Techstars Startup Weekend

Our cofounders, President Michael Frentress and VP Kody Frazier, participated in a Techstars Startup Weekend event. Kody recaps their experience here:

This past weekend Michael and I had a great time participating in a Techstars Startup Weekend. These events take you through a crash-course in business development over a single jam-packed weekend, with opportunities to learn from mentors and to work with a team of people you would have otherwise likely never even met. For us, it was an opportunity to meet new people, step away from EIN for just a moment, and stretch our minds a little bit in new and exciting ways. We took a brand-new idea from concept to pitching it in front of business leaders in just 54 hours!

From the Techstars website:

At Techstars Startup Weekend, you’ll be immersed in the ideal environment for startup magic to happen. Surrounded by smart, passionate people and with the best tools and approaches at your disposal, you’ll take giant leaps toward creating a business, becoming a founder, and connecting with the right people and resources.

In just 54 hours, you will experience the highs, lows, fun, and pressure that make up life at a startup. As you learn how to create a real company, you’ll meet the very best mentors, investors, cofounders, and sponsors who are ready to help you get started. Your community is here to help you — find an event today!

Visit the Techstars Website to learn more about their program.

The event was hosted by the Ozarks Small Business Incubator (OzSBI) located in beautiful downtown West Plains, right in the heart of the Ozarks, and the home to our Operations and Billing departments. OzSBI provides essential startup and business development services to the region.

EIN is proud to be a Business Level member of OzSBI, and to help support business development and entrepreneurship in West Plains and the surrounding region. If you’re an entrepreneur, or even if you’re not sure about starting a business yet, I highly recommend looking into any incubators, accelerators, or small business development organizations in your local community. Being a business owner is difficult, especially when you’re first starting out, so take advantage of every opportunity you can find.

Visit the OzSBI Website to learn more.

For the competition, we brainstormed an idea about providing better access for citizens to interact with their local government in a way that lets all parties be aware of exactly with whom they’re interacting. Citizens know that everyone else remotely viewing a City Council meeting, or any other government function for that matter, are also local citizens in their community and not a random “troll” looking to disrupt citizen engagement. The concept could be built as a neutral platform that let municipalities sign up for the service for a small recurring monthly fee, which then allowed local citizens to register to be notified of any upcoming meetings and to submit documentation to the municipality to confirm their identity. The citizen could then remotely view the meeting, interact live with the city representatives, and instantly be more engaged. We called the idea Citizen Live.

I pitched the idea to the crowd of entrepreneurs and business mentors that had gathered for the event. In total 19 ideas were pitched this evening, but only four would go on to be developed over the weekend. Everyone participating in the weekend voted for their favorite ideas and the top ones were selected, and Citizen Live made the cut! After being selected as an idea that would be pitched to business leaders at the end of the weekend we set out to recruit our team from the other participants. We were lucky enough to snag Jim, a young developer still in college, and Nancy, a local artisan that we knew could provide the non-technical insight that we were desperately missing.

Starting Friday night we began developing the basic framework for how the concept could work in the real world. We tried to just dump out all of the ideas we could muster and see which ones really “stuck” before calling it a night. The tight focus of our ideas was really promising at this point.

By Saturday we had a better understanding of what the platform could really be, and that’s when we started making mistakes. To be clear we didn’t know we were making the mistakes at the moment, but a big part of this experience is realizing in retrospect where you could have focused better to have a more concise final product. First, we went too far down the road of trying to build a Minimum-Viable-Product (MVP) from a technical perspective. We should have been focusing more on the feasibility of the business and working on customer validation. Second, we started branching our ideas off into all the various implementations of the concept and found ourselves really excited about the prospect of for-profit and non-profit business applications. This was a problem because we had already hitched our wagon, so to speak, to the municipal government concept. We never really came all the way back to our original focus, and it showed at the end.

When it came time to make the pitch on Sunday evening I once again stepped up to the front of the room and explained to the judges why Citizen Live was such a great idea. Or at least, that was the plan. In reality, I went over our allotted time and wasn’t able to completely explain the concept, in particular, the financial projections that really made it a viable product. If we had completely removed the secondary and tertiary markets from the pitch we probably would have had better timing and a more polished presentation overall.  But, I think we showed that we were an excellent team that came together in just a few short days to develop something really interesting.

In the end, we came in 3rd, and I’m really proud of our performance. I was glad to have the experience and the opportunity to be a part of such a cool program right in my hometown. I’d like to thank OzSBI for hosting the event, Nathan Gregg for being our facilitator, and the judges and mentors for giving up their weekend.

Team Citizen Live was amazing because of the people involved, and I especially want to thank our teammates for making the experience so great! We ate a ton of sugary snacks, drank too much coffee, watched Jim show us some close-up card magic, and built something together. That’s awesome!


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