Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Local Entrepreneurs take over Innovation Hub for crash course in business start-up

The Innovation Hub at Insight Park on the campus of the University of Mississippi was the location of a revolutionary concept in business creation known as “Startup Weekend”.

Social Sherlock wins Start-Up Weekend in Oxford
Social Sherlock wins Start-Up Weekend in Oxford

In the 54-hour crash course in entrepreneurial development, 50 participants watched as 15 individuals pitched their ideas and 10 of them were selected by the group to develop over the weekend.
These individuals all came together on Friday night and heard basic concepts for a business. The pitches were limited to 60 seconds and the individual making the pitch had no visual aids or props to help sell his concept. What followed throughout the weekend was the development of teams that worked tirelessly to develop the concept into a “MVP”, or Minimally Viable Product. Once the initial idea was fleshed out, the teams then met with mentors to help develop the concept into a more business like model. The mentors for this event came from Oxford and Jackson, and they all represent success stories in their own right.
Mr. Chan Patel with Charter Road Hospitality group was one of the mentors, and his experience as a successful hotelier and entrepreneur gave him the background to help others with their fledgling ideas. Also on the mentoring team were Ms. Bethany Cooper of FNC, Mr. John Brandon of the Mississippi Development Authority, Josh Mabus, of the Mabus Agency, Joyce Freeland of Freeland and Freeland Law firm, Owens Alexander, formerly of Real Phone, Will Moody of MDA, Ole Miss student Ashley Locke, Ed Yelverton of IBM Global Business Services, James Carden, with the Small Business Development Center, Elizabeth Randall with the Randall Commercial Group, Sharon Morris and Peter Cleary with the University of Mississippi. These mentors volunteered their time and experiences to help the entrepreneurs at Startup Weekend succeed.
A diverse crowd gathers to launch new business ideas.
A diverse crowd gathers to launch new business ideas.

While the business concepts were being developed a team of entrepreneurial experts was assembled to judge the final business plans for the potential start-ups. The judges were Kate Rosson with the American Cancer Society, Chip Wade with Ortho Kinematics, Brad Morris of the Brad Morris Law Firm, Britton Holleman with Addicus, LLC and Allyson Best with the University of Mississippi. They heard each team make their brief pitch about their business and were allowed to ask questions afterward. The pitches were limited to 5 minutes with 2 minutes of follow-up questions from the judges. The companies making their pitches were coached during the weekend about how to make the most impactful presentation in the shortest amount of time.
The overall winner of the competition was a company called Social Sherlock. Social Sherlock is a web browser game that pairs the player with one of five random friends from their Facebook account. The player has to try to determine which person they are paired with through the built in chat system. Developer and team leader Matthew Hoelter described the game this way. “While gaining points through correct guesses, the player is also strengthening connections with friends that they may not know as well or have drifted away from over the years.”
The game is currently still under development, but is on schedule to be released within the coming weeks. Social Sherlock received a free marketing session with the Mabus Agency of Tupelo as well as free office space in Oxford for 6 months.
Runner up company, SafetyCheck, is a software company that plans to help software developers make their software more secure.
“In 2002, NIST estimated that software bugs cost the US economy nearly $60 billion per year. No one can afford to be responsible for the next Target-like data breach. ” said SafetyCheck team member Zack Watts.
SafetyCheck provides comprehensive independent software quality and security auditing services. Companies that create software, can rely on SafetyCheck reports as an unbiased measure of their products’ quality and security.
The other runner up was Southeastern Scooters. Southeastern Scooters aims to help alleviate parking and transportation issues around Oxford and Ole Miss with a scooter sharing program similar to Zipcar. “This is not only a green solution, but it will be fun” said team member Nathan McCartney. “We plan to have various hubs around Oxford and Ole Miss. Users can pick up a scooter in a convenient location and then ride it to their destination. We plan to pursue a pay-per-use system targeting visitors or users wishing to try out the service.”
On football weekends they plan to rent the scooters to users for the full day. Users can park their scooters at a hub on campus while they enjoy the game. After the game they’ll be the first to the Square or back at their RV.
Teams work to develop their businesses during Oxford Start-Up Weekend.
Teams work to develop their businesses during Oxford Start-Up Weekend.

“Startup weekend was a great opportunity for our team to sit down and brainstorm some ideas.” said Nathan McCartney. “We really enjoyed the opportunity to work with the local coaches and learn from their experience. Without Startup Weekend this idea never would have come about and without the resources we received there it certainly would not have been pursued.”
Zack Watts with SafetyCheck had this to say about the weekend. “Startup weekend is an excellent opportunity to explore potential business ideas and validate them through coaching from experienced business leaders. I would strongly recommend anyone with an interest in entrepreneurship and business development to attend.”
Startup Weekend is a global grassroots movement of active and empowered entrepreneurs who are learning the basics of founding startups and launching successful ventures. It is the largest community of passionate entrepreneurs with over 400 past events in 100 countries around the world in 2011. The non-profit organization is headquartered in Seattle, Wash., but Startup Weekend organizers and facilitators can be found in over 200 cities around the world. From Mongolia to South Africa to London to Brazil, people around the globe are coming together for weekend long workshops to pitch ideas, form teams, and start companies.
All Startup Weekend events follow the same basic model: anyone is welcome to pitch their startup idea and receive feedback from their peers. Teams organically form around the top ideas (as determined by popular vote) and then it’s a 54 hour frenzy of business model creation, coding, designing, and market validation. The weekends culminate with presentations in front of local entrepreneurial leaders with another opportunity for critical feedback. Whether entrepreneurs found companies, find a co-founder, meet someone new, or learn a skill far outside their usual 9-to-5, everyone is guaranteed to leave the event better prepared to navigate the chaotic but fun world of startups
Teams make final pitches for Oxford Start-Up Weekend.
Teams make final pitches for Oxford Start-Up Weekend.

Startup Weekend in Oxford was put on by many generous sponsors. The Oxford-Lafayette County Economic Development Foundation, Insight Park at the University of Mississippi, Charter Road Hospitality Group, Domino’s Pizza, the Brad Morris Law Firm, Innovate Mississippi, Chick Fil A, Chan Patel, Taylor Grocery and the group of national sponsors all made this weekend possible. “Without the donation of food, hotel rooms, meeting space and other support, this weekend would not have been a success”, said EDF President Jon Maynard. “The sponsors of this event are real champions of entrepreneurship. All of them have been Startups at one time, and they all eagerly jumped in to help the next generation of big dreamers get their start.”
“The Innovation Hub at Insight Park and The University of Mississippi were honored to host Startup Weekend. It was an amazing experience to watch participants begin the weekend with some level of uncertainty and leave Sunday night with passion and purpose.” said William Nicholas, Assistant Director of Insight Park at the University of Mississippi “The weekend long event exceeded our expectations and it would not have been possible without the kindness and generosity of our fellow organizers, sponsors, coaches, and judges.”
La Tasha Bibb from innovate Mississippi was one of the key organizers of the event, She had this to say about Oxford Startup Weekend, “The event was a great success. There were several innovative ideas that were developed over the course of the weekend that I hope will continue and be made available soon. One important component of a successful Startup Weekend event is involvement from the community, and the Oxford community really rallied around this event in a special way. There were so many people who wanted to be involved as mentors, judges and sponsors. I cannot thank the people of Oxford enough.”
– Jon C. Maynard, President and CEO of Oxford-Lafayette County EDF and Chamber of Commerce, 662-234-4651

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