Startup Weekend heads to Cedar Falls

By Dorothy de Souza Guedes

CEDAR FALLS—It was a first place win for the youngest and most heavily female team at Startup Weekend Cedar Falls, an entrepreneurship competition held over a 54-hour period Nov. 21-23 on the University of Northern Iowa campus.

Winning team Simple Connection was praised by judges for providing a simple solution to a common problem at the exact right time: access to simple cellphone setup videos distributed at the time of purchase. Their cheerful, step-by-step demonstration video also impressed the judges.

The startup targets the owners of small cellphone store owners as subscribers to the company’s service. The videos create a better customer experience and decrease the number of tech questions staff must field from customers, allowing them to focus on sales.

The stunned team had expected to place fourth, at best, out of 10 based on the final five-minute pitches of the other teams Sunday night. Many of the weekend’s nearly 80 participants were older, more educated, already entrepreneurs or serial entrepreneurs – or all of the above.

The team was comprised of five students, including four from UNI: Kaylee Wellik, 20, art/print making/marketing with a certificate in entrepreneurship; Bradon Bergman, 20, finance/marketing; Kaylee Merritt, 20, marketing; and Kylie Anderson, 20, graphic technology. The fifth student, Ryan Weekly, 22, is a Hawkeye Community College grad who will return to UNI in January to study supply chain management.

A Sunday morning pivot to the winning idea was based on suggestions from mentors who volunteered on Saturday and Sunday to listen to team pitches, talk them through the pitfalls and strengthen the business model.

“They were solving a real problem that everybody recognized,” said Aaron Horn, Startup Weekend judge, CIO at Radiology Protocols and president of “I have a couple of ideas for them if they really go forward.”

Even before their win, Simple Connection members had decided to stay together. They plan to take a step back, go on winter break then regroup in January.

“We knew we worked very well together,” Ms. Anderson said.

Each team had five minutes to pitch then answered five minutes of questions from four judges, including Mr. Horn, Randy Pilkington, executive director of Business & Community Services at UNI, Paul Kongshaug, of BlendCard, and Paul Farmer, of Giraffe Revolution.

BlipLearn, an all-male team with the most developers, took second place for its platform to revolutionize online learning for software developers. The energetic, sweatband-wearing MotivateMii team took third place for its plan to create an audio stream of motivational content.

An honorable mention went to Wa2Do, an app designed to informally connect users with a common interest. Judges praised the nine-member team, led by Startup Weekend organizer Trevor Carlson, for the spirit of their work and customer validation process.

In addition to other prizes, the winners will work with Pixel Labs Creative Media House, of Cedar Falls, to create a 90-second video pitch within the 48-hour deadline for the Global Startup Battle global online video contest for Startup Weekend teams.

The Cedar Falls edition of Startup Weekend was one of more than 250 Startup Weekend events convened worldwide during the two weekends bookending Global Entrepreneurship Week.

Ari Kern, the weekend’s event facilitator and regional manager for UP Global and Startup Weekend, praised Cedar Valley organizers Michael Caraway, Keevin O’Rourke, Dan Beenken, Alyssa Nolte and Mr. Carlson for their first startup weekend.

“It’s a great time to get you on the map and show that startups can happen anywhere,” Ms. Kern said.