Tag Archives: startup weekend

Connecticut Startup ChicandBeautiful Combines Weight Loss With Fashion

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Sometimes ideas for companies come after months and months of careful deliberation.

This is not one of those times.

“It was two or three months ago when I was in front of a closet with my friend who said ‘What’s the point of trying to lose weight if I can’t afford a new wardrobe?’,” Katherine Yarbrough, of Bloomfield, said.

From that moment in front of the closet came the idea for the website ChicandBeautiful (formerly BeBeautiful) and Yarbrough took that idea and ran with it all the way to a second-place finish at Startup Weekend Stamford.  Yarbrough lived in Texas until July 2010 when she moved to Connecticut for grad school at UConn to get her masters in public health.  While in Texas, she was a Teach for America corps member and taught seventh grade science.

Katherine Yarbrough working on her pitch for ChicandBeautiful at Startup Weekend Stamford on April 1, 2012. (ASH AHUJA)

ChicandBeautiful aims to help women college-aged and above who are working on losing weight deal with having to buy an entirely new wardrobe with every size decrease.  Users with clothes that no longer fit can request a box for those items to send back to ChicandBeautiful.  ChicandBeautiful will then inspect the items and award that user credits to use towards clothes that fit their new, slimmer figure that others have submitted.  Users who don’t wish to sell any their clothes or who aren’t losing weight but just want to buy clothes on the cheap still can with a credit card.

ChicandBeautiful is only looking for higher quality apparel (think: J.Crew or Banana Republic) that would still have some value despite their used condition.  High-end designer apparel will be accepted, too.

Yarbrough believes one of the main reasons ChicandBeautiful did so well at Startup Weekend was because of how hassle-free the structure of the site is.  ChicandBeautiful will provide free shipping and returns and will take care of uploading photos of the clothing, so once the box is sent in the user’s work is done.  Yarbrough also hopes to be able to ensure that all clothes sent in are dry cleaned before they are resold.

Website prototype (ASH AHUJA)

Yarbrough presented what she called “very conservative” estimates in her final pitch at Startup Weekend but believes that ChicandBeautiful has the ability to explode and potentially become profitable sometime in year two.

Some future goals for ChicandBeautiful include focusing on the wellness aspect of the site once it gets off and running.  Yarbrough would like to eventually employ registered dietitians and PhDs to write for the site on a freelance basis and also try to form partnerships with companies like LA Fitness and Weight Watchers.  Additionally, future plans also include expansion into maternity, children’s and men’s clothing and a mobile application.

At this time ChicandBeautiful is working on constructing their website and is looking for investors.  Any questions or suggestions can be sent to chicandbeautiful.bb@gmail.com.

SW Stamford: Final Impressions

by Categorized: Entrepreneur, Startup Weekend Tagged: , , , Date:

Stamford’s first annual Startup Weekend was an awesome experience.  I was privileged to meet and get to know a ton of smart and fascinating people.

When I sat in on the eventual winner, MyStuDebt, practicing their pitch on Sunday afternoon I was floored by how thorough their idea was.  Their web-based platform to manage student loan focuses on providing borrowers with loan management tips, financial literacy information and repayment advice.  There’s no question that the idea for MyStuDebt comes at a perfect time with the student loan debt recently surpassing $1 trillion dollars.

The founders of MyStuDebt, Michelle Larivee and Amee Patel, two students at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania have informed Stamford Innovation Center leaders that they intend on moving to Connecticut after graduating to work on starting their business.

The MyStuDebt Team from left to right: Karim Assaf, co-founder Amee Patel, Thajeer Thundiyil, co-founder Michelle Larivee and Qing Quinton. At center is Ed Petner, lead organizer of the event and co-founder/managing director of the Stamford Innovation Center.

Another team I tried to catch up with on Sunday afternoon was Enerknol, a user-configurable database providing aggregated energy policy data into a single website for energy traders and investors.

I caught up with one of Enerknol’s team members, Darrell DeMakes of Riverside, who believes that with the insight from their founder, Angelique Mercurio and her 10 years of energy experience, there is no limit to how successful Enerknol could be.

DeMakes gave his own 60-second pitch on Friday night revolving around The Internet of Things and using sensors to control objects in a wireless way.  For example, if a family is vacationing for a week and is concerned about home security, they can use sensors that will tell their house lights to turn on when it gets dark to give the impression that someone is home.  Cool stuff.

