Idea #6: CityStartup

I’m talking to the city tomorrow about this proposal, so let me know you’re thoughts ASAP!

Our mission: to use entrepreneurship to affect social change.

  • We believe that entrepreneurship is the sustainable solution to the problems of our time.  So we want to give students the opportunity to be entrepreneurs before they leave college, with the hope that they will continue down this path upon graduation and ultimately make a meaningful difference in the world.

Our proposal: We know that the Durham Chamber is working to bring entrepreneurs to Durham and to attract and retain the existing talent from nearby universities, with the goal of making the city the entrepreneurial hub of the South.  And this is where we believe we can add value.

To retain university talent, students need more exposure to the amazing resources of downtown Durham.  More importantly though, we need to put them in a situation that allows them to have a real impact by utilizing the resources.  So how do we do this?

The solution: The city is a business, and there is room for innovation in every business.  So we want to create a startup team within this business that works to continuously improve upon all the awesome things that the city is doing.  Specifically though, we want to have this startup composed of students.

We know it can’t be a “full-time” startup since we’re working with students, so instead we will mimic the startup environment as best as possible through a 4 week startup project, “CityStartup”.  We recruit a team of students that fill each void of a startup (namely, a visionary, hustler/designer and engineer/developer), and then we (including local mentors) help them identify and solve a real problem that the city wishes to address.  The goal is to come up with a working solution to the problem in 4-weeks.

How it works:

  1. Our team works with the city to identify opportunities for improvement in Durham (April – June)
  2. Our team recruits a group of students to the CityStartup (April – May)
  3. CityStartup chooses a problem to attack and determines the proper solution to solve this (week 1 of program)
  4. CityStartup builds a working model that solves the problem (weeks 2-4 of program)
  5. CityStartup pitches the solution to the city (culminating event)
  6. The city determines whether or not to “invest” in the solution (will they put in the resources to continue the developed solution)

Note: the whole program will be very mentor driven, students will interact with mentors and other startups on a daily basis to get advice and pointed expertise.

How will it mimic a startup?

  • have to raise money to get into the program (each student required to raise $1,000 to pay for food and travel)
  • the team itself will replicate the structure of a startup team
  • required to build solution that fits and works within a budget
  • have time constraint to “launch”
  • employ lean startup methods to test and pivot solution
  • create pitch to city (aka investors)
  • the opportunity to succeed or fail (does the city accept the proposal)

What’s missing? (we can have experts come in to discuss this stuff)

  • incorporating company
  • operating the business (there may be some of these during the latter half of the program)
  • the solution to the problem may not be a money making entity

The goal of the program:

  1. Introduce students to entrepreneurship, and specifically the process of identifying a problem, finding a solution and “build a business” around that solution
  2. Expose the students to the resources of downtown Durham, including the startups in the area as well as mentors
  3. Create viable solutions for existing problems in the city

What do students get from this program?

  1. An opportunity to have a meaningful impact during an “internship” (hands on experience)
    1. their insight will be just as valuable, and carry just as much weight, as any of the program directors
    2. they will be EXPECTED to contribute, and to shape the project
  2. An opportunity to act as a founder in a startup
  3. An opportunity to work with the cool side of startups (coming up with the idea, building a business around that idea)

Who are we looking for?

We’re looking for students who know they belong in a startup, but haven’t found that great idea to go for.  We need visionaries, hustlers, engineers and developers to create the first ever CityStartup team.

This summer is a test:

The first year will be a test, and accordingly there will only be one startup team.  This experiment will answer the following questions: can we organize a group of students to help the city solve problems, can we do this in a startup fashion and can we do this with minimal resources (and funding)?

If we succeed, we plan to include more teams in the years to follow, creating a student accelerator program of sorts.  We also hope to find ways to make the program year round, but we’ll save that for later down the line.

Where could we take this?

Simply put, we think Durham is the perfect starting point to catalyze larger social change.  We know that in order to effectively influence a large group, we must start small.  So we want to create a partnership with Durham, which fosters a community that is prepared to drive this influence.  Ultimately, we plan to build upon our progress in Durham throughout the country (and eventually the world!).

Idea #5: Athletes to Entrepreneurs

This is an idea I am actual going through with (first program this summer!), so please share your input!  We’ve made a lot of progress on the business, but first let me share with you the basics below.

