April 3rd 2012
By Jeff Morganteen
STAMFORD — Amee Patel and Michelle Larivee came to Old Town Hall from the Wharton School in Philadelphia, where as business graduate students, they became acquainted with the complex world of student loans. Which is why they spent most of this past weekend hunkered down with several strangers discussing a business plan for an online service that helps students pay down their debt.
“As the bills came in, we realized we collected stress and frustration with the student debt process,” Larivee said. “All of our friends were in the same boat.”
The business students were among more than 60 fledgling entrepreneurs who flocked to Old Town Hall on Atlantic Street for the Stamford Innovation Center’s first annual Startup Weekend, which organizers described as a 54-hour “hack-a-thon.”
Beginning on Friday night, nearly 50 participants pitched a sketch of their business plans and those with the most viable ideas formed teams to develop the product or service with the guidance of experienced mentors.
On Sunday, a panel of judges will crown three teams as winners, with the recipient of the grant prize receiving $31,000 worth of prizes and development services, according to Ted Yang, an organizer and founder of the Stamford Innovation Center, which provides office space and services for startups inside Old Town Hall.
The Stamford Innovation Center provided participants with food and drinks as they sat around folding tables and brainstormed their business plans for most of Saturday with laptops and notebooks.
The participants ranged in ages and experience. The successful pitches varied from an online learning center for children with learning disabilities to more consumer-minded online shopping services. Yang said the goal was innovation and collaboration.
“You get people who are more spur of the moment, and you’ve got people who have thought about it a little more, and you’ve got people who maybe have started working on it a little,” Yang said.
“If it’s too developed, we really don’t want them to pitch.”
Throughout Saturday’s conferencing sessions, mentors with specific areas of expertise visited the groups and helped them develop their plans. Some focused on marketing; others provided legal advice, and a few, like, Doug Campbell, offered management tips.
Campbell, a Darien resident, coaches executives, teaches entrepreneurship and has founded five of his own businesses.
“My whole philosophy is that startups and small companies are the engine drivers of this country,” Campbell said.
One of the startups that caught Campbell’s eye belonged to Linda Woods, a veteran of several online startups who lived just outside Boston.
She came to Old Town Hall armed with one of the more fleshed-out ideas, a business named AgriComm that provides commodities traders with real-time weather data, which allows them to make better decisions and market predictions.
She has a friend who created a weather analysis system that could provide the traders with better data than they already use, Woods said.
Campbell said she participated in the Stamford Startup Weekend after botching her introduction speech during a similar event in Boston.
She had time to perfect her pitch before the Stamford event, which helped her attract a “dream team” with a strong finance background.
Woods said she hopes to keep in touch with the team members as her business concept continues to develop.
“I would love to, if they are willing,” she said.