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Sherri Richards, Published March 02 2014

Startups at work: Previous entrepreneurial events have lingering impact in Fargo

FARGO – Bill Burgess and Brandon Medenwald say last year’s Startup Weekend here was the shot in the arm their business, Simply Made Apps, needed.

“The environment, the energy in the room is so awesome,” Medenwald said. “It’s just a lightning bolt to get things done.”

This Friday through Sunday, Fargo will play host to its third Startup Weekend, an event where entrepreneurs come together, pitch ideas, form teams and work through the weekend to develop a product or plan. Their final presentations are judged Sunday evening.

More than 1,000 Startup Weekends have been done in 478 cities worldwide.

According to StartupWeekend.org, more than 36 percent of event startups are still going strong after three months. About 80 percent of participants say they’ll continue working with their team or startup after the weekend.

Burgess and Medenwald had already founded Simply Made Apps and were selling its inaugural product, a digital in/out board, when they attended Fargo’s first Startup Weekend last March. But in the months following, Burgess quit his day job, and they hired two of their Startup Weekend team members, Michelle Vasicek to do marketing and Randall Fish as an application developer.

The project they worked on during last year’s event – an app to facilitate peer-to-peer trading of items – has been put on a backburner because they’re soon starting work on the company’s second app, Medenwald said.

Startup Weekend “opened a lot of doors to more connections and more people,” Burgess said.

While their team didn’t place in the voting, the advice they got about marketing and targeting customers have helped them focus their second project, he added.

“Being there, in that room with all these other people trying to start new products and business, it’s electric. It’s contagious,” Medenwald said. “That energy has carried through.”

From idea to patent

In addition to last March’s event, a Women’s Startup Weekend was held in January in Fargo.

The winning team from that weekend worked on an idea pitched by 23-year-old Courtny Evanson, a single mom who attended on scholarship and didn’t know much about the event.

“I wasn’t even going to pitch my idea. I hate speaking to groups of people,” Evanson said.

Her idea was for a massage-style table that would allow nursing women to pump their breasts while sleeping. A heating pad and rolling massagers would help prevent clogged ducts and mastitis.

Evanson pumped exclusively for seven months because her son was allergic to formula. She often wished she could sleep for those 30 minutes several times a day.

She’s filed a patent application for her invention, called The Nevaeh, and is working on a prototype.

Evanson plans on pitching the table to hospitals, universities and corporations that under federal law must provide space for workers to express breast milk.

“Their employees are well-rested, their children are healthier because they’re getting breast milk, and they’re saving money because they don’t have to spend it on formula,” she said.

Dr. Susan Mathison, an organizer of Women’s Startup Weekend, points to other success stories from the weekend, too, including a caterer now booking gigs and at least one other startup team that has filed papers with the Secretary of State’s Office.

“Even the nonwinning groups are still going forward,” Mathison said.

Readers can reach Forum Business Editor

Sherri Richards at (701) 241-5556