Startup Weekend Charlottesville Aims To Foster New Businesses

In 2011, more than 54,000 people participated in Startup Weekend events in 200-plus cities around the world, raising $30 million in investments for new start-up businesses.

Starting Friday evening, the first-ever Startup Weekend in Virginia will be happening in Charlottesville, at the Charlottesville Technology Incubator on the Downtown Mall.

A Startup Weekend is a 54-hour event where software developers, designers, marketers and startup enthusiasts come together to share ideas, form teams, build products and launch startups, according to the event website. The weekend-long, hands-on experience allows entrepreneurs and aspiring entrepreneurs to find out if startup ideas are viable.

The Charlottesville Startup Weekend will strengthen the local "entrepreneurial ecosystem" and circulate some of the great entrepreneurial energy already here, said co-organizer Kevin Pujanauski, a fourth-year University of Virginia student in the politics honors and global development studies programs in the College of Arts & Sciences and former president of U.Va.'s Student Entrepreneurs for Economic Development.

"Generating buzz and action around entrepreneurship in Charlottesville is what this event is all about," he said.

The weekend's featured speaker is Saras Sarasvathy, a professor at the Darden School of Business named one of the 18 top professors in the field of entrepreneurship by Fortune Small Business magazine in 2007. Her book, "Effectuation: Elements of Entrepreneurial Expertise," was nominated for the 2009 Terry Book Award by the Academy of Management.

Beginning with open mic pitches on Friday, attendees are encouraged to bring their best ideas and inspire others to join their team. Over Saturday and Sunday, teams design and develop business plans while constantly streamlining their startup vision. On Sunday evening, teams demonstrate their prototypes and listen to judges' feedback during a public presentation.

While the 70-odd slots to participate in the weekend have been sold out for weeks, the Sunday evening presentation is open to the public. The "Sunday Night Showdown" starts at 6:30 p.m. at CitySpace, at 100 5th St. NE on the Downtown Mall (in the same building that houses the Market Street Parking Garage, as well as the Charlottesville Tech Incubator). Tickets are $25, which includes food and drinks, and can be purchased through the event website.

Startup Weekend is a non-profit organization, affiliated with the Kauffman Foundation, the world's largest foundation devoted to entrepreneurship, according to its website.

Startup Weekend's mentors include Jim Cheng, Virginia's secretary of commerce and trade; Zach Buckner, founder and CEO of Relay Foods, a local online grocery delivery service; and Jim Lansing, executive chairman of Sammy Snacks, a local manufacturer of super-premium pet food and treats.

Event sponsors include U.Va. Innovation, the City of Charlottesville, Charlottesville Technology Incubator, Charlottesville Business Innovation Council, Charlottesville Venture Group and the Center for Innovative Technology, which makes seed-stage equity investments in Virginia-based technology and life science companies. Other sponsors, mentors and co-organizers are listed on the event website.

– by Brevy Cannon