How we Built Five Companies in One Weekend

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  • Last weekend, in one room in Belfast, five new companies sprung up overnight. Five teams competed in SpringUp, the first event of its kind in Northern Ireland. SpringUp is a 28-hour non-stop challenge to build a startup and pitch it to a panel of judges posing as potential investors. All five teams succeeded in creating a viable new business in the allowed time. SpringUp was the first ever event held at Farset Labs, a community centre for technology lovers that first opened its doors on 6th April, in Weavers Court Business Park, Belfast.

     

    The winning team was Alrg, an online restaurant recommendation service that caters for people with special dietary needs. The Alrg team – consisting of Barry Napier, Pete Hawkins, Matt Coulter, and Aoiffe Healy – took home the top prize of £500 from Belfast web development and design company Rumble Labs. In addition, each Alrg team member won a six-month membership to Farset Labs, and membership credits for two popular online development platforms, Git Hub and Heroku.

     

    SpringUp was led by local entrepreneur Matt Campbell, who said “Everyone who took part is a hero. In those 28 hours, competitors did more work than most people do in a week. I was blown away by the skill of the teams.”

     

    Matt also commented on the projects: “I’ve been to similar events in San Francisco, where the talent is known to be some of the best in the world. I was not expecting the guys and girls here to create anything nearly as good, but I was wrong; the products we saw created this weekend would have tough to beat, even in SF.”

     

    The other SpringUp projects, which were all focused on the web, were a sports betting site, a financial management solution, a car trading site, and a service for developers of web applications. The teams worked all night, coding, designing, and working on their pitch. They were fuelled by food and drink provided by sponsors Anaeko, based next door in Weavers Court. The event was modelled on the popular trend for hackathons, where people “hack” projects together in a limited time. Typically, hackathons are focused on writing code for software or web applications, but the model has been extended to the development of broader projects, including entire new businesses.

     

    Specialists in technology, marketing and investment were selected as judges and mentors for the event. The teams were mentored by Tom Gray, Chief Technology Officer at Kainos; Norbert Sagnard, Managing Partner at Sagnard Associates; and Matt Keenan, Chief Technology Officer at TLD Assets. The judging panel consisted of Tristan Brittain-Dissont, Fund Manager at E-Synergy; Jeff Peel, Managing Director at Quadriga Consulting; Simon Hamilton, CEO at Rumble Labs; and Norbert Sagnard.

     

    The teams will now continue to develop their projects and seek support for the next business phase. The winners Alrg, for instance, are making plans to collaborate more intensely on their project, boosted by the confidence of coming first at SpringUp.

     

    Tristan Brittain-Dissont from E-Synergy was so impressed by the quality of projects, he proposed a follow-up session, at which the teams will be able to pitch to E-Synergy’s experienced investment advisors. The Northern Ireland Science Park is also looking at the SpringUp projects as potential candidates for its CONNECT programme for entrepreneurs.

     

    As for SpringUp, the success of the first event has encouraged Matt Campbell and the organising team to develop similar events in future. Matt said, “Perhaps the best thing we can do to grow Northern Ireland’s knowledge economy is to accelerate entrepreneurship. SpringUp seems to have worked well so we’re now looking at complementary events that will encourage more and more people to start their own businesses.”

     

    Anyone who missed SpringUp and has a great idea for a business should consider registering for Startup Weekend Belfast on 18th May. The same weekend, Farset Labs plans to host a basic 24-hour hackathon, provisionally entitled FlackNight, as a monthly event for its members and anyone else who would benefit from a peer-critiqued session of high-speed coding.

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