Tin Ho, the 2016 UMKC Student Entrepreneur of the Year, continues to make great strides in his entrepreneurial journey as he led his team to win 1st Place and Crowd Favorite at Startup Weekend 2017.
Startup Weekend is an event where participants have a weekend to concept a new startup. In 54 hours, startup weekenders immerse in the fast-paced and high-pressure, yet fun and rewarding, experience of entrepreneurship.
“I thought starting and trying to finish a class project 3 days before it’s due is intense, but it can’t possibly compare to the nerve-wracking 3 days of Startup Weekend,” Ho said. “Starting a business from scratch is already extremely hard, and we had to pack it into 54 hours.”
What was your first impression of your first Startup Weekend?
At the beginning, I felt a little out of place because I was the only non-technical person in my team; everyone else was either an electrical engineer, a software developer, a user experience designer, or, you’d never guess it, a molecular biologist.
Since our team members had such diverse backgrounds, we had a hard time defining the one idea we all wanted to work on. Despite heated discussions, we left the first day without knowing what we were going to build over the next two days.
When the team came back the next day, I proposed we use the Business Model Canvas to systematically collect everyone’s thoughts and pinpoint the idea to pursue over the weekend. With a clear structure to guide our discussion, we were finally able to define our weekend project.
What was your Startup Weekend startup?
Our team was ZooBots, and we created programmable educational toys (PETs) which can teach kids how to code through play. We made the PETs animal-based so that they’d be more kid-friendly.
I still don’t know how they were able to pull it off, but my amazing teammates, in less than 12 hours, prototyped a robotic snake (named Sally) which uses artificial intelligence and computer vision to recognize and correctly label the real-life objects it sees.
Which was the most challenging part of Startup Weekend?
The presentation, or in startup terms, the “pitch.” This was when startup teams presented their ideas to a panel of judges consisting of business professionals, business owners, investors, civic leaders and entrepreneurs.
I was the pitcher for my team, ZooBots. All of our work from the last 50 hours boiled down to this five minute pitch. I was so nervous before coming on stage that I wished time would slow down a little so I could take a deep breath.
How did the pitch go?
The pitch was a success! Not only did we communicate the information in our pitch deck, we also demonstrated Sally the Snake, our prototype ZooBot, to the judges and audience.
Sally the Snake successfully used computer vision to label objects it saw and recognized the judges as people. That was the moment we knew we had a decent chance of winning.
My teammates and I literally jumped out of our seats when the judges announced we won 1st Place and Crowd Favorite. I’m sure that moment will stay with us for the rest of our lives.
What would you say are the most important factors for your Startup Weekend success?
Luck. I joined an amazing team of talented, creative and driven individuals. Our skill sets complemented our mindsets. Even though we started off on the wrong foot, we found common ground in time to pull it off.
I’d say another important factor is the education I received at the Bloch School. As an entrepreneurship major, I am trained to navigate the messiness and uncertainty of entrepreneurship within the framework and methodologies designed for the purpose.
Fun fact: the Business Model Canvas was the first tool I learned in my first entrepreneurship class. It is so powerful and intuitive that I still use it to this day in all of my startups. Startup Weekend was no exception.
How did you learn about Startup Weekend?
From Ben Williams, one of the two professors at the Regnier Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation who taught the first entrepreneurship class I took two years ago. Two days before the deadline to sign up, Ben shared with me that Bek Abdullayev, the CEO of Super Dispatch, was granting scholarships to Kansas City students who wanted to participate in Startup Weekend.
I took the opportunity in a heartbeat. It turned out so well that I got to meet with Bek himself a few days after the event to thank him for sponsoring us students. I feel extremely lucky to be a part of such an welcoming and supportive startup community here in Kansas City.
What other exciting projects are you working on?
This summer I am going all in on my third startup, Lean Start Lab, a technology development agency which helps early stage entrepreneurs turn their startup ideas into tangible products so they can quickly go to market and prove their concepts.
My co-founders, Mike Nguyen (Computer Science, ‘17) and Thuong Nguyen (Electrical Engineering, ’18), are both UMKC student entrepreneurs. Sometimes they can be a little over the top but I am thankful to have found and partnered with these technical geniuses.
As serial entrepreneurs with collectively more than seven startups under our belts, we understand that the first step to starting a startup is THE hardest step. Lean Start Lab exists to help early stage entrepreneurs conquer this first step. Our mission is to take entrepreneurs from zero to one so they can go from one to 1000.
Lean Start Lab is part of the Bloch Venture Hub, a new startup incubator powered by the Country Club Bank and the Regnier Institute. The Hub is a great space for us to meet with clients, partners, mentors and other entrepreneurs. We are proud to call it home.
What advice do you have for UMKC students and aspiring entrepreneurs?
Surround yourself with smart, like-minded and equally driven individuals whose strengths complement your weaknesses and whose weaknesses are complemented by your strengths. Never settle. Keep looking.