It was already 2 p.m. on Saturday afternoon of Startup Weekend UW when a group of five collegiates realized their business idea was not going to work. There was an already-established competitor in the same space and a huge pivot was needed.
“We were that team huddling around the table going, ‘What are we going to do?’” recalled junior Will Voit.
And yet 24 hours later — a majority of them spent awake — the same five students were hugging each other in pure ecstasy after winning first place at the 54-hour hackathon inside the brand new Alder Hall on the Seattle campus.
The weekend started with 51 pitches Friday night, dwindled to 16 groups that made the cut and ended with presentations Sunday night in front of five judges from the local startup community.
It was fitting nomON won first place. Being able to adapt quickly, working extremely hard, and teaming up effectively as one unit — that’s what a successful startup is all about.
“We thought it was a team of students that did a really great job of talking about a problem and providing a fun way to solve it,” said Greg Gottesman, Madrona managing director, GeekWire contributor and judge.
Groups were graded on three categories — customer validation, business model and execution — and nomON seemed to meet those standards the best.
Those five UW undergrads came up with a mobile app that simplifies food delivery. You simply enter your location, how much money you’re willing to spend and the program picks a restaurant. The company already partnered with eat24hours.com to deliver the food.
“It speaks to what succeeds here,” junior Stephanie Halamek said of her team’s first-place win. “Your idea has to be simple, easy to use, easy to get, and beautiful and easy to make.”
The interesting part is that nomON is relatively random — customers won’t know whether spicy thai food or stuffed grilled burritos will be showing up at the door. If you don’t like a meal, the “Never Again” button will make sure the app never picks the restaurant again.
You could feel the passion and excitement when talking to the team even though they were running on little to no sleep.
“You don’t necessarily feel tired because you’re thinking about something you’re interested in with your idea or your project,” Voit said. “It’s more interesting than class because you’re learning many of the same topics, but it’s so much easier to apply it and actually have the desire to learn it and absorb it quickly.”
The nomON team is made up of five UW juniors who, for the most part, just met each other on Friday. They all study a variety of subjects — informatics, electrical engineering, marketing, accounting — and that spoke to the diversity of the participants this weekend. A majority of them were students, but there were also people in their 40′s and 50′s.
“In schools, we usually hang out with our discipline — engineers, designers, business people,” said Jenny Lam, another judge and founder of Jackson Fish. “This is a great way to interact with different people.”
There were several other impressive pitches, especially considering that these teams had less than three days to come up with something. Coming in second place was Tune Tether, a startup that allows friends to play songs at the same time on different devices via wireless sync. Taking third place was Get In Now, an app that allows merchants to alert customers when there are openings in a schedule.
Two fairly-ridiculous ideas were off-the-wall but still impressive. “Pickle Style” featured Pickles dancing to Psy’s Gangnam Style, while PerfectGuyBut provided an outlet for people to complain about what’s off with a potential partner. PerfectGuyBut already had nearly 10,000 page views by Sunday night.
The medalists received small prizes, with nomON members winning Windows Phones while the other top finishers took home Apple gift cards. But there didn’t need to be extravagant awards or promised seed money for Startup Weekend UW to have immense success.
“It’s just mind-blowing how this event went,” said Startup Weekend UW organizer Alex Diaz. “We had 80 people at our last one and 120 for this. We even had sponsorships from companies we didn’t even reach out to. It just ended up being a tremendous event.”
Startup Weekend, the Seattle-based entrepreneurial education non-profit, hosted 54-hour coding marathons all over the world this weekend. It’s a place where enthusiastic startup fans can pitch innovative ideas, work together in teams and make new connections — an entrepreneur’s playground, really.
“I know a lot of people who say they want to do a startup and I tell them the same thing every time: ‘Just try Startup Weekend,’” said judge Sarah Bird, COO at SEOmoz. “It’s designed to be a low-barrier of entry for people to have a safe place to go. You don’t need to quit your job — just try it out for a weekend and see what you can accomplish.”
“If entrepreneurship is your drug, this is your best hit,” added Gottesman. “It really is.”
Editor’s Note: GeekWire staff reporter Taylor Soper will dive headfirst into the world of hackathons as he provides a first-hand account of Seattle’s first Sports Hack Day, a 48-hour sports-themed hackathon taking place in Seattle during Super Bowl weekend. Come back to GeekWire next weekend to read Taylor’s diary of what it’s like to build and launch a new product in 48 hours.
Reach staff reporter Taylor Soper at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Taylor_Soper