By ANDREW MOORE
Reporter with Silicon Hills News
The University of Texas at San Antonio held its inaugural 3 Day Startup event last weekend.
Friday afternoon, 35 students began working to create startups with viable business models within a 52 hour deadline.
At the final presentation Sunday evening, the students pitched six startups to a panel of judges, including Flashscan3D CEO Mike Troy, CEO and President of Liquid Networx Don Douglas, and Harvey Najim Center for Business Innovation and Social Responsibility Director Suz Burroughs.
“What we have done today here is begin to introduce entrepreneurship across the campus,” UTSA CITE Assistant Director and 3DS mentor Anita Leffel said. “All of you are in one way or another entrepreneurial. You will be more willing to take these risks, to stand up and fight and work for what you believe in and for improving our city.”
Leffel led the 3DS mentoring team along with entrepreneur and angel investor Michael Girdley. The mentoring team also included Cole Wollak of SA New Tech, Nathan Roach of RAM Law Firm and Greenhouse, Ev Kunetsov of Rackspace, Richard Ortega of TrueAbility, Andrew Trickett of the UTSA Texas Sustainability Research Institute, Jerry Wassum and others. UTSA’s CEO student organization helped organize and recruit for the event. The 80/20 Foundation sponsored the 3 Day Startup.
While it’s the first 3 Day Startup at UTSA, it’s not the first one in San Antonio. Rackspace hosted the first two 3 Day Startup programs at its headquarters a few years ago. Since then, Geekdom has hosted several 3 Day Startup programs. The program originated at the University of Texas at Austin and has since gone global as a way to easily teach entrepreneurship in a weekend.
Out of the 35 original students at UTSA, 28 made it to the final presentation. The others dropped out. The program is not easy. It’s demanding. And few of the participants sleep. Throughout the weekend, the students worked on creating business models with the lean canvas approach. They learned verbal strategies to explain their ideas concisely and court potential customers. They did primary research – talking to San Antonio businesses about their ideas and changing them if no one was interested. They practiced pitching over and over while getting constant input from mentors.
At the final presentation, some of the business models were completely different from the original idea, which is quite common in the 3 Day Startup process.
One of the startups, Smart Bar Technologies created a bottle-weighing pad that helped bar owners keep track of their most expensive spirits. They plan to design an app for the pads that will allow bar owners to monitor the bar in real time and find out if their bartenders are over pouring or giving away drinks. While the team knew they wanted to do something to help bars, their idea constantly changed throughout the weekend.
“We pivoted nine times,” said Luis Sauceda, the Smart Bar Technologies’ presenter. “We went from a machine that would pour drinks for you, to an application that will show you how to bartend, then we were going to do solar panels, and then we came back to this.”
Another team changed their idea completely. The resulting startup, Gift Gram, is a mobile app that sends personalized video messages along with a digital gift card. The app generates revenue by taking a portion of its gift card sales — possible because they can get a discount buying cards in bulk — and by selling premium video message templates.
Schedutary, which also had changes, is a mobile calendar app that – after some initial data input and use – can guess what appointments a user might have in the future and will reschedule existing appointments by notifying the user of free time in the future. The app will also be able to sync with existing calendar applications such as Google Calendar. The team also wants to tie the app to Facebook, so friends can find out if the user is busy and why.
Several original startup ideas withstood the three days of testing. Emergensleep designed an enclosed, rectangle-shaped sleeping pod, inspired by Japanese capsule motels, that can be quickly deployed when needed or stacked to gather like red solo cups when not in use. Nick Villarreal, who had the idea ready for 3DS, envisions the pods being used in disaster relief situations in place of traditional cots because pods are faster to set up and stackable as bunks.
“Ninety two million people are how many people were displaced worldwide by disasters last year. What do you do when that many people have no place to sleep?” Villarreal asked. “It takes a lot of time to set up a whole bunch of cots. You have to figure them out and put them in a spot. This one you can just pull out and place in that spot.”
Engineer-aiding startup Listo also got their idea through unscathed. Listo is a web application that combines parts catalogs for different construction industries into one list on one website, simplifying the process of finding and buying specific parts for engineers. Eventually, the Listo team wants to make the lists searchable by industry, part availability, price, and so on. The startup will make money from both ads and premium listing options from manufacturers.
The most popular idea at Fridays pitch meeting, Kommingle, also made it through to the final presentation. Created by Anton Moczygemba, Kommingle is a web based app that allows restaurants to push out special coupons at strategic times to get more traffic. The application is designed with a map so users can see what deals are available at what times. Additionally, however, the app helps friends organize group discounts at specific restaurants were the discounted rate increases with the size of the group. Kommingle will charge participating restaurants a one-time activation fee as well as a monthly fee.
While some presentations were rockier than others, panelist Susan Burroughs was impressed with many of the business concepts.
“I think a lot of them were very, very strong. In the first idea, I really enjoyed seeing somebody presenting from storytelling and from their heart rather than being an actor and having everything memorized,” Burroughs said. “I also felt like the last presentation was incredibly strong (Emergensleep – stackable sleeping pods.) I absolutely love social enterprise and the idea that you can do significant good in the world while still making a profit and paying your rent.”
Both Burroughs and fellow panelist Mike Troy have participated in several 3DS events. Troy believes 3DS is invaluable in showing students how the real world works.
“There is so much in school about being right. The real world operates on, ‘do the best job you can in a certain amount of time that you are given,’” Troy said. “Be okay with that, you know, and then come back and revisit it later if you really need to.”