Startup Weekend is an event by Techstars and powered by Google for entrepreneurs. The participants are given 54 hours during which they need to come up with an idea and develop it into a project. This year in Mauritius, it was organized thanks to Zakïya Buhora.
The competition ran during the INFOTECH which is held annually in Mauritius. Our “home base” was the Pink Pigeon Room of the Swami Vivekananda International Convention Centre (SVICC), a room that I did not know existed. The atmosphere was calm compared to that of the convention on the ground floor.
The Time Table
The schedule looked busy but also, we were also given time as we had to develop our ideas and carry out field research.
As we used most of the time to develop the projects, the event did not feel very bulky. Below are the main items:
Game: Pitch an idea based on 2 random words.
For this game, we were asked to give any random words which pass through our mind. We were then divided into groups with two words selected randomly. We had to come up with an idea using those words.
This helped to jumpstart our creative mind and was fun as we found weird projects such as shoes which are used to play violin music and bags which are made of chocolate.
The competition was on! Now came the time to pitch our idea and convince others to vote for us. We were all encouraged to say something, however, we only had 1 minute to do so. There was a total of 20 ideas.
My goal when I registered for the event was not to win but to learn more about startups, thus I did not plan to pitch anything. But since I was very encouraged by others, I gave it a try. I decided to pitch the peer-to-peer food ordering system that was thought of when I did Technology Entrepreneurship at the university.
While waiting in line for my turn, my stress started to build up. We were encouraging ourselves among participants, however, when I heard my voice in the loudspeaker, I could not continue… I explained my project as fast as possible and returned to my place. I had 25 seconds remaining, however, my friends said that I did well. (I’ll make sure it is better next time!)
Each participant was given 500 Jobs and we had to “invest” in the projects of pitchers. It was fun to convince others to give me their money while keeping mine. However, since I was not really interested in winning, I spent the money on others.
Advices given by Julien Faliu from expat.com
Julien shared his Silicon Valley experience with us. He told us that a startup will always continue to learn and that we learn better when we are with people which are not similar to us. He also told us not to expect anything from clients or investors as they are not our friends.
At the end of Day 1, the selected projects were announced, the total number of ideas was now reduced to 10.
Day 2 Conference: Development Bank of Mauritius (DBM)
From this talk, we learned about the story of the Development Bank of Mauritius which started as an agricultural bank. We also got a rundown of how much funding we can expect to get from the bank.
Advices given by Dale Smith from WebWorX
“A startup is a temporary organization designed to search for a repeatable and scalable business model.” -Steve Blank
Dale stressed on the differences between a business model and a business plan. He also reminded us of the lean startup methodology. He stated that 75% of all startups fail and explained that while some ideas might be dumb, lack of customer development is a huge factor.
He gave us the following tools to help us develop our idea and client base:
Advices given by Jason Bholanauth from Inbound Mauritius
Jason emphasized on building our brands. He told us that digital is better than print as it is cheaper and performances can be measured. This turned into a small debate on whether email marketing was still relevant.
He also gave us tips on fostering a culture and shared the story of how he regrow his mailing list after the Cambridge Analytica incident.
Since I came to the event to learn, I decided to follow Julien’s advice to work with people who do not have the same background as me. I joined the team of Ravish, a Business student at Middlesex University, on his idea to create a platform which would help tourists to have an authentic Mauritius experience(DiscoverTheRealMauritius.com).
In the team, we also had Ravish’s lecturer, Sanjay (one of the winners of the previous edition), and three other participants. Sadly on the next day, the latter left for other teams. The good news was that we also had new members joining us, Nishant and Milka, both IT graduates from Middlesex University.
Starting to work
The first thing that we did was “rehashing” the idea. We wrote everything that we thought was related to the system and things that we think the tourists would want to have.
This saved us from being constrained to the presented idea. How the system work could change, as long as we still relieve the pains of the customers.
Doing Field Research
To check our assumptions, we went to ask questions to potential customers. It was quite hard to find tourists at infotech so we had to go to another location. The general feedback was that there are sites which help tourists but they are quite difficult to understand especially for those who do not understand French.
Our new idea was to have a system which only connects the tourist to a local person, and from then the local person will handle things like suggesting interesting places to visit, food to eat or even hotels to book. We asked some Mauritians about the idea, and they were interested.
Visits from Coaches
While we were working on our project, the coaches came to help us. They gave us more advices and told us about similar systems that they know of. They also identified problems that we did not think of and this really helped us avoid future headaches.
At the end of the 3rd day, the participating teams had to present there project. Below is an overview:
Sakili was presented by Anousha. It is a startup which gives a second life to used advertising material. She turned billboards into different types of bags and had even brought concrete examples.
Archiscope was presented by Khalifa from Middlesex University. The system is an app which makes it easier to explain 3D models like builds to non-technical persons. The app will use Augmented Reality, reducing the need for prototyping.
Trafik was presented by Roshan. The system is an app which uses various data sources to predict traffic jams. The app will also suggest alternative routes or activities to do, such as checking a nearby restaurant.
ParkMyCar was presented by Niresh from Université des Mascareignes. The system is an app from which available parking spots can be located. The app can also be used to pay for parking spots.
I learn was presented by Setra from Spoon Consulting. The system is an e-learning platform which will reduce the need for private tuition in Mauritius. The platform will accompany the students through different academic levels and parents will be able to see the progress.
ConnectBuddy was presented by Ravish from Middlesex. The system will connect tourists to local persons (buddies). Thus, by using suggestions from their buddies, the tourists will get an authentic Mauritian experience.
The juries took about half an hour to deliberate and finally the results were in:
Third Prize: Connect Buddy
My team won the 3rd price! The hard work and headaches paid off, and it was a very nice surprise.
Second Prize: ParkMyCar
The beautiful team of ParkMyCar won the second price! This was the biggest team of the competition with members from Université des Mascareignes and University of Mauritius. Congratulations to them!
First Prize: ArchiScope
And the winner of the competition was Archiscope! Big Congratulation to them! Their project seems to be very challenging.
Onto another topic! Even before the competition, I heard that the food was going to be good. This was not an overestimation as we were served with dishes such a fried rice and noodles and different type of pastries. I’d like to thank the organizing and catering teams for spoiling us.
Startup Weekend was a very good experience for me. I got to learn new things and meet amazing people. I also got fears and worries but after the 54 hours, I managed to land my hand on the 3rd prize!