Business / Economy

Startup Weekend calls for local entrepreneurs

Three-day contest will have business coaches, 3D printers and networking opportunities for contestants from around the Central Coast.

January is a time for new beginnings, and for many, that means resolving to spend more time with family or live a healthier lifestyle. But for the entrepreneurs participating in Startup Weekend on Jan. 24-26, this month could mark a new chapter in their lives—one in which they’re running their own businesses.

Run by Techstars, Startup Weekend is a nationwide event that encourages community members to develop an idea into a successful business venture. Locally, it’s hosted by CSU-Monterey Bay’s Institute for Innovation and Economic Development (IIED), which aims to engage those with an interest in working for a startup.

“Anyone who’s ever dreamt of being an entrepreneur, who has an idea for a business—this is their chance,” said Mary Jo Zenk, program director at the institute and a local organizer of the startup weekend. “It’s a low-risk way of testing out your idea, and gives you a chance to network with other entrepreneurs.”

Startup Weekend kicks off the afternoon of Jan. 24 in Seaside, where participants will have a 60-second window to sell others on their idea (in years past, upwards of 50 business ideas have been pitched). Participants are encouraged to sign up by Jan. 20, though applications will be accepted up until the 24th. Cost is $99 for participants; $49 for students. Students from Monterey Peninsula College, Gavilan College, Hartnell College and Cabrio College can enter for free.

Only the top 10-15 contestants will be selected for a grueling, 54-hour marathon where teams comprised of all participants will conduct market surveys, relay feedback to product developers and designers, and formulate a business plan. The format ensures that those with backgrounds in product development, accounting and graphic design will be in high demand. 

The weekend is supported by Google for Startups, which means there will be experts in various disciplines to coach participants on marketing, coding, design and bookkeeping. As a bonus, CSUMB’s Makerspace, a creative commons located in the campus library, will be available for contestants to use. They’ll have access to a variety of technologies to test out products and design marketing materials. 

“We really hope contestants make use of the facility,” said Makerspace coordinator Rachell Hester. “We’re usually just open for students, staff and faculty, but this weekend we’ll have our 3D printers, software modeling programs, laser cutters, VR headsets and color printers available. Once students find out we’re here, they’re delighted to use the facility.”

Startup Weekend is part of a broader initiative by the IIED to spur job growth in the region. Zenk said that she’d like to see a number of these businesses go on to compete in Startup Challenge Monterey Bay, an event for startups with more advanced business plans.

But for some, the prize is in networking with others looking to start a company. Zenk recalled what one CSUMB business student told her a few years ago: “He just called his Dad and said ‘I know you just paid the tuition bill. Thank you. After this weekend, it was all worth it.’”

Startup Weekend is Jan. 24-26 at CSUMB’s University Center, located at 4314 Sixth Ave in Seaside. For more information visit https://csumb.edu/iied/startup-weekend-2020.

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Matthew Koller