Virginia Tech students explore entrepreneurship from ideation to action at Startup Weekend
More than 80 Virginia Tech students from across multiple colleges and disciplines descended upon the Apex Center for Entrepreneurs to participate in the first-ever Startup Weekend. Held Sept. 2-3, the event helped guide students through the steps of launching a startup, from ideation to action.
The Apex Center, housed within Pamplin College of Business, provides interdisciplinary programs and resources to students who want to become entrepreneurs or learn more about starting a business. The center served over 2,000 students in academic year 2021-22. A recent philanthropic commitment from Win Sheridan ’94 will help Apex engage more student entrepreneurs in educational programming, networking, and funding opportunities to catalyze their business ventures.
“It was incredible to have that many students participate in a not-for-credit experiential learning event over a holiday weekend,” said Sean Collins, managing director of the Startup Hokies program portfolio at the Apex Center. “The success of the event shows the level of enthusiasm for entrepreneurship that can be found at Virginia Tech.”
With help from faculty practitioners from Apex, as well as alumni such as Chris Cunningham '12, co-founder of Clickup, students worked alongside one another to develop startup ideas to tackle large, “billion people” problems. Thirteen student-led startup teams were then formed, each comprised of Virginia Tech students and international students from the German Fulbright Summer Institute Leaders in Entrepreneurship program operated by Cranwell International Center.
“The best teams not only come from the unlikeliest of places, but also from the ability to let down barriers and get to know and connect with the people around you,” said Levern Currie, an industrial and systems engineering Ph.D. student who participated in the weekend. “I feel that while an idea must have a solid foundation, a solid team is even more paramount. My team was awesome and we had a great time, all of which helped to ease some of the anxiety surrounding the competition.”
Some of the concepts generated from the event included a hardware and software solution to enhance how blind people navigate using laser imaging, detection, and ranging technology (or LIDAR). Also conceived was a new workplace productivity tool that uses a facial recognition solution to enhance individual productivity online. Most impressively, each of the student teams produced a working prototype to demonstrate their creative approach to their problem.
Currie said the event allowed her to utilize several different skill sets during each phase of the entrepreneurship process.
“I was able to leverage my ability to develop ideas by proposing one during the initial project pitches,” she said. “Next, I was able to use charisma and networking to get people interested in my idea, which helped during the voting and team formation. Lastly, while my team and I were coming up with our three-minute-long pitches, I was able to use my project-management and team-building skills to ensure that each member of our team was being utilized in a way that played to our strengths.”
In keeping with the fun nature of Startup Weekend and its emphasis on collaboration, event prizes consisting of high-end Startup Hokies-branded “swag” were awarded to the top three teams as determined by a panel of external judges. All participants left with a new network of peers, alumni contacts, as well as Startup Hokies T-shirts.
“As a young entrepreneur, I think participating in events like this will only help me on my journey,” said Currie “Whether it's through the connections I make — friends, mentors, and potential partners — or just the experience of learning the skills necessary to be an entrepreneur, this event taught me a lot in two days.
“Startup Weekend gave me invaluable tangible, transferable skills and experiences that I can take with me into other spaces and utilize when going into higher-risk settings. It has also given me a sense of confidence and trust in my capabilities as an entrepreneur that I can take with me wherever I go.”