Bring 30 innovative thinkers of different ages, skills and backgrounds together in one room, and something interesting is bound to happen. Such was the case this past weekend at the second annual  Panama City Startup Weekend, hosted by the Business Innovation Center (BIC) located at FSU-Panama City. College students, active duty military, veterans, and regular folks met Friday evening at Gulf Coast State College’s Advance Technology Center to see if any of their ideas for a business or product could inspire others to help them take it from mere concept to a minimum viable prototype or business plan.

This is the BIC’s second year to help organize Startup Weekend (SUW) in Panama City, but this event is by no means confined to Bay County. In fact, the non-profit Startup Weekend organization conducted over 1800 events in 120 countries around the world in 2014. BIC Executive Director Pamela Kidwell embraces her organization’s role in arranging this event with broad community support. “The BIC’s mission is fostering entrepreneurship in our community. We are proud to be a part of such a unique event.”

Friday evening’s guest speaker Travis Perry, creator of the Chord Buddyand Shark Tank here, mixed homespun humor with solid business experience to opened attendees’  eyes to the opportunities and challenges surrounding innovation and entrepreneurship. Participants then had one minute each to explain their idea. The audience voted to select six ideas they thought had real potential: MASTERMIND GROUP, a web-based support  group to help entrepreneurs better stay their course through mutual accountability; FIND MY ART, a smartphone app to help organize art scavenger hunts; CRUZEN, a waterproof bicycle seat cover; CHECK MY REP, another smart phone app and website geared to engage and help the “smartphone generation” understand and track legislation as well as  their representatives’ voting records; THE BOX, a kiosk that allows consumers to design or customize objects to have 3-D printed; and a non-stick shoe sole, which morphed over the weekend into THE BEER BUDDY, a disposable device to help drinkers more safely “shotgun” canned beverages. By collaborating with other SUW participants and help from local community coaches from a variety of business backgrounds and industry expertise, entrepreneurs can determine whether an idea is feasible or can be profitable enough to take it to the next step or not.

Watching total strangers embrace this concept was fascinating in itself. Each team worked through the weekend, fleshing out their idea with market research, business processes and financial modeling. Some devised and field-tested a working prototype.  Sunday evening, each team gave it their best shot with well-crafted 4-minute presentations to a panel of three judges: local attorney Andrew Levy; Chipola College School of Business & Technology Dean Dr. James  Froh; and Jellyfish Health COO Patrick Leonpacher. After careful deliberation, the judges awarded First Place for Innovation & Design and a $1200 certificate for consultation services to the Business Innovation Center (BIC) to the BEER BUDDY team. Second place for a winning Business Model and a $500 BIC certificate went to CRUZEN to help formalize a working plan and production models for a low-cost, American-made waterproof bicycle seat cover. Third place and a $250 BIC certificate fell to FIND MY ART to help move forward with an app to give better organization and greater accessibility to art scavenger hunts that are already taking place across the globe.

All six projects, however, have potential. They are totally different products reaching different markets, all beginning with an idea some 54 hours beforehand, now ready to move forward with a better understanding of the promise and pitfalls of turning a concept into a business reality.

Jamie Shepard
Consultant, Business Innovation Center

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