Forming teams around the business ideas they like most, people who meet for the first time on a Friday night become a collaborative team by Sunday afternoon.
Here’s a great business idea: a “drink-of-the-month” club. Customers subscribe online and each month you send them all the ingredients they need to make a great cocktail or mixed drink. A Caipirinha, for example. Or a Julieta. Or a Billionaire’s Margarita.
That’s exactly the idea that Madison Goldfischer, a product manager with Anthem in Albany, pitched on the first night of Startup Weekend 2016, held at the Armory at Sage the last weekend in February. Two others who attended — Robert Singley, a veteran with an IT focus, and Lilly Muffoletto, a student at SUNY Plattsburgh — liked the idea so much they got on board and spent the rest of the weekend collaborating with Goldfischer in developing a business plan and five-minute pitch for it.
As one of 50 volunteer coaches enlisted for the event, I met with the team the next morning. My background is in communications and marketing, so we approached it from that perspective, brainstorming potential names.
“Quicktales”? Not bad. “DrinkEasy”? Perfect, but, alas, it was taken. Other businesses already are operating in this space. They include Saloon Box, Bitters & Bottles, Craft and Taste, and, yes, DrinkEasy.
No problem. The team decided they’d just find another name and identify some promising unoccupied niche. How about a site where the drink of the month is determined by crowdsourcing? How about a site that specializes in exotic drinks from around the world? The Pisco Sour from Peru. The Brennivan from Iceland. The Krupnik from Lithuania.
The first-ever Startup Weekend took place in 2007 in Boulder, Colorado, and the idea quickly spread. This was the fourth organized in the Capital Region by Robert Manasier, founder and CEO of In Focus Brands, who typically offers it in cooperation with a local college so as to tap into its ready-made community. Three years ago, it was Skidmore. This year, it was Sage, which Manasier has just joined as executive in residence.
Many who participate are students. Others are young people who are considering a move into a new career or just want to see what it takes to start a business. You don’t need a business idea to participate, says Manasier. “You just listen to pitches from those who do have ideas and interview to join whoever’s idea you think is most promising.”
“People who don’t even know each other when they arrive on a Friday afternoon engage with each other in the battle of getting to one common thought,” he continues. “By Sunday, they’re members of a semi-cohesive collaborative team.”
On Sunday evening, 11 teams pitched their plans to three judges in five-minute PowerPoint presentations, followed by five minutes of questions. The three winners were invited to work with In Focus Brands in developing their businesses. They were:
- A student from SUNY-Plattsbugh whose idea is “Magic Mount,” a Velcro-equipped unit that makes overnight storage of your cell phone efficient and safe;
- Two SUNY-Plattsburgh students who have built a prototype of “Campus Surf,” an online marketplace that serves college campuses in the same way Craig’s List serves distinct cities;
- A Sage MBA student from Ghana who dreams of launching a new airline, Ghana Air.
Although Goldfischer and his teammates didn’t place among the winners, they felt they’d come up with something promising and may still go forward with it. In a session following their presentation, the judges were encouraging and gave them good advice and ideas. If they do decide to take the next step, they’ll have a great name. “The Cocktail Club” is what they ultimately came up with. And, so far, no one has taken it.