If more entrepreneurs were willing to invest a little sweat alongside virtual strangers, they’d carry an even larger number of cutting-edge startups to success, Tyler Sherman said.
“In two days, we have a product that I feel comfortable enough to say we’ll roll with,” Sherman, a participant in the recent Techstars Startup Weekend, said of the future of his 48-hour startup idea — a company called Staychill — moments after he and his team pitched the hypothetical company to a panel of judges.
“The biggest thing that I learned from this weekend was how much you can actually do in one weekend — with an idea — if you have a good team and a passion to make it into something big,” added Ryan Maas, one of of Sherman’s three teammates in the startup competition Sept. 20-22 at Safety Culture in the Crossroads Arts District.
“A great team makes a great product,” Sherman followed, detailing the experience of relying on the help of strangers and mentors to solve a common, but awkward consumer problem: back sweat.
“Have you guys ever suffered from a sweaty back, while wearing your backpack?” Maas asked the audience during the pitch for Staychill. “Our solution is a cooling support system you can use with your existing backpack that can be installed in less than 10 seconds.”
Using a breathable foam prototype, the startup promised to solve the sweaty back conundrum for more than 20 million college students, its founders elaborated.
Focused on hardware and product design, the 2019 run of Startup Weekend saw innovative solutions to such problems as sustainability in contact lens packaging, a mobile payment platform for pool tables and an on-demand cleaning service. Pitches were judged by a panel that included Tammy Bucker, Techquity Digital; Dave Dalton, Hammerspace; and Tim Dunn, JE Dunn Construction.
Click here to find out who took home prizes at Startup Weekend.
Check out photos from Startup Weekend’s pitch night at the bottom of this story.
The immersive Startup Weekend experience challenges teams to get feedback, make changes, and be open to the idea of pivoting if a plan fails — a scenario Sherman found himself in early in the weekend, he recalled.
“We actually started this as a gum product,” he explained, detailing the team’s start in the competition. “[I was] trying to combine gum with keeping your teeth clean so you don’t have to go to dentists that often.”
Sherman sold his first partner, Doug Tree, on the idea almost immediately. Maas and Matilde Sieta — visiting from Equatorial Guinea as part of a state-run program that highlights female entrepreneurship in America — eventually joined the duo and Staychill was conceived.
While the faux startup might tackle a seemingly silly problem, it’s a pain point born out of a personal but shared struggle for Maas and Sherman, who frequently walk up and down hills on the University of Kansas campus, they said.
“You could be running late to class — maybe your class ends and the next one starts in like 15 minutes. You got to get up that hill. You get sweaty, your back gets sweaty and it annoys everyone,” Maas said, citing results from the groups weekend research.
“We did a survey on Google when we first came up with this idea [Saturday] morning,” he said. “I think it was like 86 percent of the people that took the survey have a sweaty back when they’re wearing the backpack and they don’t think it’s comfortable and they don’t have a solution for it.”
In addition to solving a real-world problem, the Staychill team also found satisfaction in completing the weekend’s main challenge: producing a physical product, Tree noted, highlighting Staychill’s professionally designed cardboard display and mesh-foam prototype.
“This was cool because it was themed — about building something. Some of the teams didn’t do it, but I was really excited about it because that’s what I do for work. Just build stuff,” said Tree, whose work in innovative packaging solutions at American Box Company helped inform his role on the team.
“It’s kind of easy to come up with an idea, formulate some kind of business plan, but when you have to actually create something that people would use and get feedback … [that’s a challenge],” he added.
Thought Staychill didn’t nab any prizes at the end of Startup Weekend, the foursome took away a valuable lesson in entrepreneurship: chase ideas if you want to succeed.
“I really wanted to go with a physical product just to give people an idea of how far we want to take it,” Maas said of what the future could hold for Staychill as the group flirts with further realizing their product’s real-world viability.
“It was feasible and we actually did test it out with the heat and it actually does cool your back when you’re wearing it,” he added. “So, you know, we got a few pointers as to how to improve it and we’ll go from there.”
This story is possible thanks to support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that works together with communities in education and entrepreneurship to create uncommon solutions and empower people to shape their futures and be successful.