Mendoza School of Business

ND Startup Weekend: Let the sparks fly!

Published: June 1, 2012 / Author: Mendoza College

 No more “one hand
washes the other” in public restrooms: 
TruClean Solutions Inc.’s wall-mounted gizmo – think twin fist-sized
carwashes with spinning spray nozzles for soap and rinse, air for drying – does
the job in 30 seconds or less.  With 75
percent less water use, a mechanism that adjusts to wheelchair height, no paper
waste and a uniform clean every time, the machine could help reduce infections
and food-borne illnesses in restaurants, medical offices, schools and
entertainment venues.

TruClean Solutions is
just one brainchild of the recent Notre Dame Startup Weekend at Innovation Park
at Notre Dame, a 54-hour thinkfest aimed at moving bright ideas closer to market.  Startup Weekend was a collaboration between
the Gigot Center for Entrepreneurial Studies at the Mendoza College of Business
and ND’s ESTEEM program, along with a number of other groups on campus: Students
helped organize the event, which included participants from both campus and
community. The Kauffman Foundation created the structure.

More than 100 people
showed up for the weekend’s opening on Friday, April 13, with 40 giving pitches
for their startup ideas. Participants selected the top nine candidates; others
joined teams of eight or nine people to begin working on each of these top
ideas. The teams then each coalesced for long hours of development, including
writing code and building websites.

“There was so much
energy and so much buzz in this room on Friday night,” according to David
Murphy, associate dean of entrepreneurship for the colleges of science and
engineering.  “When it comes to
entrepreneurship, the key is to get the right people in the room, let the
sparks fly, let the creativity happen.”

Murphy is the former
CEO of Better World Books, an online bookseller started by entrepreneurial
students on campus several years ago.  The
bookseller, which now employs hundreds of people, won a top prize in the Gigot
Center’s McCloskey Business Plan Competition in 2003.

Most of the ideas
involved quick-start technology, such as mobile apps or Web-based products.

The Gigot Center was
instrumental in recruiting CEOs and successful entrepreneurs to help mentor the
teams, asking pointed questions that led to adjustments in target market or
price point.

On the second day,
participants spent a few hours surveying potential customers, making phone
calls or buttonholing shoppers at Eddy Street Commons to ask whether they would
buy such-and-such a product, and at what price.

Business plans were due
at 1 p.m. the third day, and the Innovation Park room, stocked with meals and
snacks, stayed open while some teams worked all night.  Would-be entrepreneurs gave their five-minute
spiels to the audience, including a front row of judges, on the final afternoon.  The group called Stoxer proposed a tool for
gathering information about what social media is saying about stocks. BeeCorp
want to provide financing for startup companies to help revitalize local
communities. AfrAmConnect would provide a Web-based link between U.S. health-care
companies and potential African markets.

CoverTap, a mobile app,
promised to ease “nightology,” smoothing payment of cover charges and
tabs at bars and nightclubs, including access to coupons. Alibi would redesign
the State Theatre in downtown South Bend for an artistic collective.

Grab me a cab, proposed
by Nicole Vachon, a third-year law student from New York City, would include a
mapping service to view nearby available cabs, book them with a click, and
track their progress to pick you up.

Web-based GrammarTree would
enable students to practice grammar skills and send data to their teacher
quickly and efficiently. Three Square would create comic strips of one to three
panels to immortalize your exploits on Facebook.

TruClean, the
do-it-for-you handwashing firm, estimated it would need $750,000 to $1 million
for research and development, $1.5 million for first-year operating costs, but
units could sell for $2,000 to $3,000, and bottles of cleansing solution for
$95.  Marketing of the product could
start with a chain such as Papa John’s and spread to other restaurants and
industries with a premium on clean. Sixty percent of consumers polled said
they’d like to find the device in restrooms.

Winners at the weekend
were Three Square, CoverTap and TruClean. For first place, Three Square
qualified for six months’ free rent, free legal and marketing support, a cash
prize and access to angel investors. Other top finishers also received prices.

Information about the
weekend, including pitches for the nine companies, is at


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