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Students and Alumni Take First Place at Charlotte Startup Weekend

A team of Davidson students and alumni recently won a first-place prize package worth $15,000 at Charlotte Startup Weekend, a three-day entrepreneurship contest to create a model business.

The ideas proposed by nine teams made it through a total of 40 ideas proposed in qualifying rounds. One of the teams, including Andrew Hathaway '08, Rex Salisbury '10, Alex Griswold '10 and Sam Echikson '14, was eventually judged as the overall winner for their fitness challenge company, YouCompeteMe.

Their proposed venture is a fitness application that allows smartphone users to track walking or running distances using GPS, as well as to challenge others who have the application to fitness contests. Over the course of the weekend, the team created a functional prototype of YouCompeteMe, and a promotional video viewable here:

A total of 20 Davidson students and alumni participants were among 90 entrants from around the region who gathered for the event in Packard Place, a building in downtown Charlotte specifically outfitted to facilitate entrepreneurship. The 14 Davidson students stayed in a hotel over the weekend so that they could fully immerse themselves in the competition.

The strong showing comes as Davidson continues to encourage student innovators and entrepreneurs through the college's Entrepreneurship Initiative. Startup Weekend competitions are held in cities across the globe, and the competition in Charlotte provided an arena for Davidson students and alumni to innovate and collaborate.

The Importance of Being Entrepreneurial

Charlotte Startup Weekend
Davidson students converged on Packard Place for Charlotte Startup Weekend.

Allison Dulin '10, Special Projects Manager for the President's Office, has been influential in fostering Davidson's Entrepreneurship Initiative. She said, "This was an excellent opportunity for students to learn what it's like to start a business. They had the chance to collaborate with technologists, entrepreneurs and other experts from a variety of backgrounds."

Rex Salisbury '10 encouraged Davidson students to engage with the Charlotte community. "As a Davidson student, I never took the opportunity to come to Charlotte," he said. "It's great to see Davidson students now come here for interactions with business people. The students gain a sense of what the entrepreneurial community is actually like."

Salisbury also stressed the value of entrepreneurship for liberal arts students. "Current Davidson graduates aren't going to have the typical desk jobs that graduates sought 30 years ago," he explained. "Nowadays you have to think in an entrepreneurial way in order to be successful. Entrepreneurship teaches you a flexibility in thinking and action that you can't learn in the classroom."

Those submitting initial pitches for their products were Ian Quackenbos '16, Antonia Giles '16, Claire Samuels '14, Sara Nordstrand '14, Tori Mayernick '14, Jared Blackney '14, Sam Echikson '14, Olivia Booker '13 and Becca Morgan '10. The pitches by Nordstrand and Morgan were selected to be included among the nine finalists.

Sarah Nordstrand ’14
Team leader Sarah Nordstrand ’14 works with teammates on their business proposal.

Nordstrand and teammate Chai Lu Bohannan '14 proposed a venture called "First In Line," designed to encourage retailers to discount products. Bohannan said, "We realized we both had a problem with online shopping. We only buy products when they're on sale, so we developed First In Line to encourage retailers to cut prices on products more often."

Serving as CEO of First In Line gave Nordstrand a taste of the challenges of managing a startup. "Being CEO was overwhelming-but in a good way," she said. "I had to convince business strategists, developers, marketers and others to join my team and help build First In Line. I also learned the importance of facilitating conversation and cooperation."

Nordstrand concluded, "Entrepreneurship gives me a place to test what I learned in the classroom. Davidson students learn many core ideas in a variety of disciplines, but starting a business allows you to implement those ideas in new and challenging ways."

Dulin agreed, explaining, "At its core, entrepreneurship isn't about money. It's about collaborating to solve a common problem, and then building something valuable out of an idea."