Big data can make your life better. That’s what the tech industry thinks and that’s what most teams at Seattle’s first ever “Maker Edition” Startup Weekend had on their mind when building everything from cloud-connected greenhouses to weightlifting trackers a la Fitbit. They definitely didn’t have much time to come up with the next big thing. Fifty-four hours to build something that works, has business potential, and “is kind of awesome” – not an easy task but those were the criteria to win one of the five prizes handed out by an illustrious judging panel of executives and entrepreneurs.
“It’s stressful but it’s really the amazing creative energy that makes people come – and come back,” said Hakon Verespej, “growth hacker” at Madrona Venture Group, leader of an all-volunteer crew from the Seattle branch of the globally active Startup Weekend movement, and himself a veteran of “about ten to twelve” similar events.
So what did the teams work on? While some of the considerable engineering talent in Fremont’s sweltering Makerhaus might have been tempted to turn their attention to air-conditioning, most opted to stick their heads into the cloud. 12-year old middle schooler Kaley Thompson had the idea for a cloud-connected greenhouse that would allow even the most inept gardener to grow herbs in the kitchen. Her Cloud House team promptly built a functioning prototype with temperature, humidity, and soil moisture sensors providing a perfect growing environment that over time is optimized for every individual kitchen counter through the continuous collection and refinement of data.
This kind of big data mining for individual comfort was a recurring theme. Am.bee built a “intelligent earplug” that would allow a person to set noise cancelling levels via smartphone app and learn over time just how much peace and quiet you want at what time. For more fitness-minded people, Magneeto developed a device that can be attached to weights and measure your weightlifting progress through an app.
Sleeping (or the lack thereof) is another hot topic in “self-care”. Dream Machine dreamed up a device that monitors and analyzes sleep architecture. “The difference from currently available apps and devices,” said Justin Iwasaki, third year primary care resident at UW, “is that our device provides meaningful data that will allow for recommendations on what needs to be changed to make a difference.”
But not everybody went all cloudy. Some teams tried to solve some more down-to-earth problems. Jasper Kinnay and his team Green Coast Homes designed a model house-building kit that would allow people in Jasper’s native Liberia build houses cheap and fast. Zipsnap extensively used 3D-printers to produce prototypes of an innovative clothing attachment that “combines the ability of a carabiner with fashion”.
Active Shades tried to solve another safety issue: the common problem of bright headlights or the sun blinding motorcyclists. In just 54 hours the team built prototype “glasses” with LCD screens and cameras that could track and darken the bright light source hitting the biker without making everything darker like normal sunglasses do.
75 participants started the event, nine teams (including one “one-man-show”) presented their product, laid out their business case, and answered the questions of the judges. The winner? The judges saw most potential in Magneeto, the app-enabled weightlifting tracker because of the strong business case and well-done presentation. Active Shades (glasses) and Am.bee (intelligent earplugs) were runners-up while the plant-growing Cloud House received the “Most Kickstartable” award. Main sponsor Coca-Cola’s special prize went to “Dream Machine” (sleep analysis).