to Bessed. Find your topic and tell us about your site. Don’t see a place where your site fits? Let us know—we’ll build the category you request and add your site to it.