Welcome to Dreamland: Tampa Startup Weekend Day 1

Last night, fifty or so of Tampa’s biggest dreamers got together at the HCC campus on Dale Mabry, hoping to start the next Facebook, Instagram, Angry Birds, or Elf Yourself. Ambition comes in various forms, and Startup Weekend is the place to see that. I’ll be posting a few updates over the weekend as Startup Weekend Tampa unfolds.

Startup Weekend has become a national and international phenomenon, with groups gathering in cities from New York to Ulan Bator to pitch ideas to each other, form teams, then spend a frantic 54 hours honing concepts, business plans, and often, the first version of a product. The events skew heavily to the tech world and towards young go-getters, but the generous smattering of gray heads at the first night of Tampa’s 6th annual event showed that hegemony isn’t absolute.
Even the older folks mostly adopted the aggressive cheerfulness and optimism that necessarily defines the public face of startup culture. During the greeting from the organizers, the attendees were put through the paces of a series of icebreakers involving clapping, stomping, and coming up with pitch ideas based on random words.

Then we were on to the pitches proper, from about 30 of the 60 attendees. Some of the ideas are vague and doomed: plans to help people write better resumes, or encourage more people to play music. Others are silly, but in the perfect tech-culture way: an entirely alcohol-themed social network, or a photo app that adds a comical head-crushing animation to pics of your friends. And some ideas are really great: an app to crowdsource “Help Wanted” signs for teens.

After the pitches, everyone gets post-it notes for voting purposes, and we circulate through a large classroom deciding who gets to form teams to work on ideas over the weekend. During the voting, the conversational volume goes through the roof. The default setting for aspiring tech entrepreneurs, it seems, is to smile, shake your hand and ask what you do (and then, if you’re not a developer or designer, to politely move on).

After about 20 minutes, the emcee asks, “Can someone please start us off with a slow clap?” In typical smiley tech-culture form, "slow clap" here doesn’t mean the detached, ironic, limp-wristed kind intended to break the spirits of a blowhard, but a swiftly-accelerating thunder of affirmation. This signals that the results are ready — the top 11 teams, who will actually be the beneficiaries of hundreds of man-hours' worth of labor that the workers paid for the right to give away.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the qualifying pitches from Tampa’s startup weekend:

  •  Mammoth, A job board tailored specifically for startups.
  •  Checkmate, which has something to do with online ads.
  •  Bar Back – the social network for barflies.
  •  “I Crush Your Head” video meme generator.
  •  The Job Buddy – crowdsourcing Help Wanted information.
  •  An online yoga teaching platform.
  •  Pitcher Perfect — pitch coaching service.
  •  A social traveling app for sharing plans and photos with friends.
  •  Software for automating the government proposal process.
  •  Mi Mechanic — An online resource for DIY car maintenance. 
  •  The Best Idea Ever, of the Week — A weekly online startup pitch competition. (How meta.)

If they’re lucky, these ideas will someday have a chance to turn into management nightmares and shattered dreams and cost overruns. The founders that now cheerfully draw wireframes on walls with chalk may someday huddle in a broom closet crying because they can’t make payroll and have no customers.

But that all comes later. Startup weekend is the fun part, and we’ll be checking in a few more times with our teams. Stay tuned.