For the second year in a row, the Northwest Arkansas Startup Weekend returned to Fayetteville to bring entrepreneurs and innovators to the northwest corner of the state.
This year’s events were held at the Brewer Family Entrepreneurship Hub, and it was once again organized through Techstars Startup Weekends, an international company that has put on similarly styled events in more than 150 countries around the world. The signature sponsor of the event was Fayetteville’s own Startup Junkie.
The NWA Startup Weekend is designed to foster education for up-and-coming entrepreneurs.
The first day’s events included pitching ideas, listening to guest speakers and forming teams to work on the creation of prototypes of those ideas. Teams began building early in the morning, and save for a few breaks for lunch, dinner and one-on-one coaching from some special guests, worked well into the night.
The final day some last minute revisions and final touches were applied, and then the big winners of the weekend were selected by a three-judge panel consisting of Dylan Enright, of the XX Fund, Rebecca Black of RevUnit and Meagan Bowman with OneStone.
First Place – Vibage
The team at NWA Startup Weekend for Vibage consisted of Jacob Evans, Tyler Tracey, Daniel Power, Kyle Sadler and Matthew Sij. They created an app that serves as a collaborative, community-driven music platform.
Essentially, Vibage performs as a crowdsourced music queue, very similar to a modern-day jukebox, albeit with a lot more interactivity. Anyone with a smartphone can add songs to the queue at a given location and all the songs within the queue are voted on by “likes” from everyone else connected at that place. The songs are then weighted, and they play in order from most likes to least.
The idea for such an app came to Tracey when he and friends would fight over auxiliary cords, constantly having to unplug a phone each time one or the other wanted to play a song. He wanted a simple way for all of them to connect to the same stereo output with the ability to personalize what songs they listened to, from their own devices.
As much of a game changer something like Vibage is for a group of friends listening to music, for business owners it is revolutionary. Coffee shops, bars and restaurants can utilize Vibage to not only provide the “vibe” that their patrons desire, but also promote customer engagement and retention. Most importantly, any subscription fees that a business pays to use Vibage includes the legal licenses to play the music.
Evans served as the UX and business plan developer for Vibage at the NWA Startup Weekend. Currently a senior at the UA, Evans holds a deep passion for optimizing relationships through emerging technologies and intends to be at the forefront of innovation in technology and user experience.
After finding success in a first-place prize in April, Evans is returning to his own startup retail software platform called Snag.
“Startup weekend was one of the most empowering events that I have been able to be a part of during my time here in Northwest Arkansas,” Evans says. “Each and every person on the Vibage team and the mentors and the judges were thought leaders in the conversation of technological business development. Entrepreneurship is a growing ecosystem here in Northwest Arkansas and Startup Weekend is critical for what ventures this area can accelerate forward in the near future.”
Best Design – Flip
The Flip design team was led by Canon Reeves, founder of MORE Technologies and a junior at the UA. He was joined by Nick Seward, Kaushik Ramini, Rex Hearn and Peyton Smith. They created a 3D printer designed to, as he says, “make a ‘flip-ton’ of stuff in a short amount of time.”
What sets Flip apart from a standard 3D printer is the output it can provide. Instead of a limited printer with only one head, Flip uses multiple heads – as many as 16 in total. Since all the heads operate on a grid, they all produce the same thing at the same time. This significantly reduces the amount of time required to mass produce a particular product.
It may sound fairly straightforward and simple, but the idea and execution were far from it.
“On top of the technical challenges (is the 3D printer) needs to be easily serviced and capable of running non-stop for days at a time,” Reeves says. “Luckily, we have a good bit of experience using 3D printers in a production environment. Our company, MORE Technologies, makes 3D printed robot kits that teach tech and problem-solving skills to the next generation of innovators, entrepreneurs and engineers. We built a ‘farm’ of 3D printers in the fall of 2018 and have since then been thinking about ways to improve it.”
They had the idea for Flip on a road trip earlier this year in what was initially just a way for them to scale 3D printing as a manufacturing method. They quickly realized that if they were having the same problems, other companies probably were as well. The NWA Startup Weekend solidified that belief, and now they are on to the NSF I-Corps Summer Program at the UA to develop their first prototype with some of the program’s provided funding.
“As of now our plans are to design, build and test Flip within our own company while also exploring if there would be a market for it outside of us,” Reeves says.
Honorable Mention – Sider
Omar Kasim worked alongside Kanat Bektemirov and Maggie Owens to create a freelancing platform that connects local small business owners with local college students.
At only 25-years-old, Kasim has already made entrepreneurial waves in the state of Arkansas, and Sider is no exception. The UA graduate is also the founder and owner of the fusion taco restaurant Con Quesos and the smoothie and juice bar Juice Palm. It was through these food and beverage endeavors that the necessity of a product like Sider first came to Kasim.
Upon opening his first restaurant, Con Quesos, Kasim could not afford to hire a large marketing firm to help him create the branding for his new taco joint. So, he went the route of existing freelance platforms but was discouraged by the results delivered to him by remote freelancers who could never quite grasp his vision. Finally, he reached out to a friend of his at the UA who was majoring in graphic design and ultimately provided him with a logo that fit Con Quesos perfectly.
After that experience, Kasim jobbed out everything he needed for the restaurant – from graphic design to photography – to local college students.
Sider is the solution to a Catch-22. Small business owners often have specific needs, such as marketing or web design, that they do not always possess the expertise or excess funds to effectively do. On the other side, college students who do not have time to work during college often graduate with little or no experience in their field of study. Sider connects these two demographics to eliminate both problems.
The small business owner gets to hire a local college student to fulfill the specific freelancing need, which saves the business money in the long run and makes it a more personal experience with much better results than hiring a remote freelancer with no local connection.
The student is able to attain experience through the flexibility of a freelancing work schedule, while also getting paid for their work.
Kasim and his team are preparing for the operation launch of Sider at the UA in the fall. Their projected plan is to expand to three universities in year one, and in their second year of operation they hope to expand to 10.