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Startup Weekend Honolulu condenses entrepreneurship into 54 hours

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Startup Weekend Honolulu condenses entrepreneurship into a fast-paced weekend of networking, programming, design and business development. Red Bull is optional.

Four weeks after being laid off, 27-year-old Bryan Butteling stands before a crowd of entrepreneurs, software developers, designers and investors to pitch his business idea: an app that tells you which bars are showing your favorite team’s game. He calls it Fan Addicts.

That was Friday evening. Two sleep-deprived, adrenaline-and-caffeine-driven days later, Butteling stands next to six people who had been strangers on that first evening. Now, they are a team, and have built and tested a working version of Fan Addicts in fewer than 54 hours. The crowd of about 100 people cheers as they take first place at Startup Weekend Honolulu, beating out eight other teams.

“After they announced my team, it was a cool rush to feel that validation from those mentors who were helping through the three-day process,” Butteling says. “… (The mentors and judges) were there to give you support for your idea, and I felt that the teams that they chose were teams they felt could actually monetize and begin to actually work.”

Startup Weekend gives anyone the chance to propose an idea, assemble a team and get a business running in three nights and two days. It’s a crash course in hands-on business development accelerated to meet a deadline. You can network, validate ideas, introduce the next big thing and maybe even win a prize. Entrepreneurial zeal stoked by creativity, caffeine and team spirit.

Friday, 5:13 P.M.
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5:54 P.M.
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7:00 p.m., Friday, Sept. 28

It’s standing room only at The Box Jelly in Kakaako, a co-working space for budding entrepreneurs, software/app developers and others. More than 100 people pack into the recently renovated space, eating pizza from JJ Dolan’s and drinking beer out of red plastic cups. Some aren’t participating in the competition, but have come to check out the pitches or cheer on friends and colleagues.

The master of ceremonies, Frank Denbow, calls for pitches, and 20 people form a line to the microphone. Each gets 60 seconds to pitch an idea, with a round of applause gently reminding speakers when it’s time to get off the stage.

Denbow has flown in from New York to provide advice. He’s the founder of a merchandising service called Startup Threads and a volunteer advisor for the nonprofit that oversees Startup Weekends around the globe. He tells those pitching to answer four questions: Who are you? What problem are you solving? How will you solve it? Who do you need?

Though any kind of business idea is welcome, all the ideas tonight are for smartphone apps or web-based platforms. One person wants to create a website that will pay your ATM fees in exchange for taking surveys. Another wants to build an app that texts you when your table is ready at a restaurant.

An alarm app for smartphones gets a huge response from the crowd. Called Move Me or Else, the proposed app requires that you move your body a predetermined distance (such as 10 feet) before the alarm turns off. If you hit snooze, you get charged a fee.

After the pitches end, each person with an idea has an easel-size Post-it note with the idea written on it. Everyone in the room receives three small, yellow Post-it notes, and they vote by attaching their notes to ideas. The ideas with the most votes go on to round two. The votes also indicate who wants to work on which project.

The room becomes a hot crowded mess as people try to find the founders and talk to them about their ideas. Some gain votes by standing on chairs and being the most visible amongst the crowd, while other founders garner little attention as they stand in an open but uncrowded area.

A dozen ideas make it to the next round. Each founder now needs to find team members and manage them for the next 54 hours. Honolulu isn’t full of startups like Silicon Valley, but Startup Weekend shows the city does have a vibrant startup community.

Fielding questions and talking with participants is Kevin Hughes, a Startup Weekend mentor, a pioneer in Web design and software, and a local tech legend. He started Hawaii’s first web server and website at Honolulu Community College in 1993 and went on to work on major projects for companies and startups in Hawaii, California and across the country, including CommerceNet and Wells Fargo.

Hughes says Hawaii businesses, in general, have been slow and entrenched, encumbered by dominant big businesses that don’t adapt quickly. Startup culture changes that. He says events like Startup Weekend allow people to think about businesses differently and accelerate all the thought that goes into a business.
“This event teaches people how to be flexible in business and to collaborate,” Hughes says, adding that these skills can be used in any industry or profession, not just tech.

Rob Zazueta of Vertical Response, an email and social-media marketing company in the San Francisco Bay area, says he’s been to 11 Startup Weekends around the country, including ones in San Francisco, New York and Asheville, N.C. He says the Honolulu event is smaller than in those places, but he likes coming to smaller markets because, even though the startup industry is less mature, people come out of the woodwork for the event. He also says that events like this all over the world prove that Silicon Valley isn’t the only place where you can innovate and succeed.

Hawaii is also a good testing ground for ideas. “If it works here, it will work in other markets,” says Mike Prasad, founder of Kinetiq Labs and a mentor tonight. What he means is that Hawaii, unlike places like Silicon Valley, is not an early adopter willing to try anything new, so, if it’s a hit here, it can be replicated elsewhere in the world.

9 p.m., Friday

Everyone is talking in the still-packed house, networking and pondering ways for their businesses to move forward. The crowd is even more electric than when the pitches were being made. The excitement of entrepreneurship is contagious.

As the evening wears on, the noise gradually fades. Those who were just watching start to leave. Some participants leave because they like to work on their part alone or need some sleep. Among those who stay are programmers hunched over their laptops and typing in code. Designers are creating visual prototypes on their computers. Others hatch marketing plans. Some teams work together until 3 in the morning. Whatever the case, The Box Jelly will stay open around the clock for the entire weekend to accommodate anyone’s work rhythms.

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