A weekend-long competition at Red River College to see what group of pickup entrepreneurs could start the best business in 54 hours should go some way to dispel worries people might have about the strength of the entrepreneurial culture in Winnipeg.
Close to 100 people -- experienced entrepreneurs and wannabees -- in six teams took part in the intense event called Startup Weekend that was part of a Global Startup Battle tied to Global Entrepreneur Week.
There were more than 200 of these weekend events happening around the world.
At the beginning of the weekend, 29 ideas were pitched in Winnipeg. Then participants -- a mishmash of technical and marketing people, promoters and coders -- voted out the ones they didn't like and joined up with the ideas they thought were most promising.
The goal was to generate enough technical and marketing intelligence to actually have a prototype in some form by the end of the weekend.
Six businesses survived to present to a team of judges on Sunday evening. (This reporter was one of the judges.)
At the Winnipeg event, a wireless app called Buzzinga won the competition.
The winning group was made up of Chris Johnson and Brad Kendall -- who helped organize the event -- and Sean Sylvestre and Matt Connors.
Their app will allow apartment dwellers to provide customized access codes to their building to make it easier to buzz visitors into the premises if the actual apartment residents are either not in the apartment or busy and not able to get to the wired intercom device.
By the end of the weekend, Buzzinga had already sold some subscriptions to its product through the crowdfunding website indiegogo.com .
Each group was intent on winning and all of them produced relatively sophisticated powerpoints for the judging presentations. The two runners-up were Rent-Up, an online property management service, and Octofactory, an ambitious customized manufacturing concept.
The winning group will take part in a global competition with the chance to win some substantial prizes, including an all-expenses-paid trip to Google's headquarters.
One of the key features of the event is a focus on execution. For instance, among the grassroots entrepreneurial sector, there is a sense patents are not as important as actually producing a product and getting it to market.
According to Scott MacAulay, the entrepreneurship practicum course instructor at RRC, the people who attend are serious about becoming entrepreneurs.
There was a mixture of old and young people among the participants as well as students and experienced business owners including Michael Legary, owner of Securis Inc. -- who had the assistance of industrial designer David Bernhardt for his pitch -- and serial inventor Phil Poettcker, who said he has started more than 40 businesses in 26 years.
"The people participating really want to make some money," MacAulay said.
This was the second Startup Weekend held in Winnipeg since the summer. A loose-knit organization that Johnson, Kendall and Dustin Refvik have formed called RampUp Manitoba is behind the events.
"It's a perfect place to figure out if your idea sucks or not," said Kendall, an information technology professional and a serial entrepreneur.
The event attracted support from some serious mainstream players. The Canadian Youth Business Foundation hosted the event and professionals from Pitblado Law, Deliotte, BDC and RBC helped mentor the various groups through the competition.