MANSFIELD – Mansfield will host its first-ever Tech Stars Startup Weekend Friday, Sept. 28 through Sunday, Sept. 30 at Idea Works, 40 W. Fourth St.
Taking pointers from the city’s neighbor to the south, Columbus, a committee of Richland County residents has organized a weekend with the potential to build further excitement about innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship amid what organizer, Heather Tsarvis calls the city’s renaissance.
“Mansfield is going through a renaissance right now,” she said. “It's a rust belt town for certain, but it's a rust belt town with an opportunity to do something differently.”
In the interview process with Tech Stars to obtain a Startup Weekend license, she explained how the committee discussed the upcoming Idea Audition, the city’s recently acquired TEDx license and the group of 15 Richland County leaders who attended the South by Southwest (SXSW) Conference in March 2018.
“We think startup weekend might be part of this momentum and I think tech stars agreed,” Tsarvis said.
On Friday, Startup Weekend Mansfield begins with a presentation by co-founder of Root Insurance and Lexington High School graduate, Dan Manges, who will share his experience with entrepreneurship. Root Insurance was valued at $1 billion in August. In 2013, Braintree Payment Systems of Chicago, which Manges co-founded, was bought by PayPal for $800 million.
“I want people to come and get inspired,” Tsarvis said. “We have figured out a way to get people to come from New York City, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Cleveland, Columbus, Akron and Youngstown in this room to participate in some way in this weekend.”
Later, the evening continues with pitches and participants form teams that will work together for the remainder of the weekend.
Saturday, the groups work with one another and business advisers – who have come from near and far – to build their business. Late Sunday, the businesses are judged, and a winner is chosen.
“I think success looks like educating people, inspiring people, and not just inspiring the participants from Mansfield, but frankly also inspiring those judges and mentors who are coming from elsewhere about what is possible in Mansfield,” Tsarvis said.
Startup Culture in Columbus
Several of the speakers and judges involved in Startup Weekend Mansfield have seen firsthand the effects of the event in other cities.
“Startup Weekend in Columbus is a great initiative to help provide entrepreneurs with support in launching new ventures. I'm hoping that we can create similar momentum in Mansfield,” Manges said.
Falon Donohue, CEO of VentureOhio and a judge at Startup Weekend Mansfield, has seen promising companies like RapChat come from Tech Star’s events. But she believes the value for most is in making connections.
“The ripple effect that Startup Weekend Columbus has had on the community has been incredible – there is a strong bond between participants that lasts,” she said. “The intent of startup weekend is to learn, meet like-minded people and improve the entrepreneurial culture of your city.”
Eric May, who now resides in Columbus, attended his first Startup Weekend in 2013 as an Ohio University student. He and his friends were looking for something to try.
He was exposed to ideas like customer validation, which he says has helped him even though he’s never started his own business. May works as a software engineer.
“I figured maybe we could meet some other students or some other professionals in the area, learn a little bit about how people go about building a business,” May said. “And it was good enough that I kept going and became an organizer.”
He’s been a part of the Startup Weekend Columbus organizing committee for nearly a year. He believes the event, when paired with other efforts to foster a startup culture, has the potential to make a significant impact on a place like Mansfield.
“I actually think it's better transferred to a smaller location. When you're in a smaller location like Mansfield, for example, you have the opportunity to build a stronger, tighter community than you do even in someplace like Columbus,” he said.
Jay Clouse, a global facilitator for Startup Weekend and founder of Unreal Collective, also spoke about the potential affect of the event in Mansfield.
“It can absolutely have a similar effect in Mansfield if individuals go in with an open mind and excitement to learn and work with one another. It takes a lot to build a thriving ecosystem in terms of people, institutions, and time -- but Startup Weekend will undoubtedly be a big part of that,” he said.
Clouse mentioned other Columbus staple events, such as Wakeup Startup, GiveBackHack and Startup Grind, and interest-focused groups that bring likeminded people together.
“Building the culture has hinged upon different institutions within the ecosystem (community organizers, co-working spaces, accelerators, incubators, angel investors, venture investors) being aware of one another and willing to point the entrepreneur to the resources they need,” he said.
Two College Towns in Similar Shoes
This fall, Mansfield isn’t the only city trying out Tech Stars at Startup Weekends.
Oberlin, Ohio held its inaugural Startup Weekend Friday, Sept. 21 through Sunday, Sept. 23 and Muncie, Indiana will have its first on Oct. 5. Both have college students in mind.
A week before the event, Bara Watts, director of entrepreneurship for Oberlin University, expressed a desire to instill an entrepreneurial mindset in all the university’s students.
“The majority of our students may not ever start a company, but ... especially at Oberlin, we're training leaders, and we need leaders that know how to think this way, no matter what their fields are,” Watts said.
The event was organized by the entrepreneurship club with students as its target audience, but future weekends could be opened to the community, too.
“Success for me would be that we have students walk away excited, having felt like they really had learned something new and it had opened their eyes to this kind of process and thinking, whether or not they start a business,” Watts said.
She acts as the club’s adviser.
Watts further imagines the event acting as a “precursor” or “skills building” opportunity prior to the university’s annual LaunchU Bootcamp and Pitch Competition in the winter semester. Last year’s event gave away $38,000 for students and alumni to launch their business ideas.
The upcoming Startup Weekend in Muncie, Indiana was also launched through a university.
“We encourage our students actually to really go out and learn how to do entrepreneurship, not just learn about theories but actually go out and build something, come up with their own ideas, build business plans and all of that,” said Krystal Geyer, assistant director of Ball State University’s entrepreneurship center. “And we recognize that sort of Start Up Weekend is a really good way to do that.”
She hopes the event draws a mixed crowd of students and community members.
“We thought that this might be a good way to connect non-students with some of our students to get both the benefits,” Geyer said. “We are hoping maybe for half students, half professionals because I think a lot of really great learning happens when you have people who can say, ‘I've done this in the real world. Here's how it looks outside the classroom.’”
In February, she brought a small group of students to a Startup Weekend in Columbus and was impressed with the results. She’d heard of the event years ago while working at The Ohio State University.
“On the way back one of them was like, ‘I have had my domain name for two or three years, and I couldn't even find time to put my resume on there, but when I was put in a high-pressure situation I built an entire website, and so it showed me I was really just kind of being lazy,’” Geyer recalled. “I thought that was really interesting from a student standpoint.
"It showed when you really put your nose to the grindstone, you can make a lot of progress in a fairly short amount of time.”
While she realizes Muncie’s startup community is significantly smaller than Columbus, Geyer sees potential and is excited to see the event’s effect when more students and people from the Muncie community can participate.
She wants entrepreneurs to be inspired and to get connected with available local resources.
“Speaking broadly in the Midwest, we have a lot of brain drain where people may have these entrepreneurial skills and they think that they have to immediately move to the coast in order to be a successful program or to find what they need,” Geyer said. “But that's not always the case.
“We want to let them know that right here in your backyard, you can create really high tech, really great ideas and being successful with them.”
For More Information
For more information about Startup Weekend Mansfield, visit communities.techstars.com/usa/mansfield-oh-usa/startup-weekend/12623.
To buy tickets for the weekend-long event, To sign up, visit eventbrite.com/e/techstars-startup-weekend-mansfield-tickets-43660042362.