News Column

Startup Weekend at Medaille College Fosters New Companies

Nov. 19, 2012

Deidre Williams

Watch out New York City. Move over Silicon Valley. Buffalo may be on its way to becoming a hotbed for technology corporations and small startups.

That's the hope of organizers of Buffalo Startup Weekend, part of a nonprofit effort that connects local entrepreneurs and fosters the development of new companies. Attendees share ideas, form teams and launch startups.

More than 400 Startup Weekend events have been held around the world.

Medaille College hosted Buffalo Startup Weekend, which ran from Friday until Sunday night. About 140 local entrepreneurs, designers, developers and startup enthusiasts presented their business concepts to an expert panel that included local CEOs, startup veterans and mentors who shared their experiences.

After all the ideas were pitched, groups were formed to formulate some of the concepts that would help launch actual startup businesses.

The idea is to build and keep tech companies in Buffalo.

"There are students [from local colleges and universities] who don't know there are tech jobs here in Buffalo. They don't have to go to New York City or San Francisco to get a job," said Jon Spitz, a co-organizer of the event and director of online programs at Medaille.

PRessConnect -- a social network for public relations people and journalists -- was among the ideas pitched over the weekend. .

"It's a way to get relevant information to people who care about it to make them more efficient," said Joe Hsu, one of the team members of team PRessConnect.

The way it would work: PR firms would create an account and upload press releases with tag words related to specific topics, regions or companies. Journalists then would get news feeds and scan headlines for press releases they "actually want to get news about, because PR folks tend to bombard journalists with mostly unwanted or irrelevant press releases," said Elizabeth Weinberg.

The Democracy Engagement Tool is like "candidate matchmaking," said team members. Through this company, users share what preferences they would like in a candidate and then are provided with the names of candidates who feel similarly.

For example, the user may be in favor of same-sex marriage or have a strong opinion about abortion. Or maybe the user doesn't know who is running for a particular office. A voter can find that information, get matched with specific candidates and can contact the candidate or contribute money to their campaign.

For candidates, it provides a way to connect with voters and to get feedback. Officials could get data on the percentage of voters who cite crime as their primary concern, for example, or how many residents are fed up with dilapidated buildings in their neighborhoods.

"It's a platform to engage voters and let them know which candidate is most aligned with their visions, goals," said Jason Amos, one of the creators. "It allows everybody to have a voice of equal value instead of people with deep pockets driving the process."

SecureShare is an online service to share encrypted files, said Mike Dawidowicz. A person uploads a file that gets encrypted in a browser by SecureShare. The sender provides a password to the receiver, so only they have access to the file.

"You don't need an account," said Joe LeGasse. "We don't know the contents. We don't know the file name. We don't know the password. We're just storing it for you."

The judges awarded SecureShare third place in the competition along with a cash prize of $1,000.

The top two winners were cellphone apps. Second place and $1,500 went to Grid Time, devised by three University at Buffalo undergraduate computer programmers, in which smart phone owners would be paid a fee to allow their idle phones to be used for research purposes. Top prize of $3,000 was given to Do Something, a social networking game in which users get to play charades on their cellphones.

"I thought they were all winners," Spitz said after the gathering. "Everybody could be a success."



Source: (c)2012 The Buffalo News (Buffalo, N.Y.) Distributed by MCT Information Services


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