Startup Games, Innovation Expo, and Being the Nighttime Parent

Seriously, what happens to the time? It seems like the last couple of weeks have been a complete blur. My older daughter is nearly two months into pre-kindergarten. My younger daughter has gone from just learning to crawl to nearly walking. My wife has only two weeks of residency left. And, I’ve nearly finished all of the major projects I’ve been working on over the last three months.

As I write this, the major Web site build out I’ve been working on for a local property management company is slowly uploading to their server. It’s a project that’s taken way longer than expected, mostly due to complexities of the project that I didn’t expect. In the last week, I also finally finished out the registration and account login pages for the Gamicon Web site. There’s not anything hooked up to the account home page right now, but I’m hoping to completely review the components that have hooked up to that in the past and get everything cleaned up and finished before Thanksgiving.

A couple of weekends ago, I took a break from my projects to lend a hand to college students looking to start businesses over the course of a weekend at the Iowa Startup Games. I feel like my experience over the weekend as a Startup Games coach was a resounding success! I wasn’t able to join the group until Saturday morning because I had two small people who needed me at home on Friday night as my wife was working nights – more on this later in the post. Startup Games works much as Startup Weekend does – ideas are pitched on Friday evening; teams work diligently all day Saturday and Sunday morning, and final pitches are given late on Sunday afternoon.

Coaches Board

“Expertise” makes it sound like I actually know something!

The group started out with twelve teams but had already shrunk to eleven by the time I got there on Saturday morning. Ideas included educational apps, social networking sites, and driving directions utilizing augmented reality technology. I didn’t know what to expect as a coach – we were instructed not to do the work for the students, but just to give them clarity and direction. A couple of teams wanted to talk to me first thing on Saturday morning based on my expertise listed on the coaches board at the back of the room. I was able to circulate around to most of the other teams and hear what they were doing.

I was even involved in mediating the breakup of another team that was having issues working together. One member of the team wanted to go in one direction with the project because he was convinced there was a market for his solution, and the others in the group wanted to go in a different direction based on what they had learned from customer discovery that morning. Ultimately, they split into two teams by the end of the day on Saturday, and I feel both teams were stronger after the split.

The group of judges that were recruited for Startup Games had pretty diverse backgrounds. I was called on by several of the teams that needed help coming up with their minimum viable Web sites and landing pages. I passed on some of the resources that I use during Startup Weekends, and instructed them on how to build a concise landing page that gives potential customers a taste of what they have to offer without giving everything away. If you want to learn more about our product, why not sign up for an e-mail newsletter? In my experience, landing pages should essentially function as a kind of digital mousetrap. You bring them in with the allure of cheese, but you trap their contact information for future use. The same could be said for simple social media pages, but those require a bit more work than just a simple landing page that can be thrown online through Squarespace in a matter of minutes.

Of course, if you want anything more complicated than that… that’s where I come in.

Obligatory group photo

One of the two teams that resulted from the split-up on Saturday afternoon went on to win the weekend. They ended up giving an amazing pitch with the short amount of time they had. They had really done some great customer discovery and had pulled together after they parted ways with the other team member. I’m glad that I could play at least a little part in helping them win some money and possibly start something big from a weekend of work.

The weekend of Startup Games was a nice break from serving as “nighttime dad” for the majority of a two-week period that my wife had to do an abridged OB/GYN rotation in Cedar Rapids. All but two of her shifts over the course of a two-week period were overnights. This was the first time in a long time where I had dealt with my wife being gone at night for that long of a stretch. This was also the first time I’d had both girls for this many overnights in a row. The last time that she’d had two weeks or a month of overnights, we just had one kid, and that one kid would rotate between my mother-in-law’s house and our house.

Everything went pretty smoothly during the weeks of “nighttime dad” – smoother than I expected. Yes, there were times where I had to get up in the middle of the night and deal with the small one, but they became less and less as the time went on. By the end of the two weeks, my girls were happy to have their mother home at night, and I was happy to have my evenings back to normal. I’m also happy that my wife is done with residency call forever, and only has ten more shifts left before she’s completely finished with the longest primary care residency ever.

The four boxes

The four boxes.

This past Wednesday, I attended this year’s Innovation Expo in Cedar Rapids. Last year’s expo was my first major experience attending a large entrepreneurial event, and it led into the beginning of my first stint in Venture School with Tom. This year felt much different, as I knew many of the people at the event already, and many of the companies and startups giving pitches and staffing tables were familiar. I was able to pop in and out of the pitch competitions over the course of the day. While the pitches were going on, I deployed the Sexy Life Scavenger Hunt – another crazy idea that David and I developed in an incredibly short amount of time.

A box went missing

A box went missing!

The goal of the Sexy Life Scavenger Hunt was for participants to pick up four different boxes that were scattered throughout the convention center at four different stations. If someone collected all four boxes, they were entitled to a prize bag from Team Sexy Life and a chance to sit down with us and design a box for the winner to use with their significant other. Unfortunately, no one person found all four boxes, even though all of the boxes disappeared over the course of the day. We’re still looking for feedback on the boxes, so if you are out there reading this and you have one of the scavenger hunt boxes, let me know!

During the expo, a group of students from Cornell College in Mount Vernon gave the final pitches for their entrepreneurial class. I was able to sit in and listen to those pitches, which focused more on solving social issues through entrepreneurial endeavors rather than creating new consumer products. I thought all four groups did quite well and covered a wide array of issues that I feel would be difficult to confront on a college campus. Students in last year’s class presented at last year’s expo, but I wasn’t able to attend then, since I was attending the expo with Tom. It was a nice break from some of the familiar pitches going on in the other rooms.

20161026_163244At the end of the evening, I was able to make it around to many of the different vendor tables in the exhibitor’s showcase, including the tables staffed by the six Iowa Startup Accelerator teams that I’ve gotten to know over the last three months. If you are anywhere near eastern Iowa and want to know more about the teams that I’ve had the privilege of working with at the ISA over the last three months, you should attend ISA Launch Day this Thursday. I won’t be presenting QuickScore at the event – I’ll talk more about that in my next post after Launch Day – but you should attend to cheer on the six other teams as they continue pursuing their entrepreneurial dreams.

It seems pretty surreal that my time at the Iowa Startup Accelerator is almost over. I have a few loose ends to finish tying up before Launch Day, and the final report is due in a week. I can’t believe how quickly these three months have flown past, even with The Pause in the middle of the whole thing. In a couple of weeks, when everything is finished, I’m looking forward to a long holiday break with my kids. Perhaps I’ll even get to some of those things that have been sitting around the house to do for the last three years, like hanging up some artwork in my home office. There are plenty of things that I’ve put on the back burner over the last three years that I’m really excited to finally get to work on this winter.

I hope to see everyone at ISA Launch Day on Thursday. It should be a blast!