An app that helps women on solo business travel find like-minded female professionals in their proximity, in real-time was the winner of the first-ever Pittsburgh Startup Weekend Women’s Edition. And the co-founder of the app, called Go Jane Go, believes the women-centric format was key to their success.
“We wouldn’t have won if there had been equal numbers of men and women,” in the audience, says Kate McDevitt Nichols. “I believe that to my core.”
McDevitt Nichols, who travels a lot in her job doing sales for Red Bull, says she tried to explain the concept for the app to her male coworkers and her husband, but none of them really got it. “They’ve never really been in the situation of being uncomfortable going into a bar alone. For [women] it’s inherently different, so in order for this idea to connect, it needed to be an audience predominantly of women.”
The idea Go Jane Go first came about when McDevitt Nichols was on a business trip in Chicago with free time in her schedule, but no idea how to spend it. It wasn’t that she was intimidated by a strange city, it was that she didn’t want to end up alone at a hotel bar knowing there were better options. And it was a situation she found herself on more than one occasion.
“I had no one to talk to or grab a bite with,” she says. “I didn’t want to spend another night in a hotel room in a cool city with nothing to do.”
She and her sister, Ellen McDevitt Saksen, had brainstormed about the idea for a while but didn’t know if it was a fit for Startup Weekend. They brought it anyway. “We didn’t have a whole lot of concrete plans, and didn’t know if the idea had legs,” McDevitt Nichols says. “We didn’t even know if we were qualified to be there.”
Startup Weekend is a worldwide entrepreneurial movement that helps would-be company founders learn the basics of launching a company. Part of the Seattle-based Techstars organization, there are Startup Weekend events in 100 countries and 580 cities.
Participants are divided into teams based on areas of interest and expertise, and are expected to bring an idea from concept to pitch-ready over the course of a weekend. Sunday night marked the end of the tenth Startup Weekend Pittsburgh event, and the first one focused on bringing more women into the startup community.
Held at AlphaLab’s headquarters in East Liberty, the SWP Women event came about because while participation in past events was strong, organizers noticed a lack of female participation. And while both men and women were welcome, there was a heavy female majority among the team members for this particular event.
Teams received coaching from local startup founders and experts including Ilana Diamond, managing director of AlphaLab Gear, and Marta Dalton, director of e-commerce at Coca-Cola. The judges for the event were local startup veterans themselves, including Hahna Alexander, CTO and co-founder of SolePower, Nicki Zevola Benvenuti, founder and CEO of FutureDerm, and designer Vicki Crowley of Landesberg Design.
Jackie Vesci, of the SWP Women organizing team said there was a total of 76 participants, and that they’re already seeking volunteers to help with another SWP for women. “We received so many positive and encouraging messages before, during, and after the event from participants, sponsors, volunteers—everyone really,” Vesci says.
For their first-place idea, the Go Jane Go team, which also included Sanjana Baldwa and Elisa Llera, wins a guaranteed interview at AlphaLab, three months free at coworking space Alloy26, a one-year membership in the Pittsburgh Technology Council, tickets to local tech events, and connections to other opportunities in the Pittsburgh tech scene. The resources will allow Go Jane Go to further develop their app, and build a base of subscribers and advertisers.
McDevitt Nichols says she’s hoping to keep the team intact as they move forward with the project, and offered advice to others considering a Startup Weekend to hone their idea, even one that’s not fully formed yet.
“If you have even the slightest inkling that your idea might be cool or fun, give it a shot,” she says. “Don’t come with any preconceived ideas, just try it. The collective group was amazing, and people were all helping each other, even people on different teams.”
The other ideas pitched at the Startup Weekend Pittsburgh Women’s Edition included:
WiStem (second-place winner): A program to encourage and assist women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) careers.
CapeDiem: An app to let users find ways to have “spontaneous fun.”
Fitness Snob: An app that matches users to fitness classes based on an algorithm.
Project Impact (the third-place winner): A platform that connects volunteers with last-minute volunteer opportunities.
Wandertrust (winner of the crowd favorite award): An app that matches travelers in different cities based on mutual interests.
Serial Bar: A social platform for mobile reading.
JellySelly: An e-commerce site for jelly beans (yes, the candy).
Barkeep: An app that crowdsources cocktails by ranking bartenders.
WeDo: A platform to help brides with do-it-yourself wedding planning.
Pawsona: A platform to make pet adoption easier.
Sing in Toon: An interactive mobile app using music and animation to motivate children with autism to speak.
Tiny School: a program to encourage creative thinking and innovation in education.