LifeBit, a mobile app that can “hear” a fire alarm (and eventually tornado sirens and burglar alarms) and vibrate the phone and flash lights to alert a hearing-impaired user, won the 10th Startup Weekend on Sunday.
In 2003, 28 children were killed by fire at the Russian School for the Deaf. This incident inspired the team to create an app that can detect the sound decibel required by law for fire alarms and react. The team noted that most hearing-impaired people rely on bed-shakers for that purpose. But they reached out to a pastor who is deaf, and he told them that he had never fallen asleep on the couch in his life because he worried about not being awakened in an emergency. The LifeBit would allow people to sleep where they wish and travel with peace of mind.
Participants pitch an idea, build a business and then compete in a pitch contest during Startup Weekend. It opened on Friday night at the Kentucky Science Center theater with around 60 participants. These competitors pitched more than 30 different business ideas, which were then voted on and narrowed to the top 12.
Mayor Greg Fischer gave the keynote speech. He noted that according to TechStars, the parent company of Startup Weekend, no other city in the world has had 10 consecutive Startup Weekends run by the same, fluid organizing committee. He talked about his own experience as an entrepreneur and about how Louisville embraces its entrepreneurial community.
Following the voting, the participants gathered into teams and began brainstorming their ideas at LouieLab, the co-working space of the Metro Office of Performance Improvement and Innovation, which hosted the event. Many of the groups worked until well past midnight.
On Saturday, Shane Reiser, the TechStars volunteer from Tuscon who facilitated the event, gave the participants a 45-minute lesson on “empathy interviews” and customer validation. Then, most of the teams hit the streets to talk to potential customers and validate their ideas. The rest of the day was spent building ideas, debating and creating content. Several of the teams embraced new ideas. One team dropped out entirely. Teams again worked late into the night.
Sunday was a furious race to tech checks at the Science Center Theater at 4:30 p.m., with teams building their pitch presentations, some of them even mocking up prototypes for the competition. Over the course of the weekend, more than a dozen mentors from the entrepreneurial community visited LouieLab and worked with the teams.
The Star Wars-theme pitch competition was delayed due to technical difficulties. But eventually, 11 teams gave three-minute pitches, using the 40-foot theater screen for their presentations and then faced five minutes of Q&A from the four judges.
The judges were Maggie Galloway, chief executive of Inscope Medical Devices; Aiden Connolly, chief innovation officer at Alltech; Lesa Seibert, chief executive of Mightily; and Chris Head, co-founder of MobileServe.
LifeBit, the winning team, received a package of pro bono professional services as a prize. The big prize is that the nine-person team received an automatic bid to the Venture Sharks semifinals on Wednesday where they have the chance to compete with eight other companies for a prize package totaling $37,000.
Second prize went to the tiny team of InLieu. InLieu is a web platform that allows people to throw “virtual parties” and raise funds for a charity in lieu of receiving birthday presents or presents for another occasion. The user chooses not only a charity, but a specific project at that charity, and creates a landing page to share with friends and family. When the funds are raised, the charity completes the project and shares the results with the user and his or her fundraising partners.
NATIVE Books landed in third place. The founder of the company is a Russian immigrant who has small children at home. He wants to read to them in Russian, but he has a hard time finding books. When friends ship books to him from overseas, the shipping costs are more than the books. NATIVE Books is a subscription box service that sends around three books a month, at first in Russian but eventually, there will be services in other languages, too, to parents who want to encourage their children to learn languages.
Honorable mention went to Voice Box. It is an alarm clock that is programmed by school administrators. The Voice Box team discovered the biggest reason for truancy in elementary schoolchildren is their guardians oversleeping. The Voice Box alarm goes off at a time set by the school and if no one turns it off in an appropriate amount of time, an automated phone call goes out to the guardian.
The other teams were:
ICMD: A web platform that helps physicians create videos to inform, connect with and educate their patients.
Hello Political: A crowdfunding platform for local and state politicians that allows politicians to share their priorities and provide a place for people to donate to their campaigns.
Res-List: Helps doctors to hand off patients during shift changes. The founder said that 70 percent of all hospital-caused deaths are communication-related. Res-List helps with that.
Spy Seal: A mobile phone case that guards your privacy by blocking both the camera and the microphone.
Fyt: Pairs people with workout partners for accountability and safety. The really simple profiles match you to people with similar interests and fitness levels.
Scribe: This platform acts as a “video scrapbook” on which people can record videos of their relatives sharing stories. The site contains discussion starters and ways to integrate photos into the videos.
The next Startup Weekend will be in October.
Editor’s note: The author volunteers at Startup Weekend.