Aside from all the great ideas that came up throughout the weekend, the one thing I will remember most is how fraternal the entire event was.  Even though technically people on different teams were competing with each other, I constantly saw teams helping each other out.  Every team wanted to win, but no one wanted to see another team fall flat on their face.

“Winning is nice, but it’s not the only thing,” Frank Kuchinski, a member of the MyWebCard team, said.  “The best prize is the journey.”

And the winner is…

by Categorized: Entrepreneur, Startup Weekend Tagged: , , , , Date:

…MyStuDebt, a web-based platform to manage student loans.

I sat in as they practiced their pitch today and it was clear that they were a well-oiled machine.  The idea behind MyStuDebt is that it’s built for students and paid for by the schools.  Why would schools want to pay for this?  It’s simple: schools with excessive default rates risk losing federal funding.

The co-founders of MyStuDebt, two students at The Warton School, receive a total of $21,000 in services, including work space and legal counseling.

BeBeautiful, an online clothing exchange for people losing weight earned second, while AgriCommWeather, a web-based weather dashboard for agricultural commodity traders won third place.

Full recap coming tomorrow.

Startup Weekend Stamford Day 3: Crunch Time

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With just under four hours left until the 5:00 final pitches everyone is hard at work fine-tuning the ideas they’ve worked so hard on all weekend.

The three areas the seven judges will be focusing on when making their decision are customer validation, business model and execution.

Some of the teams appear calm and have begun practicing their pitches, while others are working on the some of the smaller details like taglines.

I’ll be sitting in on some teams as they practice their pitches, so look for more on that in tomorrow’s full recap.

A Look Inside Day 2 Of Startup Weekend Stamford

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Day 2 of Startup Weekend is all about getting ready for judgment day on Sunday night.

The teams that were formed Friday night spend all day working together and with mentors to improve upon their idea.

I sat in on Gabinja’s team meeting for close to an hour. Gabinja is an Internet platform that connects South Korean corporations with English speakers that provide multi-faceted and specific evaluations of their workforce and performance. Gabinja started on Friday with three people, Michael Bernasek of Fairfield, Bobby Morse of Scituate, R.I., and Sarah Krikorian of Tampa, FL., all of whom once lived in South Korea. Arlen Bitsky, who works for an E-Learning website in Westport, joined the team on Friday.


Morse speaking with mentor Joe DeMarco, a managing partner at Ponus Ridge Investments

“If all we get out of this is Arlen working on our team then it’s worth it,” Krikorian said.

And aside from the prizes that’s what this weekend is all about — networking and finding the people to fill in the company holes.

Update: Date Hint becomes Love Squadron… for now

The renamed Love Squadron will allow users to seek the advice of their friends about where to go for a date.


Love Squadron app prototype

“If you’re going to go on a date you’re going to trust your friends the most,” founder Matt Murphy said. “Our platform will simplify that by pinging everyone about the date at once.”

Including advice from expert match makers and event planners has also been discussed.

The team also has an idea in place that would give Love Squadron a game aspect to it. For example, if a friend suggests a certain restaurant but the food is terrible that friend can receive a thumbs down and others would know that he or she may not be the best person to listen to.

So far, online and in-person surveys have been positive for Love Squadron as most people asked said they would be interested in using the service.

The team is not convinced that Love Squadron is the name that will stick, though. They have also been toying with playing off the word “wingman” in some capacity.

Update 2: Challenge Good aims to combine self-improvement and charity

The pitch for Challenge Good was one of the most impressive ones given on Friday night.  To me it seemed like something that would interest a lot of people.

Challenge Good is a social fundraising challenge aiming to make money for charity and see people achieve personal goals.  The idea is this: say someone wants to quit smoking, they can share that goal with friends and family who can then pledge money to a charity for successful completion of that goal which in turn helps motivate the smoker.

My favorite part of their idea is something they’re referring to as “Photo Fails” which adds a gaming element to the challenge.  For instance, the person who is supposed to be attempting to quit smoking could get photographed in the act and the donator could upload the photo to the site, adding a little bit of fun to the process.

The Challenge Good team of Adrian Lanning from Norwalk, Jessica Lokaj from New York and Alex Au, who traveled up from Washington DC, is still tweaking the idea a bit but as far as I can tell they have something solid in the works.

