One of the many topics that keeps getting tossed around at Monday Morning Open Coffee Startup Therapy for Entrepreneurs Who Love Coffee is the need to find ways to raise the profile of the startup community in general and of individual entrepreneurs here in Louisville.

In Cincinnati, for example, members of the Brandery accelerator get discounts at local restaurants, bars, and stores.

In Lexington, Awesome Inc. HQ is a veritable playground for entrepreneurs, and Awesome Inc. sponsors a bunch of media-friendly events that help bring Big Name Startup People to the region to speak and celebrate local startup entrepreneurs.

Louisville could take a page from both Cincy’s and Lex’s playbook on this. They seem to be keeping the Big Fish pretty satisfied in their small-to-medium ponds.

This weekend, for example, Lexington held its fifth Startup Weekend at Awesome Inc. The event attracted 68 participants and fielded 9 companies in the competition.

By contrast, Louisville held its first Startup Weekend in September with 42 participants and 5 companies competing.

Startup Weekend Lexington 2012 from the SWLEX website

The winning company of Startup Weekend Lexington this time around was GiftPool, founded by Blake HallZack Pennington, and Jun Huang. GiftPool is a Kickstarter-style program that allows friends and loved ones to pool money for large-ticket gifts.

So, let’s say you’re a mild-mannered reporter for an online news service in Louisville, and all you want for Christmas is a shiny new iPad. (You’re not greedy. You’ll take a mini. It’s not like you’re asking for a Ferrari or a GulfStream, right?) GiftPool will allow you (who have been very nice all year) to set up a site where your mother, your boyfriend, and your many employers, friends and fans could each chip in a little scratch to make your simple little holiday dream come true.

Unfortunately, the site isn’t live yet. So take your chances with Santa, I guess.

From the Startup Weekend website:

After delivering a functional application and a solid pitch, the GiftPool team surprised the audience by revealing that they had used their platform to raise over $200 from attendees and friends over the weekend, enabling them to gift a Keurig coffee machine to Awesome Inc.

By the numbers:

  • 68 participants
  • 24 ideas pitched
  • 9 teams formed
  • 7 delicious meals
  • 6 coaches
  • 4 judges
  • 3 layers of cake

While Startup Weekend is tech-heavy, it is not tech-exclusive. Startup Weekend Louisville featured a team competing with a mobile farmer’s market and this round for Lexington had an Aquaponics startup and a comic book company.

Startup weekend is only twice a year, but another event that helps build recognition for Lexington’s startup entrepreneurs is 5Across, held once every two months.

In two weeks, Awesome Inc. and Lexington Venture Club will host the finals for their annual 5Across competition. The 5Across website describes the event best:

An informal gathering of entrepreneurs, investors, and service providers from Lexington, KY. Each 5Across meeting will feature presentations from local entrepreneurs who will be pitching their idea to a panel of judges.

5 Pitches from different teams
5 Minutes per pitch
5 PM start time
$500 prize to the winning pitch

The winning pitch at each bi-monthly event (there’s five of them, of course) advances to the final round to be held at 5 p.m. on Dec. 5 at Awesome, Inc. ($5 to attend). There the five teams will give five-minute pitches to compete for a grand prize of… wait for it…

$4,000!

(Actually there’s $5,000 prize money total. The runner-up gets $1,000.)

The winner from the most recent round of 5Across was Dan Adams and his social network for sustainable living, Earthineer (think Facebook for people who are into homesteading, beekeeping, gardening, livestock, and home brewing). Earthineer is already pretty far along in its development stage.

Adams, the Mark Zuckerberg of Earthineer, delivered his winning pitch to the Lexington Venture Club’s lunch featuring Ben Casnocha. Adams told us that the site already features 13,000 members and that he was in conversation for more than $175,000 in investments. Earthineer, he says, needs $250,000 in seed money to launch.

Certainly the $4,000 in prize money that Adams would earn if his pitch won the final round on Dec. 5 won’t even make a dent in the $75,000 deficit between potential investments and need. But the opportunities that come with competing in 5Across are worth so much more than $4,000. (Not the least of which was the opportunity to speak to a lunch full of VCs and investment-minded people.)

Nick Such from Awesome Inc. stressed the importance of the frequency and predictability of the 5Across program. People in the community know when it is, can prepare accordingly and can get it on their calendars far enough in advance to avoid conflicts (much like the Moth StorySlams here).

We don’t need to reinvent the wheel here in Louisville. What we can do is beg, borrow and steal what other cities are doing right. These two events mean that Lexington gets together 8 times a year to celebrate the entrepreneurial spirit.

But, speaking of reinventing the wheel, the Venture Connectors of Louisville already hosts an event similar to 5Across called Venture Sharks, meant to emulate TV’s “Shark Tank.”  Venture Sharks does a two-round competition for pitches, but the entire event takes place over the span of only two weeks in the spring.

When I talked to Alex Frommeyer from Beam Technologies, a two-time participant in Venture Sharks about the 5Across program, he agreed that the predictability and frequency of the Lexington event was attractive. But he also cautioned about Louisville’s tendency to find something good and then replicate that thing bunches of times. Adding 5Across to an ecosystem that already supports Venture Sharks would be overkill, says Frommeyer.

But once a year for Venture Sharks in a city three times the size of Lexington seems like a missed opportunity. What can we do to populate the other eleven months of the year with our own awesome events? Can we somehow make our wheel better?

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