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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Startup Weekend demands winning pitch and lots of teamwork

Louisa Jorgens, 17, listens as Jared Timme, 16, right, and John Becker, 16, explain their startup idea for a modular phone that allows the consumer to swap components such as screens, speakers, cameras and storage media with third-party components of their choice at Riverpoint Academy in Mead on Friday. Timme and Becker were using a laser etching machine to make wood cards to promote their presentation for this weekend’s Startup Weekend Spokane. (Tyler Tjomsland)

The battle to come out a winner during the latest Startup Weekend Spokane starts from the moment people walk through the door.

The event, the sixth over the past three years to be hosted in Spokane, started Friday evening at the Jepson Center at Gonzaga University. GU is one of the ongoing sponsors of the event, which takes its name from the national group that launched the 54-hour boot camps for entrepreneurs and licensed the name.

Like the previous five Spokane weekends, Friday’s highlight is a series of 60-second pitches presented to the entire group of more than 150 people.

After the pitches, the crowd votes for their favorite business ideas, with the top 12 moving forward for the rest of the 54-hour weekend.

Those who pitch an idea that lands in the lucky dozen start recruiting team members from the crowd.

The goal is to assemble designers, product developers, people with a business background or who have coding experience, said Gabe Kruse, a 22-year-old Spokane resident who made his first company pitch Friday.

“It’s important because this weekend really is the perfect environment to see if your business idea has holes, and if your pitch is strong enough to get people to gather around you,” Kruse said.

The 12 teams spend today and Sunday developing a working presentation of the idea. A panel of judges then selects the best of the bunch.

The weekends can be counted on to showcase people helping each other.

But Kruse said he doesn’t let that stop him from using the first 90 minutes on Friday trying to lock up talent that other teams might also want.

“We start right away in the networking part of the weekend, trying to identify the right people for our team,” said Kruse, whose idea is an online business called Duul Software.

The goal is developing Duul into a network that helps videogame players find and enter online tournaments.

Also looking to win potential teammates early Friday evening were Sarina Wormell and Mika Lusk, two students who attend Riverpoint Academy, the nontraditional entrepreneurial high school run by the Mead School District.

They were two of 26 Riverpoint students taking part in the event. While some came to pitch, others were there to offer their energy as teammates for the winning 12 ideas.

Wormell, a senior, and Lusk, a junior, were there to pitch their food idea called the Menu App. It would be a detailed food-rating application giving users specific information not just about restaurants but also custom dishes prepared for those with dietary needs.

Before their pitch, the two walked through the networking crowd handing out business cards with their business name and the printed question: “Do you know what’s in your food?”

“One of the important things about Startup Weekend is you have to have a strong product and be confident and make people want to work with you,” said Wormell, who hopes to attend Eastern Washington University next year.

Added Lusk: “That was an idea we got from one of our teachers. It gives us a chance to start talking about our idea right away and make a good impression.”

Their business idea evolved because Lusk is a vegetarian and Wormell has food allergies.

While apps like Urbanspoon and Yelp use crowdsourced reviews of eateries, it’s not easy to get detailed feedback on special dishes prepared by skilled chefs, Wormell said.

The three winning ideas, announced Sunday, will get the chance to make pitches to Spokane’s Angel Alliance investment group. They’ll also receive 40 hours of donated development work from software firm Limelyte Technology, business cards and brochures crafted by media group Rainmaker Creative, and consulting provided by Sixth Man Marketing.