Update 3: Father and Son tackle self-promotion

A WebKard prototype

The first pitch from Friday night was for MyWebKard.com, by the father and son duo of Alex and 22-year-old Ryan Virvo.  Alex worked at ADV Marketing Group in Stamford for 27 years and Ryan is a junior studying psychology at UConn Storrs.

MyWebKard.com wants to challenge what Ryan called the “corporate look” of LinkedIn or Facebook where you know what you’re going to get as far as design is concerned.  MyWebKard would provide the template making it as easy for the user as adding text, uploading photos and changing the color scheme.

“Our slogan is ‘My Page, My Way,’ it’s about getting your own personality on a non-scrolling screen,” Ryan said.

For revenue purposes, the MyWebKard team has included a premium site in their plan.  The idea is for a fee users would be able to add tabbed pages and widgets to their WebKard.

Father and son combinations have a history of success at Connecticut Startup Weekends as we saw with MeritBooster who placed second in New Haven.

I’ll have more tomorrow.

Startup Weekend Stamford Day 1: Wow

by Categorized: Startup, Startup Weekend Tagged: , Date:

The Stamford Innovation Center at the old Town Hall

The first day of Startup Weekend Stamford is in the books (for me at least, as I’m sure newly-formed teams are still working on their business plans as I write this).

With the goal being to start a company in 54 hours I expected the process to be fast-paced but it was even more intense than I anticipated.

“Startup Weekend is a ton of energy and excitement,” Derek Koch, a volunteer facilitator, said. Koch is the founder and CEO of Independent Software and has participated in previous Startup Weekends so he’s there to make sure things run smoothly for the first-timers.

The evening began with speeches from Startup Weekend New York winner and Share With 911 CEO, Erik Endress, author and entrepreneur Bob Dorf, and “Doctor Disruptive” Jonathan Yarmis.

Then the excitement began with 48 company pitches. Each presenter was only given a strict 60 seconds to present their idea. Then the various designers, developers and other participants voted for the companies they thought were best. The 12 companies receiving the most votes became finalists and then began to build their team. Pitchers who didn’t make the cut became free to join other teams.

The Post-it notes represent votes

There were a few pitching techniques used but the most interesting (and surprising) came from Matthew Murphy, a MBA candidate at Babson College, who sang his pitch.

“With 40-plus pitchers today you have to do something to stand out,” Murphy said.

Murphy’s pitch was for a company called Date Hint, a date planning website. His plan to stand out certainly worked as he received enough votes to be one of the 12 finalists. Date Hint now has a team of 8 going into tomorrow.

Murphy selling Date Hint

It didn’t go quite as well for Adam Gagliardo, who grew up in Hebron. His idea, Salon Seek, did not make the cut. Salon Seek is an idea for a website and an app that allows users to read salon reviews, find nearby salons and book appointments immediately.

“I think I underestimated the presentation aspect,” Gagliardo said. “It’s a learning experience.”

The other finalists are: Risknicity, BeBeautiful, ChallengeGood, Dragon Tongue, Enerknd, MyStuDebt, Caregiver Roadmap, AgriComm, Gabinja, Paloba and KL Studio. More on them in a later post, as I’ll be sitting in on each team during Day Two.

By the way…

Sound familiar?

Startup Weekend Hits Stamford This Week

by Categorized: Startup, Startup Weekend Tagged: , Date:

Every new company starts somewhere and for a lucky few it will be at Startup Weekend in Stamford starting this Friday at 6:30 p.m. at the Stamford Innovation Center.

The 54-hour event is where designers, developers, marketers and potential investors all come together to share their company ideas, form teams and (hopefully) launch startups.  Speakers and mentors will also be around to help the teams out as they vie for $25,000 in prizes.  The prizes will be awarded Sunday night from 5-9 p.m. at UConn’s Stamford campus.

Startup Weekends are held worldwide.  Australia, France and Taiwan are just some of the countries hosting the event in the near future.  This coming weekend in Stamford will be the fourth time the event has been held in Connecticut, with previous stops in Storrs, New Haven and Hartford.

Tickets for “non-technical” people (business, marketing, PR) are no longer available, but some designer and developer slots are still open but I am told they’re going fast.  You can sign up here.

I will be there throughout the event talking to the participants and giving my impressions on their ideas, so check back all weekend for complete coverage of Startup Weekend Stamford.