For five years running, on the second Friday morning of the month, a community of entrepreneurs, investors and more have met to hear aspiring and current business owners pitch their big idea.
This Friday, October 14 marks the fifth anniversary for WakeUp StartUp.
“We’ve never missed a month,” says organizer Brian Zuercher.
With many of the early pitching opportunities in the Columbus startup landscape directed at earning dollars, “We knew that the number one ask is definitely money, but for many people there are other things,” Zuercher says.
WakeUp StartUp aimed to create an entrepreneur-led, unbiased, unaffiliated platform for those other things – like partnerships, advice or connections.
Explaining what WakeUp StartUp is not helps to clarify what exactly it is. Zuercher explains it’s not an organization or an LLC or a nonprofit. It’s an experiment with a following. There has never been a budget or money.
“The key to WakeUp StartUp’s success has been that no one has ever tried to make money off of it,” Zuercher says. “It’s remained a completely community-driven event that will live or die depending on the demand.”
The 100 plus attendees at the monthly event signal its continued place in the startup landscape. The altruism of the event is what keeps it rolling, creating a rewarding experience of the organizers.
“Ultimately it’s about bringing people together; trying to make quick connections; trying to give people a platform to practice,” Zuercher says.
The format has remained a relative constant across 60 months of pitches – five minute pitch, then five minute Q&A three times over (plus an abbreviated Startup Grind) – but just what type of business is pitching has seen a shift.
“Initially we were really looking for technology startup companies,” Zuercher says. “In the last two years we sort of broadened our thinking to companies that are solving problems with a unique solution.”
That could include retail or fashion or social enterprise or art. Software still largely dominates the inbound inquiries to pitch, but more physical presence type businesses are making their cases.
WakeUp StartUp isn’t reserved for businesses at a specific stage, either, welcoming established enterprises to well-developed back of the napkin ideas.
“WakeUp Startup is an event by the people for the people and we really work hard not to judge or prescreen folks other than people selling their product desperately so,” says organizer Dan Rockwell.
For those napkin ideas, WakeUp StartUp will even send a volunteer their direction to help create a pitch deck.
Zuercher notes that overall, the pitches have gotten better with time. As the general education and momentum in the space grows, pitches are getting more clear and concise as the years progress.
Some 230 businesses have presented their ideas to the WakeUp StartUp crowd. While the organizers purposely haven’t measured connections or successes (it’s more about an entrepreneur having the opportunity to tell their story), there has no doubt been positive, game-changing outcomes for some.
Rockwell says the event has been the first step in many pitch, exposure, deal, win scenarios.
It has brought other businesses into the Columbus market. Mike Eidsaune came from Dayton in November of 2015 to pitch Carely – his mobile caregiving platform designed to support families caring for a loved one.
“I actually found WUSU three years ago in an attempt to broaden my entrepreneurial network,” Eidsaune says. “I live in Dayton and I was disappointed in the startup ecosystem here.”
Post-pitch, his network not only blossomed, but several important business milestones were set in motion.
“That event became the catalyst for Carely eventually opening an office in Columbus and hiring our first full-time Columbus team member,” Eidsaune says. “Also as result of the relationships, we were able to find several Columbus angel investors that have participated in our first successful angel round.”
Three years later he’s still frequenting events.
“It’s a place where I can meet people that are as crazy as me; people that want to pursue a passion or an idea against all odds and common sense,” he says. “It’s a place where a standing ovation precedes the presentation because just taking the stage is worthy of an applause.”
Applause will be heard this Friday as WakeUp StartUp begins year six at COSI, 333 W. Broad St., from 7:30 – 9:00 a.m. Register here.
For more information and to submit your business to pitch at future events, visit wakeupstartup.com.