Editor’s note: Last weekend’s Startup Weekend at the University of Oklahoma proved that you can take an innovative idea, put together an ad hoc team of eight creative people and at the end of a marathon 54-hour development session emerge with a winning idea. That’s how it happened for Jared Rader and Jorge Marzola, a pair of i2E Fellows who took their idea to OU’s Startup Weekend and came away as winners of the third annual event. The team led by our Fellows created a mobile app called VocaLens, which can take pictures of images with text and read it aloud to the user. Here is an account written by Jared on how they took an idea, pitched and created a business all in one weekend. Jared is a graduate of OU, while Jorge is an MBA candidate at Oklahoma City University.
Startup Weekend began Friday evening with a Pitchfire round in which you had 60 seconds to pitch your business idea to the participants. My pitch for VocaLens was one of 27 awesome pitches, and I was a little worried that it wasn’t as sexy as some of the other ideas.
However, we made it through the voting round and ended up with a team of eight OU students.
Within that weekend, we would truly experience the ‘lean’ methodology of starting a business. We spent two days aggressively calling up potential users, researching the market, and analyzing competing products.
By Sunday night, we had a 5-minute presentation, complete with a problem, solution, a prototype that our incredible developer Joel Maupin created, and target market. We were one of 10 remaining teams that presented before a panel of local entrepreneurial experts.
When the judges came out and announced that VocaLens was the Startup Weekend winner, Jorge and I couldn’t have been more ecstatic. We had just started talking about the idea the day before the event and figured, what the heck, let’s take it to Startup Weekend.
Jorge came up with the idea while studying, wishing he could take a picture of his reading and listen to it while he did other things.
After talking to a number of potential users, however, we realized the app could also be a valuable tool for children learning to read, people with dyslexia, and those trying to learn English as a second language. After this validation period, we pivoted our initial marketing strategy to focus on these groups.
The winning prize includes $250 that we can spend toward continued development of the product and further consulting sessions with OU’s Center for the Creation of Economic Wealth, the organization that hosted the event. Jorge and I have already begun mapping out our next steps and look forward to continuing validation of the idea and developing a working product.
I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity to have participated in Startup Weekend. It had all the elements entrepreneurs need to jumpstart their ideas: open work spaces, industry mentors, and a random dance party.
The event, which was one of 10 Startup Weekends worldwide, was OU’s largest yet, bringing more than 80 people together.
If there’s one thing Startup Weekend taught me, it’s this: If you think you’ve got that an interesting business idea, start calling up people now and asking if they would use it. You’ve got nothing to lose, and maybe, just maybe, you’ll end up starting your own business.