Launch League’s weekend-long SparkAK event ended on Sunday, February 19, 2017, with a pitch session straight out of the television show “Shark Tank.” Five out of six groups of local entrepreneurs presented their business ideas for a trio of judges that consisted of Drew Holland, owner of eyemg, Phil Brennan, CEO of Echogen Power Systems, and Dan Collins, owner of Wastebits. Prizes were awarded in six different categories.
Launch League is an organization aimed at scalable startups in the Akron area. It provides mentorship and help to people who want to start small businesses in the community through a series of workshops and other options. SparkAK, called a “hackathon for your own ideas” by Executive Director Courtney Gras, started early in the morning on February 18. The attendees—some of whom didn’t know each other prior to the event—formed small groups and came up with ideas for business. These ideas were presented the next day, giving the attendees experience at asking for funding and working through their plans.
Five of the six groups formed on February 18 went before the judges at the Nightlight Theatre on S. High Street in downtown Akron. Their ideas included Shoebox, an app that holds all your home information in one place, from manuals to warranties and Not Yo’ Daddy’s Mexican Hot Sauce, a hearty hot sauce made from an old family recipe consisting of fresh ingredients. Another was Rubber City Tales, an independent bookstore and meeting place. Two more ideas were aimed at the tech community: Maker Duet, a program aimed at tech employee retention, and YourSensei.com, a combination website for professional technical trainers and an online community marketplace.
After each group presented their ideas, the judges had a few minutes for questions, most of which revolved around marketability, pricing, and adaptability. At the end of the event, the judges conferred in a back room before emerging and announcing the awards. There were no cash prizes. Instead, the groups won things that will help them develop their businesses. Not Yo’ Daddy’s Hot Sauce won design and development help from MAGNET, while the University of Akron iCorps program gave one program seat to the Maker Duet group. YourSensei received one free month of coworking from the OSC Tech Lab, Rubber City Tales won a business plan coaching session, and Shoebox was awarded one technical consulting session from Coffee and Code. The team that didn’t present, Urban Buzz, received one hour of marketing consulting from HeyNow Media.
Amanda Sedlak-Hevener is a local historian and freelance writer. She has an M.A. from the University of Akron, and is working on an M.L.I.S. at Kent State University.