Startup Weekend Pittsburgh

One hundred or so bright-eyed energetic entrepreneurs will get their creative juices flowing at the sixth annual Startup Weekend Pittsburgh Nov. 21-23 at AlphaLab Gear and Thrill Mill in East Liberty.

The grassroots event is a three-day high-energy competition for passionate entrepreneurs looking to jumpstart ideas and build community. Teams form organically around the top ideas, determined by popular vote. A 54-hour frenzy ensues and culminates with presentations before a panel of local judges.

The event is modeled after a global entrepreneurial movement; similar startup events are simultaneously occurring in over 100 countries and 580 cities around the world.

“We have a real mix of participants. There’s a good student showing, but there are also professionals who compete for any number of reasons,” says co-organizer Jeremy Burton.  It’s the perfect arena for someone who may be doing “X” at their day job and has been kicking around an idea to try “Y,” he adds.

Other organizers include Pittsburgh innovation enthusiasts Lee Ngo, founder of Scholar Hero, and Kit Mueller, chief evangelist of RustBuilt.

Here’s how it works. Those with ideas for a startup pitch them to the entire group in 60 seconds. The group then votes on their favorite ideas and teams form to scheme, strategize and develop concepts for three days, bringing the ideas to fruition. Winners in previous years include the Tagalong Tours, an an app for travelers seeking points of interest in cities and neighborhoods, and Tailored Fit, an app that makes online shopping easier.

“It’s 100 strangers getting together to pitch ideas,” says Mueller who was instrumental in bringing the event to Pittsburgh. “The true goal is community building. Getting people in a room and colliding ideas.”

The winner is selected by a panel of judges based on the team’s business model, growth potential, customer validation, technical execution and design execution. Prizes include work space, consulting and technological subsidies, says Ngo.

Judges this year include Denise Desimone, founder and chairman of C-Leveled; Jose Amayo, chief technology officer of Mind Over Media and Tara Ronel, vice president of products and engineering of SnapRetail.

“Some of the most successful ideas are not the ones who win,” notes Burton.

Take the inspiration of Lee Ngo, for example. At the second Startup Weekend a couple years ago, Ngo and his team proposed an idea for an application that would assist with the writing efforts of professional academics.

“We got crushed by the competition,” he says.  It didn’t get the winning nod from the judges, but their idea evolved into Scholar Hero, a friendly platform that helps kindergarten through 12th grade students write and review one another.

“In the future we hope to release a mobile and tablet version of Scholar Hero that enhances the classroom technological experience in the classroom and beyond,” he says.

Ngo says that he and the other co-organizers and volunteers have worked tirelessly to raise enough scholarship money so that everyone can participate in this weekend “adrenalin rush.”

“We extended our outreach this time to the underrepresented, such as women, people of color and the designer community,” he says.

“I know it sounds cheesy, but winning isn’t everything. The whole thing is just a rush for anybody who likes creating anything,” says Burton.

Tickets for the event are still available.

Laurie Bailey

Laurie Bailey is a freelance writer who has reported for many local publications. When she isn't writing she serves as a media consultant for nonprofits and other local companies.