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Istart creates tomorrows companies

By Jim Molis

Judges evaluated each Startup Weekend entry on the following criteria. Would you come out a winner if you applied them to your new product or existing business?

Business model: What will you sell and to whom? How will you profit? Develop your pricing structure and financial models early so that sales and profits move in tandem—preferably upwards.

Customer validation: Is your product actually selling or do you expect that it will sell? An investor in a startup wants to see that it’s working now.

Ability to execute: Do you and/or your team have the necessary skills, experience, and resources? Lots of participants brought ideas to Startup Weekend, but experts in such essential areas as sales, marketing, finance, and legal matters were harder to come by. Seek help where needed.


Putting Ideas Into Action

A good idea is not worth the paper upon which it is printed. Unless, what is printed is a detailed, executable business plan, replete with proof of concept, customer validation, revenue model, and financial projections. This is an important lesson for aspiring entrepreneurs and seasoned business owners alike, according to organizers of Jacksonville Startup Weekend 2013.

“Taking an idea from inception to concept to company is an arduous process, even with a relative abundance of technology and resources, and the support of talented professionals,” said Manjunath “MJ” Charmani, lead organizer for Jacksonville Startup Weekend, and founder of iStart Jax, a nonprofit

Photo by Austin Weaver

business accelerator for technology-based startups in northeast Florida. “Entrepreneurs must establish that markets exist for their products, and they can serve these markets efficiently and profitably. To do otherwise is to risk time and money.”

Startup Weekend, which was held January 25-27, at the University of North Florida, offered valuable tools to budding entrepreneurs and established business owners alike. Even a seasoned entrepreneur, working on his fifth company—but the first post-Internet—said that he learned much about what is needed to build a company during the event.

The weekend began on a Friday evening with 115 participants, 45 of whom pitched ideas for businesses to the larger group, which included marketers, software developers, and other support professionals. Then teams were assembled to pursue 18 of those ideas. Five ideas were chosen as winners by a panel of judges on Sunday evening. Prizes included ongoing professional support, and opportunities to pitch to investors at the Florida Venture Capital Conference, which was held January 31 through February 1, at Sawgrass Marriott Golf Resort in Ponte Vedra Beach.

Winning entrepreneur, Karthik Kadirvel greatly advanced his idea during Startup Weekend, but in presenting to investors at the Venture Capital Conference, learned that his company still has much to do to secure funding.

“It was a good experience for us in that it taught us maybe not right now but maybe in the future,” said Kadirvel, product developer for Moojic, which he co-founded with his wife and two business partners in Mumbai, India. Moojic is developing an application that will allow individuals to use their smartphones and tablets to choose the music that plays in gathering spots like bars and coffee shops (think a modern day jukebox—to go). During Startup Weekend, Kadirvel’s team helped him to develop potential revenue streams, and to prove that customers would pay for the application by surveying shoppers at St. Johns Town Center.

“Established companies could benefit from using a similar means of developing and testing ideas, perhaps by holding their own mini-Startup Weekend for employees,” Kadirvel said. “All of the various elements are available. If you bring them together for two days, it might be a model for them to come up with innovative ideas.” Such bottom-up innovation from the grassroots of the company is not uncommon at technology giants like Google and Facebook.

Local entrepreneur and investor Myron Pincomb helped Startup Weekend teams advance their ideas as a coach. “Most of them thought they were farther along than they were,” he noted. Almost half of the teams that Pincomb worked with did not have financial projections before the weekend began. “The weekend made them put a business plan behind the idea,” he said.

As managing partner of The Pincomb Group, Pincomb urged companies to calculate financial projections, develop prototypes, and to seek

customer input at the onset, to see if there were markets for their product. “If you don’t involve the customer, you’re going to shoot yourself in the foot,” he said.

An associate at The Pincomb Group, Hunter Hayden, was a member of a Startup Weekend team. He surveyed shoppers at St. Johns Town Center and directors of fitness centers to validate demand for CardioBoost, a technology that would create competitive games within exercise classes.

