Technology ideas bloom at Creighton's 3 Day Startup

Eric Gallery explains his PopularVote app at 3 Day Startup Creighton, a weekend during which students brainstormed, created and developed pitches for new businesses, with the help of mentors and judges. The event wasn’t a competition, but a way to get solid guidance on startups.

After Creighton University senior Emily Butz finished presenting her concept for DueIt, an app to manage a college student’s schedule, she heard the magic words from a potential investor.

“How much have you raised in funding, and can I write you a check?” said Mark Hasebroock, founder of Dundee Venture Capital.

Butz and her group were taking part in a tech startup venture at Creighton’s Heider School of Business that wrapped up Sunday night. It’s not a competition; the presentations didn’t end with a yes or no from investors “Shark Tank” style, despite Hasebroock’s vote of confidence. But each of the 27 participants — all students from Creighton, the University of Nebraska at Omaha and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln — left with a plan for a startup business, advice from new mentors and a seed planted with potential investors who came to hear their pitches.

The project, called 3 Day Startup Creighton, was led by Creighton senior Alexis Taylor.

Three days, she said, is a whirlwind, but just enough time to force action. More than 70 similar, student-led weekends have been held on college campuses worldwide.

“The philosophy is that you’ve just got to start doing something,” Taylor said. “If you think too much and don’t start executing, that’s where you get into a problem.”

The participants teamed up based on skill sets, so students with specialties such as design decide on the five best ideas they’d pursue after several hours of brainstorming. They conducted their own market research, spoke with mentors and entrepreneurs, and developed their prototypes through the rest of the weekend.

A panel of practice judges gave them feedback and advice to perfect the pitch for the real thing Sunday.

The groups didn’t actually launch the products this weekend, but they all developed plans to make money and designed mockups and prototypes. The judges, who also served as mentors during the weekend, offered feedback on strong aspects of the presentations and what aspects could use work.

The projects were tech-based, but their target audiences varied: a politics app allowing users to track the votes of their elected officials or bills on topics they care about; a site to connect plumbing and heating and air conditioning repair companies with potential customers based on their available time slots for service; and a matchmaking website that would link companies to potential interns based on their skill sets.

Butz, who is majoring in advertising and graphic design, said the DueIt app concept was a combination of several ideas discussed during the brainstorming sessions. It would sync course syllabus materials with calendars to help students stay on task and remind them about upcoming projects during blocks of free time.

They talked to college students throughout the weekend and read through comments on existing apps to look for ways to make sure their app would be useful and different.

The team worked till 1 a.m. each night, and Butz spent another two hours writing in her notebook in bed.

“I’ve lost track of how many cups of coffee I’ve had,” she said.

The experience was intense, but getting the real-life experience on a business plan is worth it, said Alex Paskevic, a Creighton senior majoring in business intelligence and analytics.

“At one point we’re talking over each other and getting our own ideas out because we’re so excited about it,” he said. “Other times we are stressed with so much more to do.”

Paskevic was part of the group pitching Golden Grail, an online community and marketplace for collectors. It was a concept that they all agreed they want to move forward with to a true launch.

Butz and her group hoped for the same, although thinking about the future took a backseat to perfecting their concept.

“You work on it so long, it becomes your baby,” Butz said. “You don’t want to let it go.”

That’s just what Taylor and the 3 Day Startup program are aiming for.

“We don’t want students to just get through this event and say ‘OK, we’re done,’ ” Taylor said. “They’re learning a lot of methodologies. We want them to take that and continue learning.”

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