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Innovation Park holds event

Christian Myers | Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Could you develop a prototype for a new business in a little more than two days?

Participants in Notre Dame’s first-ever Startup Weekend event will attempt to do just that during a 54-hour period from April 13 to the 15.

The event, hosted by Innovation Park at Notre Dame and sponsored by the Kauffman Foundation, a non-profit organization devoted to entrepreneurship, brings creative thinkers together to conceptualize and launch companies during Startup Weekends around the world, co-organizer Melissa Parker said.

Parker and co-organizer Brendan Daly, students in the Engineering, Science and Technology Entrepreneurship Excellence Masters (ESTEEM) program, have planned the event since November, and hope Notre Dame’s Startup Weekend becomes an annual event.

“We had heard about Startup Weekend and even visited a Startup Weekend event in Grand Rapids, [Mich.] We wanted to bring something here that was a hands-on entrepreneurship experience,” Parker said.

According to Parker, a startup is simply a new company different from ones already “out there,” and Startup Weekend event embraces this innovation, though it focuses on technology-related ideas.

“There’s a wide range of startups. A new restaurant is considered a startup.” Parker said. “This weekend tends to be more web-based because it’s easier to develop the prototype, but that doesn’t have to be the core business-model of the startup.”

Project teams will need a variety of designers, developers, lawyers and business people, Parker said, but the event is open to anyone interested in learning more about startups.

“We’re trying to build collaboration. Businesses require a lot of people working together,” Parker said. “Technology, business, marketing, law and design, all of these pieces need to come together for a successful startup.”

Parker said she recommends the event to anyone interested in business, namely entrepreneurship.

“You can meet a lot of people who are entrepreneurial-minded, and it’s a great way to get in contact with startup companies that are looking to hire people,” Parker said.

Startup Weekend also provides undergraduate students with new creative opportunities, Parker said.

“For undergraduates who are worried about finding jobs after graduating, it will look great on their resume, but it is also an alternative – starting a company instead of working for one,” she said.

The weekend kicks off 8 p.m. Friday, when attendees begin pitching ideas for potential startup businesses. Attendees then vote on their favorite proposals, and the creators of the top-10 ideas assemble their respective teams from other participants and begin working on their projects.

The prototypes are completed by 12 p.m. Sunday and are presented to the judges at 1 p.m.

Experienced faculty members and business professionals will serve as mentors during the event and assist the teams with their projects.

Parker said roughly 60 percent of the currently registered participants are undergraduate, MBA, Law and ESTEEM program students. Forty percent of attendees come from the greater South Bend community, a majority of which are web developers.

One of the community participants, class of 2011 alumnus John Rocha, is the co-founder of myFit, a startup company housed in Innovation Park.

Rocha said Startup Weekend presents an opportunity for Notre Dame to make a name for itself in the world of technology.

“I believe Notre Dame is on the cusp of a huge technology revolution, especially compared to other universities,” Rocha said.

myFit is developing software that will allow Microsoft Kinect and Windows 8 PC users to create a virtual avatar and fitting room for online clothing shopping.

Although the myFit software will not be included in Startup Weekend, Rocha said he plans to present other ideas that will make use of the compatibility of the soon-to-be-released Windows 8 with the Kinect system, which currently operates with Microsoft’s Xbox.

Tim Braun, an entrepreneur-in-residence at Elevate Ventures, Dave Brenner, president and CEO of Innovation Park, and Mike Vogel, entrepreneur-in-residence at the Gigot Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, will serve as judges for the event.

Developer Town, Localstake, Elevate Ventures and Innovation Park donated prizes for the winning team, including a dinner, design software, free consultation, a business plan review and six months of free rent at Innovation Park.

The second-place team will receive three months of free rent at Innovation Park, and the third-place team will receive free consultation on pitching their idea.