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Start Up Weekend Returns To UWF

Students, entrepreneurs and dreamers will gather at the University of West Florida on Friday, October 16 for Pensacola Start-Up Weekend.

"It's been a roller coaster ride!" said Phat Le, the CEO and co-founder of Lyfeboat, a company based in Cincinnati that provides mobile roadside service for cars. His roller coaster ride began last year at Pensacola Start Up Weekend when his idea for the company took first shape. Le says he was living in Daytona Beach last year when a mentor suggested he attend the Pensacola event. "My Partner Michael Reha and I came up with the idea of Lyfeboat on our way there. It was a seven hour drive and we actually came up with the idea as we were driving."

Lyfeboat is now up and running in the greater Cincinnati area. It’s one of the success stories from Pensacola Start Up Weekend, which returns to the UWF School of Business this weekend for the second year. Joe Vinson, the lead organizer for Pensacola Start Up Weekend says the event dates back to 2007. "There was a group of people in Colorado who got together and wanted to put together a start up in 54 hours, from Friday to Sunday." Vinson says after the success of that event they turned Start Up Weekend into a national non-profit, then an international non-profit. Start Up Weekend now exists in 100 countries world wide.

This is the second year the UWF School of Business will host Start Up Weekend. Vinson says it’s open to anyone who has skills, ambition or just an idea. "It will be a 54 hours, three day 'hack-a-thon', where people are invited to take an idea to execution in three days." He says it's a great way for people with very different talents to find people with complementary talents.

Pre registration is required for Start Up Weekend, and major discounts are given to students from UWF and Pensacola State. Joe Vinson says you can expect a lot of ideas to be thrown around. "Friday night there is what's called the initial pitch session. Every has a minute to basically throw out their idea. What happens is you may have 120 people with 120 ideas.  And you can't have 120 teams. So everyone involved has a certain number of votes. When all the votes are (tallied) up for all the different ideas, the best ideas, or the ideas that the most people think have potential...rise to the top." People are then able to take their idea and develop it with a team, or join a team and help develop their idea. 

On the last day of the weekend, all the plans are pitched to a team of judges. The judges will be looking for a unique idea, that’s realistic and has potential in the marketplace. They are also looking for a business plan to get the product to consumers. The winners will get things to help them take their business or product from idea to the market, such as working space or legal counseling. One thing they will not get is money. Vinson says the idea of Start Up Weekend is not about giving away cash prises. It's about providing people the tools they need to take an idea from concept to market. 

All that worked out for Phat Le and the rest of the team from Lyfeboat. Le said "This experience definitely gave me a lot of insight on what it was really like to take an idea and build a business around it and pitch it in front of people."

Bob Barrett has been a radio broadcaster since the mid 1970s and has worked at stations from northern New York to south Florida and, oddly, has been able to make a living that way. He began work in public radio in 2001. Over the years he has produced nationally syndicated programs such as The Environment Show and The Health Show for Northeast Public Radio's National Productions.