The story:
I was an athlete and was fortunate enough to land an internship with a bank between my junior and senior year.  While the experience was exciting, and I learned a lot, I realized that this industry did not allow me to put to use all my skills I learned through sports.  Teamwork didn’t exist, relationships didn’t seem to matter and personal growth and effort was not rewarded.

So after working full-time for a year, I decided to try something new: I quit my job as a banker and started working for a startup company.  And it was in this setting that I excelled, and truly felt that my time as an athlete put me in a position to succeed.  The ideals of teamwork, a unified vision for a goal, a desire to push each other to get better and a sense of real fulfillment at the end of each day were more than apparent.

So now I want to provide the opportunity for athletes to learn about these entrepreneurial opportunities earlier, so ultimately they can be in a position to succeed as they have in athletics.

The vision:
Provide athletes with an opportunity to learn and develop skills as an entrepreneur before they get out of college.

Why are athletes special:
1. Dedication, passion and energy
2. Hard work
3. An ability to learn quickly
4. Not afraid to fail, or to try new things
5. Teamwork, ability to collaborate
6. Putting aside personal goals for the betterment of the team (not afraid to pivot)

So what can we provide them?
Create an institute to host a 6-8 week internship experience geared specifically towards athletes growing through entrepreneurship.  The focus will be on honing in entrepreneurial skills.  To do this, each applicant will be required to submit an idea of which they wish to pursue when coming into the program.  We then spend our time mentoring these individuals based on their idea (which can – and will – change throughout the course of the program).

We will have a mentor group that includes specialists (web designers, consultants, lawyers) that will help with the logistics of starting a business, as well as industry experts that can help specific individuals sort through their ideas.

Each day our members will hear speakers, have individual 1 on 1 time with mentors, have personal time to develop their own ideas and have time to stay in shape / practice their sport.

Our promise will be to match each participant with a job with a startup company for the next year.

Questions:
1. As a college student (past or current), would you apply? If you are a current student and are interested in the program please email me!
2. Do you know the person in charge of career development for athletes at your school?  If so, please email me!
3. Would you be interested in helping out?  Again, please email me!

Trip Me Out: for volunteers traveling abroad

The vision: Give people the opportunity to make the world a better place while traveling and experiencing amazing things.

The problem: People who want to volunteer abroad have to raise upwards of $1,000 to go on the trip.  But these are volunteers, their donation of time should be enough.  Right now the volunteers are encouraged by the non-profits to use conventional means to fundraise (reach out to church organizations, family and friends, raise money from college funds, write letters to people, throw events, etc.), but again, this is asking too much of these generous people donating their time.  So how can we make it easier for these individuals to raise money?

The solution: Create an online platform for volunteers to raise money through “crowd funding” (many different people give a small amount of money to pay for someone to volunteer abroad).  The platform would be a “widget” which allows you to quickly and easily add the tool to other existing sites.  This way non-profits (looking for volunteers) could:

1. host this fundraising platform on their own site, and make it accessible to the volunteers they accept right from their own site
2. get more exposure to their trips and volunteers who are fundraising (more exposure because the “widget” could be used by sites that encourage or promote volunteering abroad but don’t actually host trips themselves)

If you’ve considered volunteering abroad, was the cost a big deterrent?
Would you be more inclined to volunteer abroad if something like this existed?
Would you donate money to someone you didn’t know on this platform?
Do you know any experts in this field (international non-profits that takes on volunteers)?

The Lean Startup method: how it ties into the blog

(the ideas will be back shortly, sorry for the delay, but it’s important we are on the same page!)

As inspired by the suggestion from Court S., below is a brief explanation of the Lean Startup method, and how we will employ it on the blog.  This will give you a better understanding of what we are trying to accomplish here at Inspiring to be Inspired!  I highly recommend checking out the book so you can form your own opinion on it.

What is the lean startup method?

A scientific approach to building a sustainable business.  The key is to build a product that customers actually want, not what you think they want.  To do this, we employ the build, measure, learn loop (see explanation in key point #1 below).   Every assumption is tested so that minimal effort is put towards building things that people don’t want.

