Weekend event in Chapel Hill tests startup ideas

rbutt@newsobserver.comNovember 16, 2013 

— People are downing lots of caffeine and burritos at the student union at UNC-Chapel Hill this weekend – not for final exams but for the dream of transforming their pitches into real startups.

The Triangle Startup Weekend brought more than 100 aspiring entrepreneurs to flex their startup muscles, with ideas ranging from analyzing cricket players to overcoming social awkwardness.

“We want people to have fun and have a sense of fearlessness in entrepreneurship,” said Avani Parekh, one of the main organizers behind the three-day event that started Friday.

Here’s how it works:

Attendees had to pitch their ideas in 60 seconds on Friday night, vote for the top ideas, form teams and set up their workspace. Ten coaches have one-on-one sessions with each team and provide “real-world” feedback throughout the weekend.

In Range, a location-based mobile app that helps combine different circles of interest, is one of the most popular pitches in the competition.

Karen Schaefer proposes several scenarios that can be solved with her app: finding the right person to chat about Scotch whisky at the airport gate, organizing a carpool to Whole Foods, and connecting with shoppers who went to the same high school as the user.

“I really want to launch this baby,” said Schaefer, a former software engineer at Cisco. “This competition is energizing and expanding my boundary.”

For Darshan Singh, it’s about capitalizing on an untapped market: “moneyball” for cricket.

“There are 1 billion people in India watching cricket on TV, but nobody came up with an advanced analysis of the players,” said Singh, who is now pursuing a doctorate in computer science at UNC.

He hopes to develop a model that provides insights about the best players and the probability of teams winning in a game, which would attract not only cricket fans but also gamblers and team managers.

Singh and other teams will present their ideas to a panel of judges and potential investors Sunday afternoon. The winner will get a six-month lease at 1789 Venture Lab, an incubator for younger businesses in downtown Chapel Hill; as well as free consultation from marketing, social enterprise, accounting and legal professionals.

It typically takes about a year for new startups to receive major funding, organizer Datt Patel said. He points to a couple of success stories from previous events, including Coursefork, a platform for open-sourcing educational material that received $30,000 and won a free incubator space; and Zaarly, a location-based online marketplace, which recently raised $15 million.

Butt: 919-829-4523

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