LiveSnip Nabs Startup Weekend Detroit Win Among A Talented Crowd

2/21/12Follow @XconomyDET

When I walked into the Madison Building Sunday night for the final round of Startup Weekend Detroit pitches, I worried for a moment that I might be the oldest person in the room. As MGMT and Deadmau5 throbbed from the auditorium’s speakers, groups of mostly male twentysomethings huddled in groups, intently pecking away on various electronic devices. The gentleman sitting next to me gnawed on a pack of Twizzlers despite the many “NO FOOD OR DRINK OTHER THAN WATER” signs, and the teenager in front of me alternated between repeatedly running a video game demo and posting photos and updates to Twitter (see all the weekend’s Twitter updates at #SWDET).

Still, if Startup Weekend Detroit’s competitors represented a chunk of Michigan’s best and brightest, then we’re in good hands. I was impressed with the overall quality of the ideas and the technology being created. As I listened to the fifteen final teams make their pitches in the building so carefully renovated by Detroit Venture Partners to appeal to young entrepreneurs, I felt like the city outside the auditorium doors could be San Francisco or Seattle.

Startup Weekend was started in 2007 with the purpose of putting a group of entrepreneurs, web developers, hackers, and futurists in a room for 54 hours to see if they could create working companies. The events have taken off since then; this is the fourth time it’s been held in Detroit. According to local organizer Brandon Chestnutt, there are 300 Startup Weekends scheduled across the world this year, and, in addition to Detroit, there were events taking place in Pakistan, Romania, Guadalajara, and Miami of Ohio this weekend.

Competitors deliver an initial round of pitches on Friday night, and from there the most interesting and viable company ideas move on to the next round. Then competitors form teams according to the skill sets needed and set about creating the technology required to bring the companies to fruition.

At the Madison Building, judges from Bizdom U, Billhighway, DVP, Ludlow Ventures, and Fathead listened to the pitches, asked tough questions, and gave candid critiques. (“Let me tell you why this will never work,” said judge Dan Izzo at one point, as the young man on stage looked like he had just been punched in the gut.) The companies, while all rooted in Internet and mobile technology, were all over the map: video games, plug and play credit card readers, an auto rebate aggregator, and, interestingly, two apps devoted to helping people achieve their goals.

Two of the more compelling ideas were Detroit-centric: Get Off Your Butt and turnDetroit. Get Off Your Butt is designed to help Detroit’s newcomers find things to do in a space crowded with local content on the subject (Yelp, visitDetroit, Metro Times, et al). The landing page already knows the day’s weather, so users choose the amount of time they have free and the Web site suggests a fun thing to do, like biking the Riverfront or catching an art flick at Cass City Cinema, along with a map and description. TurnDetroit involves crowdsourced cultural rejuvenation and land development as a response to “mass-market editorial exploitation.” (We’re glad we’re not the only ones who noticed.) TurnDetroit would place signs around the city containing QR codes, which would direct smart phone users to a list of volunteer projects. Even though these companies didn’t win, I hope their creators keep at it.

The winner of Detroit Startup Weekend was LiveSnip, which uses brand-new technology to allow users to snip blocks of content from up to 10 different websites and paste them into a live-updating dashboard. In the future, if all goes according to plan (and that’s a big if at this tadpole stage), users will be able to share their dashboards with their social networks through a unique link. LiveSnip also plans to offer a private, password-protected dashboard to companies to use internally for $9 per month.

LiveSnip is the brainchild of 20-year-old web developer and serial entrepreneur Nathan Cahill, who came to Startup Weekend Detroit with the idea and “a little script” he had written to make the backend work. After he pitched his idea Friday night and it made the cut, he walked around the Madison Building talking to other participants until he found the team that fit the project—Carl Winans, Christina El-Haddad, and Delane Parnell—and quickly began tweaking the technology.

For their Startup Weekend efforts, the team behind LiveSnip won tickets to the upcoming Michigan Lean Startup Conference in Grand Rapids, which Cahill is thrilled about. “It’s really big for a lot of people,” he explained. “I mean, tickets are like $250 a piece.”

For more about the teams that competed in Startup Weekend Detroit, click here.

Sarah Schmid is the editor of Xconomy Detroit. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or sschmid@xconomy.com. Follow @XconomyDET

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