An awesome event took place in Terre Haute, Indiana last weekend and I was fortunate enough to be involved and live to tell about it.

During the weekend of Feb. 8th, 2013 over 85 energetic startup enthusiasts, business coaches and local leaders came together in a friendly competition to pitch ideas, form teams, build prototypes and push for a 1st place finish in the very first Startup Weekend Terre Haute. Startup Weekend is a global grassroots movement of active and empowered entrepreneurs who are learning the basics of founding startups and launching successful ventures.

Friday afternoon as I work with the other organizers to have things ready I see the first participants start filtering through the doors of the Scott College of Business (old Federal Hall) around 5:30pm.


By 7pm the old courtroom is nearly full and buzzing with excitement. In a few minutes one of the facilitators will call for those who will be pitching their idea for the next ‘big thing’ to line up behind the microphone. For most, this will be the first time in their lives they have ever shared their big idea in front of a crowd. You can feel the tension in the air and hear the nervousness in their voices. Eighteen idea champions of the 36 attending line up to pitch their idea. After all the pitches were done, no two were the same. The call is given for everyone to vote on their two favorite ideas. After thirty minutes or so the top seven are selected to form teams of four to seven members from everyone in attendance. Some of those whose idea wasn’t in the top seven decided to call it a night and head for home. The rest of us settled in for a long, fun, crazy weekend of startup building and making new friends.

Friday night and Saturday morning, teams went back and forth vetting out the ideas, researching the competition, creating customer surveys and working on product design.

imageAt noon on Saturday we had a special panel of experts including local business owner Shelley Klingerman, Scott McCullough of Terre Haute Savings Bank and Dr. David Robinson of the Scott College of Business to share their knowledge and experiences in starting and building a business.

Each team then continued to work until 10:00pm that evening doing in-person interviews with people on the street, creating a website, garnering Facebook likes and Twitter followers, building working prototypes, creating presentation slides and more.

imageBy Sunday afternoon the teams were practicing their final presentations to pitch to the judges. The mentors and coaches were working with each team to refine and perfect each part, cutting out the fat and making it all fit within the five minutes each team had been given.

After an early buffet style dinner (which was fantastic) twenty-one year old Gagan Dhillon and his co-founder Andrew Blejde spoke about their new angel funded startup called ‘’ and the trials and tribulations involved.

Finally, it was time for what everyone had come to see. It was time to see what each team had accomplished over 54 hours of blood, sweat and tears (and caffeine). The final presentations were at hand. Teams were furiously reviewing their notes in preparation to show off what had been accomplished and impress the four judges with their hard work and life changing new product. Four teams had stuck it out and made it to this moment: BeachEZ360, UnderGround Recruits, Cool Student Gigs and Sammy’s List.

The judges were Lakshmi Reddy (Reddy Law Firm), Elizabeth Hagerman (Vice President, Rose Hulman Ventures), Brien Smith (Dean, Scott College of Business) and Ken Eitel (Director of BES, Ivy Tech Greencastle).

Immediately after the presentations dozens of cool door prizes provided by some great sponsors were awarded to a few lucky winners from those in attendance.

While the judges stepped out to deliberate and decide on the winning team, the keynote speaker Drew Peyronnin, an angel investor, business owner, veterinarian and startup enthusiast hailing from Evansville inspired and captivated the audience drawing a huge applause.

Now, the moment of truth. The judges are back, the audience is quite and all attention is on the facilitator, Jessica Falkenthal as she announces the winning teams. 2nd place goes to UnderGround Recruits – “An online social media site for recruits or recruiters to be known. It is a site for the recruits that tend to be overlooked because of the stand out stars.” First place and winner of several valuable prizes from local sponsors goes to BeachEZ360!

BeachEZ360 “is a collapsible, portable, lightweight, sand and water repellant beach mat that is affordable with design elements to support additional accessories such as a docking station with solar power, USB charging and integrated speakers.” The winning team is ecstatic! Cheers and applause fill the room.


The BeachEZ360 team with Dean Brien Smith

As everyone begins to leave and the room empties we realize what a huge success this event has been, high fives all around! Now let’s go home and get some much needed rest.

Teams, coaches and guests had a great time learning, competing, stepping outside of their comfort zone and meeting new faces. Terre Haute can now join the Startup Weekend veterans like Indianapolis, Lafayette, South Bend, Bloomington, Crane and Evansville!

The great sponsors to take a risk on this first time event were Frontier Communications, Baeslers Market, Papa Johns, Jimmy Johns, Ivy Tech BES of West Central Indiana, West Central ISBDC, ISU, WAWV/WTWO, Hilton Garden Inn, Gibson Teldata, Joink, Wabash Valley Ivy Tech, Lieberman Technologies and Terre Haute Tech.

Startup Weekend pro facilitators Matt Burris and Jessica Falkenthal came over from Bloomington Indiana to spend their weekend keeping us all on track and making sure everyone had a great time.

Local organizers of the event were Heather Strohm, Richard Pittelkow, Jennifer Eastridge, Jodi Link, Lance Gahimer, Theresa Ortega and yours truly.

You can see all the details at or check out the twitter feed as it happened on #swterrehaute.

I hope to see you at the next Startup Weekend!

– David Dubree  @DavidDubree