By: Niko Pifferetti
Betsy Potocik was an exception. She’s been a nurse for 28 years, longer than many participants have been alive.
Potocik experience demonstrates that Gainesville’s innovation economy knows no age barrier. Her idea resulted in one of the four winning ideas at Startup Weekend: an online database of nurses’ reviews of doctors and medical facilities around the country.
Potocik got the idea for the database when her son was being treated in Washington state for injuries he received while serving in the military in the Middle East.
She would only trust the opinion of other nurses in selecting doctors and hospitals to treat her son, she says.
Potocik’s idea might not have gotten off the ground without the help of the team that formed after she pitched her concept at Startup Weekend.
“I knew nothing about how to get idea online,” she says. “Nothing. These young men came up to me and wanted to be on my team.
“I had a designer, a graphic artist and marketing people. I had the front end and the back end. The eight people on my team became just as passionate about this as I am.”
The team included University of Florida students, Richie Gallione, Ben Sunter and Joseph Kanaan. Also part of the team was Steve Della-Valentina, Jeremy Holstein and Mark Venzke.
Potocik received all her support for free, a great deal compared to the $50,000 a local media agency quoted her to develop the website, she says.
“This weekend represented over $50,000 to me that I did not have, something that these young men gave to me,” Potocik says.
A Community of Entrepreneurs, Not a Coliseum
Potocik’s experience is what the local entrepreneurial ecosystem is all about, says Valerie Waid, president and CEO of ToneRite and one of the two original organizers of the event.
Waid and Anjali Kundra, attended a Startup Weekend in Tampa in 2011, and they’ve worked with others for the past year to bring the event to Gainesville, Waid says.
“It’s about passion, creativity, innovation and a community,” Waid says. “You can’t just be in it for yourself.”
Matthew Carroll, a member of the winning DropBeat team, isn’t it for himself. Already occupied with his own startup, ParkSmooth, Carroll nonetheless offered his time, creativity and highly sought Android development skills to other entrepreneurs at Startup Weekend.
One reason Carroll donated his time is because of the help he received in starting ParkSmooth (see www.parkatthegame.com) at a similar event, 3 Day Startup, held in March. That help has propelled him to success with his company, which helps property owners near Ben Hill Griffin Stadium temporarily sell their parking places to Gator game attendees.
“I want to go help any other startup that I can,” Carroll says. “We’re a community of entrepreneurs, not a coliseum of entrepreneurs. It’s not about the last man standing.”
Although the Gainesville startup scene has other resources for aspiring entrepreneurs, including the networking event “Startup Hour” held on the third Thursday of every month at 101 Downtown, most people at these events are already invested in building their own businesses, Carroll says.
Startup Weekend offer a valuable and rare opportunity for people to actually work together and produce a result, Carroll says.
“You can’t just go post fliers on the UF campus to get motivated people, especially with a startup. We don’t have any money; we can’t pay anybody. It’s all the belief that we will eventually have money,” Carroll says.
Student Maid Founder Lauds Collaboration
There’s no telling how many of the companies launched at Startup Week will become long-term ventures, but participating in such events has its own merit, says Student Maid Founder Kristen Hadeed.
“I wish I had the opportunity to participate in Startup Weekend before I began my journey as an entrepreneur. There is nothing more valuable than testing your idea to see if it’s viable,” Hadeed says.
Hadeed, who served as mentor during Startup Weekend, noticed how the collaborative environment helped the participants put supporting each other above winning.
Startup Weekend shows the potential for collaboration within Gainesville’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, Hadeed says. “There’s truly a community movement to become the Silicon Valley of the South, and there’s no doubt in my mind that it’ll happen.”
WHAT IS STARTUP WEEKEND?
It may have taken years for Gainesville’s startup community to form, but in only 54 hours of Startup Weekend Gainesville, at least four new companies and four new products emerged.
The three-day event allowed local entrepreneurs to pitch business ideas and join with a team that helped them do market research and present their finished product to seasoned entrepreneurs, business consultants and investors. A panel of judges
determined the companies with the best product.
The top honors went to the mobile application, Dropbeat, which its creators say will help people find the beat to any song.
Rob Castellucci, one of Dropbeat’s creators, describes the app as a “dance tool to make guys betters dancers.” Castellucci, who directs of the Gator Salsa Club, says many men struggle to find the beat of salsa music.
The Dropbeat team’s market research found that men who cannot find the beat are one of womens’ biggest pet peeves, Castellucci says.
The judges highly praised the complexity of Dropbeat’s algorithms, which are similar to applications like Shazam and Soundhound.
Judge David Whitney, who is the entrepreneur-in-residence at the University of Florida’s College of Engineering, praised the Dropbeat team’s presentation, which included a demonstration of the app by nationally-recognized business coach John Spence.
“Their presentation was fun,” Whitney says. “While entrepreneurship is hard work, it should also be fun.”
The four winning companies received affiliate membership in the Florida Innovation Hub at UF, the Santa Fe College’s Center for Innovation and Economic Development, and additional assistance from the Gainesville business community.
Second place went to MobileVet, an app that helps you find the most convenient vet for your pet and to pay for the services electronically. Tied for third place were Nurses’ Report is Sharkfin Smart Helmets.
Startup Weekend Gainesville is part of a global network of events managed by Startup Weekend, a nonprofit organization funded in part by the Kauffman Foundation.