Hayden is a former procurement and contract specialist who is now pursuing a master’s degree in business administration at UNF, while also assisting companies with finance and business development through The Pincomb Group. He stressed the importance of developing a business plan before launching a product or company. “It’s not a plan based on what you think is good. You need facts, you need studies, and you need statistical data to prove that your gut feeling is correct. Just because it seems like it’s a good idea doesn’t mean it is one,” Hayden said. Yet, entrepreneurs often hesitate to put ideas into writing, perhaps because they fear their plan won’t succeed. “But it’s much easier to get it right the first time,” Hayden said. “If your whole business is developed around a strategy, and you stick with that strategy, the likelihood of success is much greater.”

Particularly if you put that plan to paper.


Music For the Masses

Be the DJ, wherever you go. That’s the promise that Moojic offers.

Photo by Cathy Coates

Bars. Restaurants. Coffee shops. Wherever people gather, Moojic wants to be there to provide the soundtrack. Started by Melbourne, Florida entrepreneur, Karthik Kadirvel, his wife, and two business partners in Mumbai, India, the company is here to revolutionize the music experience at public locations.

The company is developing technology that will allow the owner of a location to upload songs to a customized tablet. Customers will then be able to choose songs they want to hear via an application on their smartphones.

Prior to winning Jacksonville Startup Weekend 2013, Moojic was mostly an idea. But the company has since been busy building upon its experience and implementing improvements offered by the team of volunteers that assisted Kadirvel.

“One of the greatest benefits of the weekend was proving that there would be demand for the technology,” Kadirvel said. Seventy shoppers were surveyed at St. Johns Town Center, and most said they would customize the music at a location if they could, and that they would specifically choose to go somewhere that they could do so. A local bar owner offered his business as a beta site when the technology is ready. “Businesses can use the application to build brand loyalty and draw customers during non-peak hours by offering specials,” Kadirvel said.

Startup Weekend also provided Kadirvel ideas for generating revenue, such as allowing users to pay to move their selections up in an establishment’s queue of songs, or to dedicate songs, or send gifts at locations. His team also received feedback on possible pricing.

Kadirvel expects to spend the next 3 to 4 months finishing product development and lining up beta customers. His goal is to launch Moojic at 10 to 15  “mom and pop” stores within six months, and then take it to small regional chains within 12 months.


Starting Up, Moving Ahead

World Cup… Summer Olympics… Global Entrepreneurship Congress… it all happens in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Though it may lack the luster and prestige of its two more famous counterparts that are coming within the next few years, the Global Entrepreneurship Congress could be just as impactful in its own way, when it convenes in March. And Manjunath “MJ” Charmani, lead organizer for Jacksonville Startup Weekend and founder of iStart Jax, a nonprofit business accelerator for technology-based startups in Northeast Florida, will partake in what the GEC describes as “an inter-disciplinary gathering of startup champions from around the world.”

Charmani will join entrepreneurs, government officials, investors, researchers, thought leaders, and policy makers from across the world in working to bring ideas to life, drive economic growth, and expand human welfare. He plans to use the opportunity to develop relationships and access resources that will allow Northeast Florida to continue to feed the ecosystem with new energy.

While it’s true that Northeast Florida has come far as a breeder of companies and ideas, it still lacks the fertility of more established southern brethren, like Atlanta and Miami–much less the prodigiousness of entrepreneurial breeding grounds such as Silicon Valley.

* Startup Density of Florida is : 50 Startups per Million

* Startup Density of Georgia : 44 Startups per Million

* Startup Density of Texas: 36 Startups Per Million

Momentum is building locally though, and Jacksonville has now hosted two Startup Weekends. The five winners from each can participate in Startup Weekend NEXT, which will be held in the second quarter. The six-week program will provide advanced, hands-on training to help entrepreneurs further develop their companies.

Charmani’s iStart Jax is also helping teams accelerate through workshops on such topics as protecting intellectual property in development, and creating a fundable business plan. “Entrepreneurs need free resources and a little bit of a push off to get that first round of funding,” he noted.

Then they can work on taking the company to the next level, perhaps taking Northeast Florida along with them.



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