By: Marcus Lavergne
The Innevation Center powered by Switch played venue to an event showcasing the business and tech skills of different students from the University of Nevada, Reno this past weekend. Young minds from different colleges and majors came together to form five teams in a 54-hour competition during UNR’s first Startup Weekend event.
During that time, students developed ideas for products and services creating apps and websites along the way. On Sunday, the last day of the event, competitors pitched their final products to a panel of judges for the chance to win Startup Weekend’s 3D-printed trophy and bragging rights, among other prizes.
Bryan McArdle, one of Startup Weekend’s organizers, is a manager of entrepreneurial development for the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada. He said that the University has a lot of talent in many different areas. The event provided an opportunity for those students to meet each other, potentially for the first time and collaborate with different ideas.
“We really wanted students from different colleges to meet each other,” McArdle said. “We’re using this event to make sure the engineers are talking to business students, and business students are talking to journalism students. We’re really trying to mix the pot.”
In the past, the Startup Weekend has been open to the public but this year was the first ever student-only competition, as well as the very first event held in the new Innevation Center. The Center not only provided space for the competition but numerous tools and resources like giant whiteboard walls as well. By the end of the weekend, the teams had covered the boards in marker, projecting the results of hours-upon-hours of brainstorming.
The event provided various opportunities to different participants this weekend. For some, it was a chance to gain knowledge of the startup industry. For others, it was just another stepping stone in the journey to get rich. Kai Kitson, a student and undeclared major, is one such competitor who came in with money on his mind.
“My main goal is to drop out of college,” Kitson said. “My goal is to make a million dollars by the time I turn 20 so that’s 13 months. If there’s one weekend of my life that I can sacrifice towards that dream, it’s startup weekend. That’s why I came.”
Kai was a member of Gigity. Gigity is the name of their job-searching service, which operates like the well-known dating app Tinder. In a little over two days, his team developed an idea, app design and even a customer base.
The idea of creating a service to make money was popular this past weekend, but only one team developed a functioning product for demonstration. Power Plug won the overall judges’ competition with a device the size of an iPhone charging adapter — a small cube.
Power Plug created their product for the sake of revolutionizing how people function their household appliances and electronics. The prototype allowed Ben Hammel, a graduate student in the physics Ph.D. program and member of the Reno Collective, to operate a desk lamp through his smart phone.
“Everybody on our team came and met each other this weekend,” Hammel said. “We came together and managed to create something. When you’re developing an idea it’s really easy to just focus on the features and stuff. You just want to make something cool, but this weekend really forces you focus on the big picture.”
That big picture is Hammel’s reason for participating in the Collective and other startup events. Hammel says focusing on his “why” has helped him in his graduate career and hopes to eventually get involved with startups after receiving his degree.
“I like coming here just to see the ingenuity and the innovation of the surrounding area,” Hammel said. “I grew up in the Bay Area and so I was exposed to it, and I think that Reno has a really exciting, organic scene that’s starting to develop here and that’s really unique.”
Hammel is just one of many students who expressed their gratitude for events like Startup Weekend. Mignon Fogarty, an event organizer, journalism instructor and renowned grammar professional, said that many students were happy for the opportunity to participate.
The past events have been for the general public, but holding the event solely for students was a little difficult according to Fogarty. She said they have to come to the event to fully understand everything they can get out of it.
“The hardest part was getting the word out for students,” Fogarty said. “So many students have come up to me and said ‘this is great. I’m so glad I heard about it. Thank you for putting it on.’”
Mignon hopes that students will continue to take advantage of the opportunities provided by the University.
“To see [students] come together and pool their complementary talents and see how much they can build in a weekend is inspiring,” Mignon said. “The journalists need to talk to people in other departments. The computer science students need to talk to people in other departments. That’s how you build a strong team and a valuable product or service.”
Marcus Lavergne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @mlavergne21