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Innovation & Job News

StartUp Weekend wades through pretenders, crowns clear favorites

Forty eight pitches. That's how StartUp Weekend Philadelphia began this past Friday. The majority were riffs on already popular sites: Groupon plus GPS. Craigslist for skill bartering. Priceline for retail shoppers. From the start, there were a few standouts. The top prize, sponsored by the Philadelphia law firm Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, was $2,500 in legal resources, and second and third place were in line for $1,000 in credit at the firm. StartUp Weekends happen all over the globe and Clint Nelsen, one of the directors of the Seattle-based nonprofit that bears their name, says that up to 20 StartUp events might happen simultaneously worldwide. The entrepreneurial incubator approach is gaining momentum. This week, President Obama announced the launch of the StartUp America Initiative, "a core component of President Obama's national innovation strategy for achieving sustainable growth and quality jobs."

While the most compelling ideas at StartUp Philly would make mincemeat out of an average person's brains, the gathered crowd of developers, MBAs, designers, coders and hackers went wild. A couple of pitches received laughs but were nonstarters, like 8sOrBetter, a dating website for highly rated singles.

You never saw so many tabs open on browsers. Laptops and caffeine: check, check. The soaring three story Solmssen Court at the University of the Arts held clusters of coders, some working straight through to dawn. From the initial 48 pitches, participants voted to continue with 13. Two projects garnered much peer praise: Git Hacking, a service designed to add a social layer to GitHub, a popular website which pairs developers with projects, helmed by Chris Baglieri with team members Josiah Kiehl, John Bunting and Aaron Feng; and LaunchRock, a simple "coming soon" web page design with a viral twist, asking for user email as well as social media participation, from Jameson Detweiler and Stephen Gill.

Sunday afternoon, just 48 hours later, it was pitch time. In a room crowded to capacity with startup teams and venture capitalists, most pitches followed standard protocol: identify the need; provide industry stats; and offer the solution. In the case of both Git Hacking and LaunchRock, which were designed and went live over the weekend, presenters were able to produce impressive real time stats: within a matter of hours, both sites had drawn hundreds of participants, and Git Hacking made the top of Hacker News headlines.

Judges deliberated briefly and the crowd-pleasing Git Hacking won first prize, followed by LaunchRock. Coming in third was Artwork Evolution, a collaborative iPhone/iPad app to create art without advanced skills. StartUp Weekend judge Stephen Goodman, an attorney at Morgan Lewis and Penn Law professor, said that the top two were clear winners, and there were five or six others vying for third place. Paul Solt's Artwork Evolution clinched the title because it offered a clear profit structure, according to Goodman. All three of the winning projects are now live, and you can follow their progress on Twitter: @githacking, @getlaunchrock and @artworkevolve.

Source: Clint Nelsen, StartUp Weekend, Stephen Goodman, Morgan Lewis
Writer: Sue Spolan
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