Key points:

1. It’s all about experimenting: First come up with a hypothesis.  Next, develop a way to test that hypothesis.  And finally, identify a way to measure the test to determine the validity of the hypothesis.  Learn from the results and come up with a new hypothesis, test and way to measure.  Continue this loop throughout the life of the product.

2. Minimal viable product: Put minimal effort into the product (or test).  The goal is to find the quickest and easiest way to test your assumptions.  No need to waste time on any features not being measured by the test.

3. The product will change…a lot: At the beginning, your “product” may look nothing like what the final product will look like.  It’s about testing the assumptions, not creating the perfect product right away.  Change the product according to what you learn from the tests.

4. Test the biggest assumptions first: Identify your biggest assumptions right away, and test for the validity of these first.  If the biggest assumptions do not hold true, there is no point in creating the product in the first place.

So how are we using the lean startup method on this blog?

On the blog, we are strictly looking at ideas, so we start with the learning phase:

*Learn what needs to be fixed (identify a problem and create a hypothesis)
*Develop tests to determine the validity of the hypothesis (come up with questions to answer the largest assumptions)
*Build the product needed to test the experiment (write the blog post)
*Measure based on the the feedback/comments received (this is why commenting is so important!)

In no sense is this perfect, but again, we are practicing.  This does not mean that the ideas can’t be used, matter of fact I continue to build on a few of these ideas outside the blog.  But this should be a fun way to employ these tactics so that we can use them more effectively down the road.

Let me know if you guys think there is a better way to do this!  On the same note, if you would like to add anything relevant about the lean startup, be my guest!  The simpler the explanation the better!

The ideas will be back in no time!

The Purpose Redefined

Inspiring/Inspired people!

Yesterday two contributors put up two insightful comments (inspired by Idea #4: Trip Me Out).  Both questioned the purpose of the blog, and asked why we are putting all our effort towards meaningless products when we could be working to create something that truly betters the world we live in.

It really made me think about why we are doing this.  First, I’d like to share my response with you, which defines the purpose of the blog.  Then, I will redefine the structure of the feedback loop in the blog so that we can more effectively reach our goal.

1. The purpose

The comments (see the bottom two posts)

The response
Thanks a lot for the thought provoking post! While it may seem that we are doing “meaningless” work on this blog, I’d like to challenge you on this.

The purpose of this blog is to learn, and to inspire others to do the same. More specifically, it’s to learn to think creatively. While we hope to come up with some awesome ideas, each one of these posts is really just a lesson in disguise. I blame myself for not being more clear with this in the “purpose” page.

So through this blog, we are all becoming more creative. We’re practicing identifying problems, assessing them, and ultimately using that information to come to better solutions. While the ideas themselves may not be addressing “far reaching problems”, my belief is that as we learn – as we become more creative – we will turn to these larger issues and more effectively solve them.

By inspiring each other to learn, our impact can be much more meaningful. Instead of one person coming up with one idea, we will inspire 50 people to come up with 50 ideas. Now don’t you think that will be much more meaningful?

2. The new structure of the blog

I think what we are doing IS changing the world for the better.  And while that impact may seem small now, it will become something GREAT in the future!

But in order to more effectively learn (our goal), I will redefine how I’d like the users to participate.  We will use the “plussing theory”.  Ideas can only be built upon, they can never be shot down.  It can be the whole idea you build upon, or just a tiny part of it.  Find what is valuable and make it better.

And if you think the idea is terrible, don’t explain why its terrible, give us a solution.  It’s easy to shoot something down, we can always think of hundreds of reasons why an idea won’t work.  The real hard part is determining what will work, and why it will work.

I hope you all share the same vision as I do and continue to participate!  If you don’t think this is the best way to reach our goal, let us know below and explain what WILL work.

Pumped to continue to progress!

Idea #4: Trip Me Out – Gamify the user experience

The problem: People want to travel but cannot afford to do so.  How can people go on awesome adventures without having to fund the entire trip themselves?

What we know now:
1. Travelers want to raise money to go on awesome trips
2. Travelers are willing to share a private log of their experiences with those that donate
3. Donators will most likely only donate to their friends and family if the only perk is getting an inside look on the adventure

Right now, the structure is a win-win, but favors the traveler by a long shot.  So how could we balance it out?  How could we encourage the donators to fund random travelers?

