The Decaturian

Millikin Launch Weekend

Grady Johns

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Over the weekend, the Center for Entrepreneurship and the Agile program hosted Launch Weekend, giving eight teams the opportunity to take a risk and launch their ships. Launch Weekend and its predecessors has been one of the bigger catalysts for the Center of Entrepreneurship to gather Millikin’s entrepreneurial talent across all majors and disciplines. The participants gain the opportunity to possibly win seed funding.

        Launch weekend historically began as “Startup Weekend,” created by TechStars, a corporation that specializes in funding startups and mentoring them. Tabor School of Business adopted Startup Weekend about four years ago, and though it was moderately successful, the Center of Entrepreneurship director, Julie Shields, explained the structure was too rigid. They made the decision to adjust the program to better reflect the values and practices of Millikin’s entrepreneurship program, and hence Launch Weekend was born.

Launch weekend is different from a lot of other events of similar scale at Millikin because it is organized and executed solely by student fellows of the Agile program. Launch Weekend took place from the evening of Friday, February 17 through Sunday afternoon for a total of 48 hours. Last semester’s Launch Weekend offered participants only 24 hours to work. Returning participants said that the extra time was helpful in refining their work for the judges.

        On Friday, Launch Weekend kicked off with a dinner in Scovill’s lobby. The goal of the dinner was to give the participants a chance to meet and mingle with each other and start the process of idea generation for the initial pitches. To help facilitate this, the Agile Fellows prepared a couple of ice-breakers. After participating in these games, teams were optimistic and ready to form their ideas.

        Once teams were released from dinner, they had time to work until Sunday afternoon, when they would present to the judges. Judges would look for whether they got out of the building to talk to potential customers and businesses, which would determine if their idea could work. Judges also judged how well they executed and designed their idea and pitch. Did they have a viable business model from which to work?

After judging, the fellows bring in the mentorship part of Launch Weekend by first providing teams with a business model that provides a structure to work from, then by lending their expertise in helping the teams start towards a direction and answer questions.

Over the weekend there was one workshop every day that dealt with a critical aspect of pitching and building ideas. Shields led a customer discovery workshop on Saturday that highlighted aspects such as question formation, market segments, and how to do customer discover interviews.

On Sunday, Agile Fellows Hunter Somers and Estanfano Martinez discussed the basics of how to do a pitch through a short video and Q&A to give the teams plenty of time to finalize their pitches. To increase the number of eyes and expertise of the mentors, Agile also invited several Millikin professors to volunteer as mentors, offer insight, and answer questions specific to their field.

        Once Sunday came, the teams were feeling optimistic—though nervous—about the upcoming pitches at 3PM. The panel of judges included Jey Owens, a representative from Decatur Public Schools; Pierre Ganiere, a Financial director at ADM; Aric Hopp, a Millikin Alum; and Bruce Nims, an entrepreneur in residence at Millikin, and they decided how they would award the five thousand dollars in seed funding to the ideas.

Each team had five minutes to pitch, and the judges had a three minute window to ask questions from the teams. Between the time of Friday to Sunday, two more teams broke away, which turned the original six teams into eight. The final roster of teams included Holy Cow Technologies Co. who was seeking to provide free energy by using a device to harness the earth’s magnetic field; a bus company called Trip Affairs that wanted to combine low-rate bus travel with charter bus amenities to connect travelling college students; Belcher Moving, an early-established moving company seeking to build a social work component to help ease the stress of moving elderly parents into a nursing home; Feed Starving Artists which proposed an online art gallery to connect Millikin artist to their customers, and a few more.

In the nonprofit sector, Udesign pitched an idea of having a company that used Millikin students to design websites for small businesses and nonprofits at a lower cost. Ubrew was a group of upperclassmen wanting to sell the experience of brewing a personalized craft beer. Shadow Doc Network addressed the problem of medical students finding shadowing hours by compiling a list of doctors to choose students’ HIPPA files, helping students gain shadowing hours.

Finally, Locked Up proposed converting the now empty Cherry Berry into an escape room that changes its theme on a regular basis. They hope to address the problem of boredom in the Decatur area, and would partner with Millikin to allow Fine Arts students the ability to write stories and design sets for the escape room.  

        After about a thirty-minute intermission, the judges decided on the winners. In third place came Ubrew, winning one thousand dollars. Feed Starving Artists received one thousand in second place, and in first place came Locked Up for three thousand dollars.

When asked about their feelings on winning first place, the freshmen team, consisting of Mary Callaghan and Zach McReynolds, said they were, “Excited and ready to hit the ground running.”

Early in the weekend, the two had expressed that they sometimes felt they were just “dumb freshman” and therefore weren’t as qualified. Now with three thousand dollars of seed funding, they broke their own stereotype. We will have to wait and see how Mary and Zach get us “locked up” in the future.


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Millikin Launch Weekend