From Scratch to Startup in 54 hours

Glacier Startup Weekend, Sept. 19-21, will have participants create a working business in one weekend

By Molly Priddy

Many business ideas only take flight under the right circumstances. For more than 100 entrepreneurs, that magic mixture might just be working with a team of strangers and business experts all under one roof for a weekend.

Glacier Startup Weekend will hit Kalispell on Sept. 19 through Sept. 21 at Flathead Valley Community College, where more than 120 participants will gather to pitch entrepreneurial ideas, form teams and get those startups off the ground, all in 54 hours.

It’s an experience that defies description, according to Mike Kazmier, who was a major driving force behind bringing a Startup Weekend to the Flathead.

Kazmier founded Avail Media in 2003 in Kalispell, and the business went on to become the largest independent digital media services company in North America. By 2009, the company was known as Avail-TVN after a merger, and when Kazmier retired from the company last December, it had about 500 employees and over $100 million in revenue.

As a successful businessman, Kazmier knows what it takes to build an idea from the ground up, and the years of work needed to develop the fledgling business.

But there’s an energy about the beginnings of startups that draws him to events like Startup Weekend, he said.

“I love the startup space,” Kazmier said. “It’s a ton of fun. There’s always something new every day. There’s nothing routine about it.”

Kazmier had been to a couple Startup Weekend events, and realized it should happen in the Flathead. Startup Weekend is an international movement, with roots in Seattle but organizers moving in more than 200 cities worldwide.

He started the ball rolling on a Flathead Startup Weekend two years ago.

“We have a great critical mass of entrepreneurship and startups up here,” Kazmier said. “We’d love to just foster that.”

During the weekend, participants work in groups to develop real-world startups, and they have access to a team of coaches and mentors who help them when they hit stumbling blocks along the way.

It’s a way to connect with other entrepreneurs, Kazmier said, and it’s also a valuable experience to show that starting a business is possible.

“A big part of it is to demystify the entire process,” he said. “I think a lot of people have a lot of apprehension about the startup world and what it takes to be an entrepreneur.”

Perhaps a participant is well-versed in the IT world, but wants to connect to people in finance, sales, marketing or other specialties; a Startup Weekend is a great place to do so, Kazmier said.

Kim Morisaki, the special projects and business development director at Montana West Economic Development, participated earlier this year in a Startup Weekend in Missoula, where her team’s product was selected as the best by a panel of judges on the last day of the event.

The business, Contractor Sherpa, is still active, and will go live in September. Though Morisaki is no longer part of Contractor Sherpa – participants can choose whether they want to stay involved with the startup – developing
it during the weekend was an eye-opening experience.

“It’s an amazing thing, it’s not like anything that I have ever been to,” Morisaki said. “It’s not a business class or a finances class. It is hands-on, build a business in 54 hours.”

Along with all the energy from the gathered entrepreneurs, attendees are propelled along throughout the weekend by the coaches and mentors gathered to share their expertise.

The coaches range from technology wizards to lawyers who can help teams with patent issues, bringing all the experts an entrepreneur would need under one roof.

This year’s coaches are Will Schmautz, of Nomad Global Communication Solutions; Jerry Meerkatz of the Thompson Group; Jeff Heutmaker of Heutmaker Law; Rob Irizarry of Blackstone LaunchPad at MSU, Kudoso, Code Montana and RightNow Technologies; John Frandsen of Old Town Creative; Mike Kazmier, also of Vubiquity, Code Montana; Ty Weber, SignUp Cheetah, Northwest Imaging, Winner of StartUp Weekend Missoula 2013; and Lori Marin, financial/operational executive formerly with Diversey Inc. and Keebler Foods Company.

The judges will be Travis Pine, CEO of Torrent Technology; Chad Wait, OVP Venture Capital; Diane Smith, CEO of American Rural, formerly with Avail-TVN; and Larry Cates, Cates Investments and Margaritas Restaurants, formerly with Pepsico Restaurants.

Participants do not need to have an idea to pitch, Kazmier said, and most don’t. Many people are there because they love the energy of the startup environment – the nimble, free-spirited business world as opposed to a large, conventional company – while others have ideas to grow.

This year’s event will start with a pre-party at Kalispell Brewing Company on Sept. 5 from 5 to 8:30 p.m., where hopefuls can pitch ideas to the weekend’s coaches and judges, and the best pitch earns free registration to the Sept. 19 weekend.

Now that he has retired from Avail-TVN, Kazmier has entrenched himself in the startup world, forming Aneovia, a business incubator and accelerator for nascent ideas.

There are plenty of entrepreneurs in the Flathead to take advantage of a Startup Weekend, he noted.

“When I first got my company started back in the early 2000s, I was blown away by the number of people who own their own business,” Kazmier said. “Everyone up here is so humble. It’s not like in New York or the Silicon Valley scene, where everyone is out puffing their chest and being the biggest fish in the pond. Up here, people are just successful.”

To register for the Glacier Startup Weekend, visit www.glacier.startupweekend.org.

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