Startups take over at UMass Dartmouth
Budding South Coast entrepreneurs have some big ideas that got a little help from a Techstar Startup Weekend competition, including low-cost, high-quality engagement rings, auditing software, and pre-rolled blunts – marijuana rolled in tobacco papers.
The startup weekend, hosted at UMass Dartmouth from Feb. 22 to 24, attracted dozens of entrepreneurs broken into groups to jumpstart a potential new business pitched by a peer. About two thirds of the participants were UMass students or professors, with the rest from the community or as far away as Boston.
The program is, as event organizer and Phillip Adams, Interim Director of University of Massachusetts Dartmouth’s Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship, described it, a hyper-accelerated version of business development. He likened the weekend to the business equivalent of watching a flower bloom in a time-lapse video, from bud to blossom in a matter of seconds.
Participants began the weekend on Friday evening with a "half-baked" business warm-up exercise — groups took two randomly selected words and building a business pitch, including the problem the business would solve, the potential market, and how the product would be distributed, in a matter of minutes, before pitching the result to the group at large.
One group, given the prompt "dancing robots," came up with a product to help the busy or socially anxious learn new skills, like dancing, from robots, which could be rented and learned from at one's home.
Then, participants got up and pitched their more fully-baked, formal ideas in a lightning fast 60 seconds. Product pitches included a cannabis locker to safely store marijuana, a gas valve to prevent explosions like the ones in Merrimack Valley, non-invasive blood sampling for infants, auditing software, and UMass Professor Dr. Chen-Lu Yang’s bullet recycling process.
"I'm like a pine tree in a parking lot," Yang said. "I don't know what I'm doing here!"
The program includes those like Yang, who has no business experience, and people who routinely attend Startup Weekends — plus a lot of business students.
After the pitches, participants discussed the pitches and separated into the teams they would work with over the weekend.
“This is one of my favorite parts of the conference, watching the energy go,” said Adams. “It’s like an organic process.”
Trai Dang, a start up and industry liaison for the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, first brought Techstar Startup Weekends to UMass Dartmouth when he was a student. He noticed that there were events like this in Boston almost every weekend, and wanted to bring the same opportunities to students in Dartmouth.
This year, the program coincides with Accepted Students Day, so prospective students will have the opportunity to see start ups in action alongside campus tours and other more traditional activities.
On Sunday evening, they presented their ideas to a panel of judges, who evaluated the teams based on criteria like execution, design, the quality of the business plan, and market research.
Coming in first place was FoodSpector, a program that attempts to minimize the losses restaurants suffer during health inspections. Violations can result in fines, closures, and the loss of customers.
FoodSpector would help restaurants be compliant and ready for inspections by providing restaurants with checklists drawn from state and local laws. Restaurants would also be able to compare with their compliance with others, understand their current level of compliance, and highlight areas that need improvement. The ratings could also be made public to attract customers.
Second place went to M.A.R.S. Minuteman Ammunition Recycling Service, a business built around the bullet recycling technology invented by Dr. Chen-Lu Yang.
Coming in third was iCONN, an alternative to LinkedIn that emphasizes the social context of when and where two people have met.