Solution: Gamify the experience for the donators, give them the opportunity to dictate what happens on the trip

The target user: adventurers looking to travel for free (but are flexible as to what activities they do)
The structure: kickstarter-style fundraising (all or nothing), requiring a minimum $5 donation
The perks for the donators:
1. Access to a media portal that gives you an inside look at the trip (includes videos, pictures and writing)
2. The ability to decided what the traveler does
– Throughout the entire trip the traveler posts different options for the day’s activities, and the donators vote to see which one the traveler does
– As the traveler, put pressure on yourself to do things you normally wouldn’t do: “speak to two native girls only in spanish, or try to get on stage to sing with the local mariachi band?”
– The traveler is held accountable as they have to update the trip log thereafter with evidence that the activity was completed

Questions:
*As a donator, would deciding the travelers activities make it a more interesting experience for you?
*As a donator, would you be more inclined to give $5 to a friend to travel if you had control over what they did?
*As a donator, would you be willing to pay $5 to have control over a strangers trip (assuming the stranger is an interesting and exciting individual)?

Idea #4: Kickstarter for travel meets reality TV

First, if any of you guys are drawn to a certain idea that I put up, let me know (send me an email).  I’d love to bring people on in any capacity, whether its continuing to give feedback or taking on your own experiments.  Continued participation is strongly encouraged!

Speaking of which, I will continue working on After $chool (Johnny, killing it with the name!), so if you’re interested in being a part of it, send me an email.

The new idea: Kickstarter for travel meets reality TV

The details: The site would be similar to kickstarter – a traveler posts a trip that they want to take and sets a target amount of money that is needed to make that trip a reality.  The twist: each funder can only provide a $5 donation, which gives him an inside view of the traveler’s experiences.  The traveler will be required to document the experiences using videography and photography, posting continuous updates to the platform during the trip.

Who would donate?
*Family and friends who want to help make a loved one’s dream a reality
*People considering taking a similar trip in the future (can get a better understanding of what the trip will be like through the eyes of a fellow traveler)
*People who love getting an inside look at other people’s lives (reality TV lovers, this is you)
*People who know they will never do the particular activities (due to fear or physical constraints or lack of time) and want to see what it is like

I’m hoping to get some pointed feedback on this one, so if you could answer the following it would be much appreciated!
*What would be a good name for this service?
*Would you donate?  If so, who would you donate to (which category do you fit in above)?
*Would you try to fund your own trip using this service?

Idea #3: Dealmater – Need Your Input!

Idea #3: Dealmater – The Next Steps

Name
Dealmater, Sameskool (less concerned with this for now)

The big question
How much will the schools themselves participate?  Will they actively reach out to alumni business owners to do deals?  With they provide an incentive (potentially monetary) to encourage them to do deals?  This will determine the structure.

The benefits
For the graduates: get a special deal on a product/service, meet like-minded individuals
For the business owner: drive traffic into your place of business, create stronger customer loyalty, meet like-minded individuals
For the colleges: get up to date information on your alumni, create a stronger alumni network

Largest problem
Existing websites could easily jump in to fill the niche (to counter: get alumni networks working with the site early)

Main assumptions (need to be tested)
1. Business owners feel tied to their alma mater
2. Business owners are willing to give discounts just to a specific group (as opposed to opening up the deal to anyone)
3. Graduates would be excited to attend the event knowing that others from their alma mater will be there (and the owner is a graduate as well)
4. Colleges would be willing to pay to get access to this information (a list of businesses that are owned by graduates and offering deals to alumni in certain locations) and to facilitate the process of creating deals and getting alumni to the event
5. You would be able to monitor where people went to school (both with regard to the business owners and the participating alumni)
– doesn’t need to be ALL graduates, could be mostly graduates AND fans or friends of alumni as well (still in the “like-minded” category)

First test: Get in touch with the alumni office and gauge interest.  How much help would they be willing to provide?  How much money would they be willing to spend?  What services are they putting their money into now?

Second test: Get in touch with the owners of local businesses and gauge interest.  Would they be willing to do a deal for the graduates of their alma mater?
– easiest place to start: restaurants and bars (they give the most deals in the first place)

Is there something important that I am overlooking or over/under stating?
How can we test the assumptions quickly and cheaply?  Is there a better way?
How could you prevent existing sites from taking over the space?