On February 18th and 19th, Launch League hosted the third installment of SparkAK – Akron’s Entrepreneurship Weekend. The purpose of SparkAK is to give local innovators the opportunity to execute on business ideas with guidance from mentors and local startup founders.
The morning of the event was full of energy – six teams gathered at the OSC Tech Lab bright and early Saturday morning, and brainstorming started before the coffee even arrived. Most team members met for the first time on the spot, and had the challenge of finalizing an idea to focus on within the first few hours. Participants ranged from professionals to freelancers, entrepreneurs and students; from both tech and arts backgrounds. Some individuals came with ideas, others with companies already formed, looking to scale. Some people came just to join a team and support in any way they could.
Launch League opened the event with a brief overview of the day and the challenge to select an idea to work on the first morning. Early in the afternoon, mentors joined the teams and helped to refine their ideas. Mentors included:
- Keevan White, Founder, Whitespace Creative
- Dan Hampu, New Ventures Manager, The University of Akron Research Foundation, Executive Director, NEO Student Venture Fund
- Paolo Appley, Product Designer, LeanDog
- Elyse Ball, CFO Ascent Innovation, Project Manager, The University of Akron Research Foundation
By the end of day one, teams had completed business model canvases, worked on financial models, and re-worked business plans. Some ideas were thrown-out and pivots occurred. By 7pm, most teams had completed work for the day, ready to pick it all up again the next morning.
By the morning on Sunday, teams returned ready for the pitch competition (some came back saying they had “5am epiphanies” about their ideas – that’s what we like to hear!). After fresh-made waffles for breakfast (an OSC Tech Lab-tradition), teams were coached on their pitches by Launch League Executive Director, Courtney Gras. Courtney, who has over 7 years of experience pitching for her own startup, guided the teams with a standard pitch deck format and helped refine content in lightning mentoring sessions.
Early afternoon, the teams moved to the Nightlight Theater for the final pitch event. Unlike other pitch events, this competition awarded one prize to each team, based on the team’s individual needs and ability to utilize the in-kind service prizes. The idea behind the judging was to mentor and guide the teams to success. Judges included local startup founders:
- Phil Brennen, Founder, Echogen, Akron, Ohio
- Dan Collins, Founder, Wastebits, Akron Ohio
- Andrew Holland, Founder, EYEMG Interactive Media Group, Akron, Ohio
Teams did an outstanding job with their presentations – some had live demos to show and others made videos to illustrate value propositions. Audience members included representatives from other entrepreneurial support organizations as well as local community members and press. Prizes were awarded and generously provided by:
- MAGNET – MVP Design & Development, awarded to Not Yo Daddy’s Hot Sauce to help them scale production
- The University of Akron iCorps Program – one program seat awarded to the Maker Duet Team to help them with market research
- Coffee and Code – one technical consulting session awarded to the Shoebox team to help them develop their cloud-based product
- The OSC Tech Lab – one free month of coworking awarded to the You Sensei team to help them with collaboration and identifying mentors for their product offering
- HeyNow Media – one hour of marketing consulting awarded to Urban Buzz to help with growth and scaling of their product line
- Business Plan Coaching (by Courtney Gras) – awarded to Rubber City Tales to help the refine their business model and approach to funding
From a personal perspective, it was incredibly motivating to sit in a room of people passionate about starting something and know that you’re not working alone. That there are other founders, even if they are from different background and in different stages in their entrepreneurial-pursuits that under what you’re going through and are there to support you. This event and its enthusiastic participants made Launch League proud!
On a final note, events like this don’t happen in a vacuum. Assistance from Akron is for Entrepreneurs and ArtsNow made SparkAK a diverse event for innovators and entrepreneurs beyond Akron’s tech community. Special thank you to Nervous Dog Coffee for fueling innovation throughout the event, and continuous thanks to the Burton D. Morgan Foundation for supporting Launch League operations since 2015! For more information on Launch League and how to get involved and support programming like SparkAK, please contact Courtney Gras: firstname.lastname@example.org.