Chris Olsen is a budding entrepreneur. He runs an online marketing company in Binghamton called RS Webworks. It's the third company he's founded, and he's just 23-years-old.
During a tour of his offices on the second floor of an old Victorian near downtown, Olsen says he started this business in Binghamton because there wasn’t much competition.
“Sometimes it’s nice being a big fish in a small pond, kind of thing, it’s a very different thing than working in New York City where everyone is doing the same type of work and everyone is trying to fight for that one position,” says Olsen.
Olsen started his first business while still a student at Binghamton University, selling a wheelchair he invented that can climb stairs.
Jumpstarting a new business
Olsen will be one of the mentors at Startup Weekend. During the 54-hour, three-day event, he’ll be offering participants advice on their business ideas.
“Then at the end of the weekend, they pitch their idea to judges who then pick one or the top three as winners and then each of those spots have different prizes that then let these people start their idea, kind of a jumpstart,” says Olsen.
According to Startup Weekend organizer Mitchell Patterson, there have been more than 700 weekends, held in 110 countries. This weekend there will be similar events in Romania, Japan and Canada to name just a few.
Patterson says the format, where participants have three days to pitch an idea, form a team and develop a business plan, can drive people to work long hours.
“I’ve seen things where folks haven’t slept for the entire time. It’s pretty intense and exhausting but a great learning experience,” says Patterson.
Creating communities of entrepreneurs
The winners chosen at the end of the weekend in Binghamton will receive web design, legal and accounting services. But Patterson says the point is to create communities of entrepreneurs.
“It builds networks and you’ll see folks who do stay together and try to work on their company. But a product and a company is really an afterthought of the theme of Startup Weekend,” says Patterson.
Past winners at other upstate weekends have developed apps for things like funeral planning and restaurant reservations.
Binghamton University professor Ken McLeod will be a judge at Binghamton’s weekend. He says he expects to see a lot of ideas for online businesses and mobile apps because of the tight timeframe.
McLeod agrees with event organizer Patterson that the weekend’s main goal is to create an entrepreneurial culture in Binghamton.
“In my perspective, it’s very important that young people realize that entrepreneurship is a viable career option. You can do that. You don’t have to sit around waiting for someone to offer you a job,” says McLeod.
Treating people's pain
McLeod develops products that treat chronic medical conditions. He says he’ll also judge Startup Weekend ideas based on whether they treat people’s pain.
“And so if they can identify that – how the world has changed and how it’s put a large group of people in pain, I don’t care if they’re old people or young people, if it’s one sub-population of the country, whatever it is," says McLeod.
"If they can identify that group and say this product is treating the pain created by this socioeconomic change, they’re automatically at the top of my list,” says McLeod.
The Innovation Trail is a collaboration of six public media outlets reporting on upstate New York's innovation economy. Support comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.