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Friday, Nov 21, 2014
Education

Entrepreneurs spend weekend learning how to start up a startup

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— After being diagnosed with Crohn's disease, Brian DiVito was eager to adjust his diet to make the gastrointestinal condition manageable. But trips to the grocery store proved frustrating.

“I called the testing lab, and said, 'Listen, you guys just gave me this list of all these things I'm not supposed to eat. Do you have any resources that will help me not eat them? Because I just spent four hours in the grocery store to buy a box of alternative crackers, and they tasted like crap.'

“He goes, 'No, I'm sorry, we don't have anything. But that's a great idea.' ”

It was indeed a good idea, the St. Petersburg native thought.

“And here we are,” DiVito said, gesturing to his mobile phone.

Loaded onto that device is Wazinit, an app DiVito developed not only to solve his personal dilemma but also to help anyone struggling to find food that won't make them sick or that they want to avoid. With a quick scan of the universal product code on any grocery item, the app displays whether it contains an ingredient that could trigger an individual's distress (a red frowning face) or is OK to eat (a green smiling face).

Like many entrepreneurs, he couldn't do it alone. Last fall, DiVito wandered over to Startup Weekend at St. Petersburg College with nothing more than an idea. “I didn't have a concrete anything,” he said.

His fellow inventors, tinkerers and thinkers felt DiVito's idea was worth pursuing. Over the next two days his core contributors — wife Christina and programmer Zach Kanzler — and a handful of Startup attendees who joined his team turned the rough idea into a working model and an actual company. DiVito won the weekend competition.

This summer's Startup Weekend concludes tonight at Hillsborough Community College's Dale Mabry campus. Since Friday, teams of entrepreneurs have been fanning out, building products and business plans, getting advice from mentors and experts in law, business development, marketing and tech fields.

Friday night, Harwinder Kaur from Washington, D.C., pitched a social traveling app allowing a traveling party to share information.

Jonathan Shupe of Tampa had an idea to develop a wait-time app for restaurants and other businesses.

Engineer Pei Li Li wants to build a platform for online yoga instruction, and University of South Florida student Kevin Schnell pitched a universal ID.

The 60-second auditions went on into the night. Ninety-three entrepreneurs registered for the event.

Proposals were discussed, accepted and rejected, and people gravitated to ideas they found promising. Saturday and today, ideas turned into action.

“Startup Weekend is really designed to push people to leap,” said Andrew Gold, a business professor at HCC and advocate for entrepreneurship. “A lot of people have great ideas, but they don't act. Entrepreneurs are doers. We're trying to get people to do, not just dream.”

Startup Weekend is a global grass-roots movement of entrepreneurs who are learning the basics of launching successful ventures. The Seattle-based group has organizers in more than 200 cities around the world and has held 1,800 events in 120 countries this year.

Programs already in place help explain why the Tampa event has become so popular.

HCC offers a business development and entrepreneurship certificate. Across the bay, St. Petersburg College just opened an Innovation Lab space at its Seminole campus where students can create, innovate and tinker.

The University of South Florida St. Petersburg has been named a U.S. outstanding emerging entrepreneurship program, the school's entrepreneurship club is a repeat winner of a national startup simulation challenge, and the campus has been selected for the headquarters of the U.S. Association for Small Business and Entrepreneurship.

USF's Tampa campus has established a Technology Transfer Office for Patents and Licensing, where faculty and students can turn for help, and the university was ranked 15th in the world in the number of U.S. patents granted to universities.

“There's a lot of awesome people in the area,” said DiVito. “There's a very active and very experienced community of entrepreneurs and other successful people here.”

Wazinit is now in beta testing for Android devices. An Apple product is due by the end of the month, and DiVito, whose condition is under control, hopes to have an official release in six months.

 

jstockfisch@tampatrib.com

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