Start off with a big idea. Pitch it. Pull together a team – and produce an amazing startup over 52 hours. That was the mission for nearly 125 participants in Vancouver at Startup Weekend last week, and the winning teams are now ready for a global competition. In the next round, the top winners will go on to compete and potentially bring the big win back to Vancouver in the Global Startup Battle.
How did they do it? What did they learn along the way? What’s next? We caught up with the big winners and got their insights on how to build your own startup dreams.
Grade 11 students Madeleine Liu and Angela Wang created Culitech, their first-place winning idea of creating detachable cutlery that can detect allergens, toxins and nutritional content. “This was a phenomenal experience and it was incredible meeting a lot of mentors and industry experts who were there to help us,” Liu said.
“We learned perseverance was the key to everything.”
– Madeleine Liu,
As with any other startup, resources and timing didn’t always go Culitech’s way – but the team stuck to its guns. “We learned perseverance was the key to everything. Some people on our team realized they couldn’t contribute the way they said they could and people tried to persuade us to join other teams. But we persevered and in the end, we got through it.”
Sam Newman-Bremang is a Manager Consultant who splits his time between Vancouver and Toronto and didn’t even intend to take part in the competition – but ended up winning third place for Draft Madness, a fantasy sports drafting platform. Instead of going with a standard draft formula that many fans have in their ‘office pool’, which is akin to a raffle, “this is more like a stock market. To start with, you value teams, do a live auction up front and then bid on them against your friends.”
“I came out thinking I’d help with someone else’s business, but then I was asked if I had a pitch,” Newman-Bremang said. “I realized there was something I’d wanted to work on for years and even though I wasn’t expecting to pitch, it caught on. I’m telling all my corporate friends, I’ve seen the other side of the Matrix!” Newman-Bremang says one of the biggest lessons he learned is the importance of communicating ideas clearly; while he and a group of friends back in college knew this system like the back of their hand, explaining it new a new group of people forced him to refine the message.
Valerie Song had the biggest team in the competition, with 13 people helping to put together Ava, a startup focused on “indoor farming units” that are self-sufficient – essentially, a garden in your kitchen.
While organizers at the beginning of the competition cautioned participants to keep their groups small and nimble, she found that having the right talent on hand was just what they needed – thanks to some diligent management. “Everyone had a unique niche of expertise, including someone who had worked on a vertical farm.”
The team ended up refining the initial idea for the startup over the course of the weekend after doing more research into power and light management, ultimately producing an idea that caught on. “People kept saying they wanted to see something like that in their own home. If you really believe in an idea, it will carry itself – no matter how often you forget to rest or eat. Passion for something really big helps drive you forward.”
The finalists took home $16,000 in sponsored prizes to foster their startups’ success. It’s just one more sign of the vibrancy of startup culture in Vancouver, according to Sean Elbe, Vancouver Economic Commission (VEC) Technology Sector Development Manager, on hand to support the event. “With the steady growth of startups emerging within Vancouver, we expect up to 15,000 jobs opening up within just the tech sector alone,” he said.