As a 23-year-old software engineer, I am excited to be part of the newest group of Hacker Fellows to enter the Michigan startup scene. The fifteen of us fellows have chosen to take a gamble on ourselves while crunching code at a startup. We’ll be exposed to all parts of the blossoming, early-stage company we match with, while getting involved with the foundation of something that has the potential to make real impact. Though the program hasn’t officially started yet, my decision to become a Fellow has already paid dividends. I’ve been fortunate enough to be included in the many events Fellows participate in, be it hackathons, webinars, or dinner parties. Through attending these events and meeting Fellows of the past two years, I’ve gained a great network of friends who happen to be software engineers like myself. Without this network, I wouldn’t have started working on my own venture and most recently, I wouldn’t have won first place at the January 2017 Startup Weekend in Grand Rapids.
Hosted at Start Garden, Startup Weekend is similar to a hackathon where hardcore coders and designers meet in a single space, drink red bull and build half-working prototypes. Not only does the event involve technicians, Startup Weekend is the convergence of business-savvy entrepreneurs, designers, and developers. Throughout this inter-disciplinary 54 hours, ideas turn into concepts and concepts turn into viable businesses.
At Startup Weekend Grand Rapids 2017, I pitched the idea of Dump — the AirBnB for parking, find a place you can dump your car. This was an idea conceived by Haitham Maaieh, a 2016 Hacker Fellow, and I during the open-pitch portion of the event. A few 2016 Fellows and I were trying to think of ideas to pitch that could help a city solve its most basic problems such as traffic and parking. This idea helps to solve both of those issues. No more circling city streets to find an open spot, and no more private property with parking potential going to waste.
With Haitham’s inspiration, I got on stage and pitched the idea in front of the approximately 150 people attending. To my surprise the pitch went quite well! After the all pitches were over, everyone got three votes to cast on their favorite idea leaving Dump with the most votes.
After pitching and voting, we formed our team: “Team Dump.” Surprisingly, we had to turn people away and in the end we ended up with a group of fourteen. Four were Hacker Fellows and the other nine were a mix of developers, designers, and business people. Once the team formed, we then segmented to tackle specific tasks. One group performed market research, another to design a prototype, and one more to define the minimum viable product (MVP).
Having people on the team with extensive storyboarding and customer validation experience helped us narrow down what we thought is the ideal parking experience. In the end, we decided to narrow our focus to providing a platform for people attending sporting events to find parking on local property owners private property. Locals in college towns with weekly football games already sell spots in their driveways and lawns to fans coming to the game, so our thought was to provide an app that replaces the archaic cardboard signs people hold up for 3 hours every Saturday from September to December.
When we had a clearly defined MVP and user base, we moved focus to refining the product. What could we do to set ourselves apart from similar products and methods of selling parking? Some of our ideas included offering amenities at the parking spot such as restrooms, power outlets, and coolers to appeal to tailgaters. Another idea was to allow parkers and hosts to rate each other and leave comments so others will know what to expect upon parking at someone’s home, or allowing someone to park at their house. With such a large and talented team, the ideation was MEGA, and we were able to develop a killer prototype paired with a final presentation showcasing the amazing startup we’d built over the weekend.
Finally, it came down to Sunday afternoon, and it was time for the final presentations in front of a panel of five judges. We had some tough competition such as second-place AlternaTree — sustainable energy using a tree’s kinetic energy harnessed from the wind, and third-place Translate4Life — a healthcare app for doctors to communicate with patients who don’t speak the same language. Stated by the judges, no team had the business model, prototype, and customer research as Dump.
With four Hacker Fellows on Team Dump, did we Hack Startup Weekend?
Click Here to view Dump’s winning slide deck.
Cash is a recent grad from Michigan State University who studied Computer Science. He is a 2017 Hacker Fellow and will be working for Trove.ai (formally Notion) in Ann Arbor. Cash loves laid-back Bossa Nova records and impacting people's live through well built software. He's especially to begin work on Trove's AI platform in July!