Each year, Georgia Southern students from across all majors and degree levels come together to “kick-start new businesses” through an event called Square 1 Startup Weekend, a startup pitch competition coordinated entirely by the Square 1 student organization and supported by Georgia Southern’s Business Innovation Group (BIG).
Five groups of student teams spent an entire weekend from March 5th to 7th researching, designing, and polishing a roughly formulated startup idea into a business model within their team. While the program saw fewer student applications than normal due to the conditions caused by the pandemic, still thirty-four students applied and fifteen were selected to participate in the finals. These fifteen students then spent the first day sharing their ideas with one another before voting on the top five concepts to refine and pitch in the competition. After dividing up into their teams, students dedicated the weekend to working together, researching their target market, and creating pitch decks for the finals.
The students did not go without guidance. Various industry experts served as mentors to the students, helping each team throughout the process by providing feedback and insights via Zoom. This was also the first Square 1 Startup Weekend to feature a virtual facilitator. Sean Alexander, a Georgia Tech Student and Founder of Next Publius, assisted the students by teaching them how to create a pitch deck and providing insights based on the Lean Startup model.
Suzanne Hallman, Assistant Director of Entrepreneurship Education at BIG, said that many of the students have relayed that mentorship is one of the most invaluable parts of the weekend. “They get to hear from people who have started businesses and worked with large corporations,” said Hallman. “That experience and expertise is really encouraging to them. Several have gotten job offers or internships through the networking they did during Square 1 Startup Weekend. When it comes to actually starting a business, many of them realize there’s so much more to it than just making something or starting to sell products/services.”
On the final day the students presented their pitch decks to a panel of judges, shark tank-style, in five-minute increments, followed by feedback from the judges. At the close of all presentations, voting commenced. The first-place winner received $150 and a free one year membership to BIG’s Innovation Incubator. The People’s Choice winner, which was voted on by those watching virtually, received $50 and a 6-month free membership to BIG’s Innovation Incubator.
The Student Teams & Winners:
WINNER Mercury Mobile Printers |Ben Youngstrom
3D printers in durable cases to be used in disaster relief applications or as educational training for kids in K-12.
PEOPLE’S CHOICE Curren$y | Gregory Cooper
Money transfer through cryptocurrency for foreign exchange students.
PictelX |Michael Bolar
Social media platform built by gamers for gamers
SciTech | Aishwarya Potluri
A mobile platform to consolidate and make charting for caregivers simpler.
R.I.S.E. | Darley Desormo
Restoring inspiration in student endeavors, mentoring program for student-athletes.
While this year’s event experienced some limitations due to COVID-19, business ideas were born and some students have plans to continue to turn their idea into a reality. Mercury Mobile Printers will continue to pursue their endeavor with BIG’s support. BIG will also connect all the student participants to previous program graduates for mentorship.
Hallman shared, “Covid may have put a damper on the number of applicants and participants this year, but I’m still very proud of what our Square 1 student organization was able to accomplish. I look forward to working with them to grow the club over the coming months. We’re planning on what’s next for the club and the students who are involved. I’m also excited to continue to work with students who are interested in bringing their ideas to life. “
More about Square One: Under the umbrella of Georgia Southern’s Business Innovation Group (BIG), the Square One student organization is made up of student officers and exists to help students find who they are and develop confidence in their unique skills and interests by offering workshops, engagement activities, speakers, events and insights.
About BIG: Headquartered at the Georgia Southern University City Campus, BIG was founded in 2014 when the Small Business Development Center, Bureau of Business Research and Economic Development, and Center for Entrepreneurial Learning and Leadership agreed to work together to leverage their resources and maximize the impact the programs can have on the economic vitality of the region. At BIG, our focus is to provide our students and the community with the skills and training necessary to understand business principles, to experience how businesses operate, and to successfully launch a new business enterprise. For more information on BIG, visit their webpage here.