The stage was set at Thormøhlensgate in Bergen, Norway. Budding entrepreneurs locked horns and competed for recognition in the city’s growing startup landscape.
Around 40 contestants paid a fee and sacrificed leisure time to attend the 11th Startup Weekend Bergen. Their goal was to impress the audience and a panel of experienced judges with their business ideas.
The bright and colourful event had a festive atmosphere as it kicked off last Friday, 21st September. Refreshments and food were at hand to keep the contestants, organisers, judges, audience and others going for the whole weekend.
Participants were busy discussing ideas whilst bobbing their heads to the catchy background music. As the weekend progressed, simple ideas turned into solid business plans. Participants broke away from the initial fun to take on a more serious approach.
“It was really interesting to see how some ideas did not seem commercially viable [initially],” said Lars Grøennestad, one of the judges and business developer at Bergen Technology Transfer Office (BTO).
Grøennestad was impressed to see how things changed from Friday to Sunday. “They turned out to be very commercially viable during the [final] presentation. That shows people have done a lot of impressive work. The participants have been amazing.”
The opportunity to present business ideas to a meaningful audience was created thanks to the sponsorship of DNB, Knowit, BTO, and Innovation Norway. The event was brought together by Techstars.
What was at stake?
The contestants were aware that the prizes on offer would put them on the path to greater opportunity.
First place included two months of flex office space, an hour with a mentor, an illustrator course and the offer to join a four-month startup programme at BTO.
The team coming in second would get a month’s worth of flex office space.
Finally, third place would be awarded to the team deemed by the audience to have the best pitch. They would have a chance to present their idea to Innovation Norway.
Gathering under one roof
Perhaps just as importantly, this was an opportunity to network with people treading down a similar path. Likeminded as they may be, there was much diversity among the contestants. This despite their coming from different occupations, age groups, nationalities and income brackets.
“Some of them are students, studying different topics,” said Kathrine Marthinsen, one of the event organisers. “Others, I know, are working and have been doing that for a while. They want to look for other options.”
She elaborated that some people have a lot of experience, while others just started considering possibilities of entrepreneurship. “They are diverse and that is what makes the combination so special.”
Marthinsen said the main idea of this startup weekend was to make people meet. She outlined that some contestants may not even continue with the ideas pitched before the judges. At the same time, their interactions could lead them to collaborate with others and start something afresh.
On Friday, the audience and judges took their seats and waited for the first round of 60-second presentations. The audience would then vote on the ideas which appealed to them most.
Contestants failing to make the initial cut were merged into teams with those whose ideas piqued audience interest. The teams would then be given 54 hours to develop their ideas into a final form to be presented before a panel of judges on Sunday. Help was at hand for the candidates through facilitators, mentors and organisers.
Susan Johnsen, an advisor for Innovation & Commercialisation at the University of Bergen and one of the mentors, aimed to give the participants a pointer in the right direction.
“I hope I can help the teams focus, think about the crucial questions they need to ask themselves and with general guidance,” she said.
She stressed on the necessity for candidates to gauge if their solution was worth continuing with or developing. “The sooner you validate your idea, the better it is.”
Women at work
Cecilie Wian, another mentor, was happy to see more women participating at the event. She hoped the weekend would produce ideas that cater to both sexes. “I want to see products that include the whole market and not just half the market. This is something else we will be looking at. Do you understand not just your average male [customer], but the full market?”
Wian urged contestants to do their homework properly. “If you have a good basis, are doing proper research and understand what you are trying to solve, many things will get easily done.”
Meet the contestants
As for the women Wian was happy to see, two of them were Hanne and Mehma from the University of Bergen. The fifth-year medical students wanted to enable the easy access of medical information to the average person through either a website, application or awareness campaign.
However, as is often the case over the course of a startup weekend, ideas change. The duo ultimately clinched third place with a different pitch. Hanne, Mehma and their team were rewarded for their product which was called “Cure Me Now”. The idea could have plenty of potential customers as it offered a cure for hangovers after a night of drinking.
In second place was Histomapp which offered a solution to travellers. Their app provided an overview of historic landmarks on a national, regional and city scale. The objective was to allow the user to plan their trips most effectively.
Finally, first place went to the team behind Ecozon. In the words of its creators, “It is Amazon for eco-friendly products – so it is Ecozon.” The aim was to enable small-scale manufacturers of eco-friendly products to place their goods on a single platform.
The range of products hoped to reach all spheres of the market, whether it was something as elaborate as eco-friendly solutions for household renovation or as simple as food products. The pitch ended on a light note with presenter Sujay Deshponde, who is of Indian descent, talking about how his team was multinational in its composition.
The six members all came from different nations. “We already have an insight into what will sell in half the world,” Deshponde joked. “India [alone] is one-sixth,” he concluded.
On the Friday, Zoheb Iqbal, who flew in from London to fulfil his role as Techstars’ Startup Weekend facilitator, told all the contestants that “they were crazy”. Come Sunday, the top three must have felt a sense of sanity prevail. The recognition and effort made it worth attending the event. The facilitator was confident that locally-grown startups were on the road to success.
“It’s amazing to see how much talent is here in the region and how much support is coming from great sponsors,” Iqbal said. He added it was encouraging to see organisations investing in startups and young entrepreneurs. “I think Norway is realising its potential, ideas and growth in terms of what the startups can achieve. I am really excited to see what comes out next.”
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