By Ian Panchèvre
Reporter with Silicon Hills News
Don’t tell anyone at Geekdom or Trinity, but I am a spy. I’ve harnessed my inner secret agent to assume a false identity – misrepresenting myself as an entrepreneur whose skills include the ever-so-vague “business strategy” and “ideation” – in hopes of being selected as a participant for 3 Day Startup.
What would I uncover if granted an opportunity to report on the event from the inside? Nefarious plots? Devious activity? Morally questionable practices? I could only imagine.
My ploy worked. It’s 1:30 AM and I’ve just returned to my abode after a fast-paced Day 1. Here’s how things went down:
First, it’s worth pointing out that for some nonsensical reason, the city decided to schedule a parade through downtown San Antonio on the same day as 3DS. Apparently there’s this thing called “Fiesta” going on. Clearly, the city didn’t think about the potential issues this scheduling decision would cause, because it absolutely wrecked havoc for 3DS participants. Closed streets and heavy traffic made navigating downtown exceptionally difficult. Very few people arrived to the event on time, yours truly was not excluded from the hassle.
I conquered this initial hurdle by parking a ways away and walking the rest of the distance – all while hoping (praying?) that the skies above did not suddenly release heavy rain during my period of vulnerability.
I made it to the 11th floor of the Weston Centre dry and in reasonably good spirits. Time to mingle. But first, let’s talk to people I already know because that’s easier than making new friends.
Okay, now we’re in the main room. Designers, developers, and “idea guys” of all ages were assembled together, listening to the event organizers introduce themselves, talk through logistics, and thank sponsors.
Now we are to break off into small groups. Stickers were carefully placed on our name tags, each representing an item or character that identified our pre-assigned group. I was seriously confused. My sticker looked like an urban street performer, and yet there was no such group. I eventually found the other, equally-confused, “wrestlers.”
“Groups A, B, and C would have been easier,” I thought to myself. But that probably wasn’t the point.
At this moment, the event became a little more personable. Prior to the small group sessions, a mixture of excitement and anxiousness stirred in the air. The mood relaxed once we were with a smaller group of peers.
Under the guidance of Greg Cerveny, a Geekdom community leader, we introduced ourselves and then briefly pitched our ideas.
Elvira Gonzalez, a 3DS veteran who is participating for the second time, explained that she “gained a lot of experience” the first time through, and so she “came back to learn more.” Gonzalez pitched two ideas to the group, a rating system for college athletic programs and coaches, and a parking tracking system for universities.
Paulo del Barrio, a UTSA student with a business background, was excited about the opportunity to “meet partners and supporters” for his project, an inventory management system for bars and restaurants.
Hector Villarreal, a young programmer, pitched his vision for an interactive whiteboard while noting that he was “learning so much and feeling comfortable pitching his idea.”
What came next would make the truest social Darwinist proud. Not everyone could win. Only one (or maybe two!) startup concepts would advance from each small group and earn the right to be pitched in front of the entire 3DS body.
My education startup, Prepd.In, was selected to advance. Success!
But I didn’t want to monopolize the opportunity. I, along with the rest of the group, encouraged Wesley Zernial to further develop his concept, a marketplace for grant writing, and pitch it as well.
At some point in this process, we became aware that food was available. Despite that insight, we decided to continue working on our pitches. The cost? My dinner was a slice of bread topped with corn. Darwin may also have some thoughts on that.
At any rate, we resumed our work; exploring ways of communicating our startup’s market opportunity and business model in a concise and persuasive manner.
Time to pitch. Prepd.In is called. I rise. I speak.
And now I listen.
The startup concepts that were presented ranged from the mature (DeansListJobs.com, 3D Pathos, Node Scanner, and CUBESpawn already had a bit of business and product development under their belts) to the interesting (Forever Young and Diversify Your Crowd sounded promising) and the redundant (I won’t name specific startups here, but plenty of them were pitching concepts that were already being done).
Once we completed the pitches and a brief Q&A session, we then voted as a group. Six startups were selected to be pursued during the remainder of the weekend.
The Republic of 3DS did not select my own.
Though disappointed, I can’t say that the outcome was entirely unexpected. My startup is pursuing a niche market opportunity that isn’t particularly flashy. And though I felt I had articulated a real opportunity for a viable, self-sustaining business, it ultimately didn’t resonate with an audience that would never use the product.
I was now face-to-face with “Dilemma.”
Do I join another group to be a good sport and roll with the nature of the event? Ah, but I so desperately want to devote my weekend to this project, my project, a real business, that I am actually starting! Do I go rogue and work on it anyway? If so, do I poach others from the established groups or do I fly solo?
While seeking advice from others, an interesting turn of events unfolded. Zernial, the other participant from my small group that pitched his startup – a marketplace for grant writing – had an idea.
His startup concept was actually selected. And since startups would be potential users of his product, he wanted to work with another startup to model his own endeavor off of.
“We can work together!” he reassured me. “And maybe we can file some grants for your business too.”
Okay, that sounds like a good deal.
The rest of the evening was spent in a conference room with a team of five other participants. After brief introductions, we got to work. We started by learning from Zernial the nature of the grant writing process. This exercise helped us identify actors and pain points. Then we hit Google. Soon enough, we had a shared excel sheet on Google Drive outlining all the “players” in our space. Limitations were identified, ideas were discussed, and the outline of a product began to emerge on a lean canvass mock-up.
Meanwhile, mentors frequently dropped in, asking us about our problem areas, differentiators, and ideas for monetization.
At one point, something rather miraculous happened. We went to GoDaddy to begin the ever-so-frustrating process of looking for domain names.
“I like grantsrus.com.”
“Nope, that’s taken too.”
“What about grantsforme.com?”
“Wow! It’s available.”
Ten dollars later, we had secured our company name and URL – GrantsFor.me
That was unexpectedly easy and exciting. We like the name and we like the overall business opportunity. Furthermore, I was flattered that the group voted me as their CEO.
Now the real work begins. Let’s get to it.
“Inside 3DS” is a series written by Ian Panchèvre. It covers Three Day Startup, which is an event organized by Trinity University and hosted at Geekdom, from the perspective of a participant. Stay tuned for Part II.
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