In the trenches: Entrepreneurs battle their way through Portland’s Startup Weekend

Assean Sheikh (center), our team leader, discusses the business model for E-ccelerator at Startup Weekend in Portland, Maine, on Oct. 26, 2013.

Will budding entrepreneurs use an online tool to help them determine whether their business idea has legs? And, more importantly, will they pay for premium content to help them successfully build their business?

That’s the question I, along with four teammates, have been pondering for nearly 14 hours straight (it’s almost 11 o’clock on Saturday night as I write this). We’ve been holed up in Peloton Labs for the day as participants in Startup Weekend in Portland, Maine.

Last night, we began building a company called E-ccelerator, which would offer a simple (and free) online tool to help entrepreneurs determine the viability of their business idea (here’s the bare minimum website we’ve created). That type of service exists, but we’ve developed a model we think differentiates ourselves by offering premium content,┬ásuch as market research and industry-specific mentors, that is specific to the industry the entrepreneur is targeting.

It’s been a fun day, with its ups and downs (the low point for me was Saturday morning when we began discovering all the other websites that are already targeting the same entrepreneurial audience). We’ve pivoted a few times throughout the day as we’ve discussed the concept with experts who’ve volunteered their time for the weekend, such as Don Gooding from the Maine Center for Entrepreneurial Development; Jess Knox, a business consultant (and a BDN blogger at Disruptive Growth); Rajiv Shankar, an economics professor at Harvard University; and John Sterling, VP of product development at WEX.

More than 70 people are participating in the weekend. The crowd is an impressive and diverse group. Last night, 29 people pitched their business ideas, resulting in 12 teams. Liz Trice, director of Peloton Labs and one of the main organizers of the weekend, asked people to call out their home country. Ghana, DR Congo, Rwanda, Iraq, India, France, Scotland. The diversity is impressive.

I was an anthropology major in college, so I can’t help but think of what I’m doing as a bit of good ol’ participant observation. Rather than watch from the periphery, I decided to join the tribe of entrepreneurs and participate in its cultural rituals — namely drinking inordinate amounts of coffee (a practice they share with journalists), communicating through whiteboards, and being tethered to an Apple laptop (something else we journalists, unfortunately, are accustomed to).

Tomorrow we pitch our idea to a panel of judges. We think we have a viable business model, but we’ll see what feedback we get during our practice pitch sessions tomorrow.

The main observation I’ve made after a day of trying to build a business? Being an entrepreneur is hard. The idea is glamorous, but rarely is reality as sweet.

My teammates Sheetal and Satish working on the business plan for E-ccelerator at Startup Weekend in Portland, Maine, on Oct. 26, 2013.

Whit Richardson

About Whit Richardson

Whit Richardson is Business Editor at the Bangor Daily News. He blogs about Maine business, entrepreneurs and the economy.