Startup Weekend: Or: How to Become Gainfully Unemployed Within 54 hours

Startup Weekend, in its simplest formulation, is an intensive business camp for geeks who don't like their bosses and would prefer not to have one. Except that "geek," in its broadest application, now tends to include about half of the people you know: people who are making things for, about, or are intended to be sold on the internet or cell phones.

Since 2007, the Startup Weekend organization has hosted over 450 such events—including five in Portland—and boasts that over 5,000 ventures have been started as a direct result of its activities, with over $30 million in venture capital raised.

So on Friday evening, at the Portland State University Business Accelerator building, more than 70 people arrived with ideas for an entrepreneurial business; still more software engineers and marketers arrived hoping to attach themselves to someone else's project.

These 70 pitches arrived in rapid-fire succession. The presenters had only 60 seconds to make the case to the crowd that their business proposals were interesting or viable, in arenas ranging from Christian fundraising applications, to beer-oriented social networking, to apps helping one find playdates for puppies. A giant projected timer ticked away ominously behind each presenter as they pitched their proposals to the crowd.

With few exceptions, these were ideas that veered toward the intangible world of cloud services, phone applications and web tools. Phone apps, especially, were popular targets for moneymaking schemes—although in many cases, the revenue stream was not immediately discernible.

From these, the crowd voted on their favorites of the business proposals, winnowing the field down to 17. Those whose ideas were not chosen—or those who brought with them a skill set but not a project—then chose to be on one team or another for the rest of the weekend. 

Over the course of 54 hours, these 17 teams are expected to drum up a full-fledged business proposal, conduct marketing research and in some cases even build a tentative product—essentially, to launch a business in a weekend.

For the sake of motivation, if nothing else, these 17 companies are pitted against each other for the affections of judges ensconced in the tech and business communities, with a final judging ceremony to take place on the evening of Sunday, April 29.

Over the course of the next few days here on, I'll be following the travails of one of these would-be companies, with the working title "Shop My Pins," as the project moves from idea to proposal and possibly even viable company. 

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