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Startup Weekend to arrive in W. Michigan on Friday

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Imagine launching a product—from conception to employee recruitment to development—in just a little more than one work week's time. Cram those 54 hours into three days and it's called Startup Weekend.

On Feb. 26, technology volunteers will dive into the chaos of product creation at West Michigan's first Startup Weekend. Startup Weekend is a nonprofit that sponsors whirlwind networking events all around the world. Sixty events in 54 cities in 12 countries are lined up for this year, and in November 2009, two West Michigan technologists, Michael Boyink and Aaron Schaap, contacted Startup Weekend in Seattle, Wash. to procure a stop in Grand Rapids.

"Startup weekends have been around since June 2007," said Marc Nager, partner at Startup Weekend. "It used to be a model where only one idea was worked on over the weekend. Since then, it's rapidly evolved."

Although they are referred to as volunteers, each participant pays a $40 fee to cover costs for meals and event swag. Volunteers self-select as developers, graphic designers, social media communicators, legal experts and others.

On Friday night's kickoff, volunteers will pitch their ideas, some that have been stewing for a while and others that are developed on the spot. Volunteers will then distribute play money to "put their money where their mouth is," Nager explained. Anywhere from four to six ideas are selected, and teams are formed with the missive to launch the product on Sunday.

"In Idaho, we had somebody come up with an application for car dealerships. The application was for a mechanic to communicate with a customer," Nager shared. "It notifies customers of extra work rather than going through standard methods of communication that are more tedious."

Selected projects tend to be social media-based or web and mobile applications. One project that stood out to Nager was Foodspotting, an iPhone application that works like Foursquare.

"You can take a picture of any food you're having and it geolocates where you're eating it," Nager said. "It allows people to go back and search if they're looking for a specific dish. It can give you five local places to get that dish."

Neither Boyink nor Schaap have been to Startup Weekends, but both are active in the tech community. Collectively, they have initiated at least seven startups, authored books and coordinate regular tech meetups. The event will take place at The Factory (38 W. Fulton, Ste. 301), a community working space above San Chez Bistro and one of Schaap's startups.

"I get so discouraged just about any time I tune into the news. There's so much gloom and doom, justifiably so, but I just really wanted to put on an event that's something positive," Boyink said. "The hopeful goal is businesses and jobs coming out of it."

Schaap is focused on bolstering West Michigan's entrepreneurial spirit. "We want to show people you can have a thousand ideas and you can try two thousand. Some are going to fail, but some are going to hit."

Since December, Boyink and Schaap have been organizing the event on the ground floor, from mobilizing volunteers to finding local sponsors. Tech events tend to attract more male participants, and the pair wants to encourage women to attend. Microsoft will subsidize tickets for women technologists who find the ticket price too steep.

Registration is open till the kickoff time. The planning team expects 30-40 participants for the region's first Startup Weekend.

According to Nager, 35% of projects from Startup Weekends are still active in some form. Ten percent are able to secure funding.

"We're looking for anybody who has an idea to show up," Schaap said. "They don't have to be established. They can make it up that night if they want. We're looking for people who can help others implement their ideas."

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 Thanks again for promoting the event.  It was an unqualified smashing success.  I've posted a summary with photos on my blog: