Cathie Anderson

Women get special invitation to pitch startup ideas in Sacramento

Michelle Chaplin did something last July that not many women attempt. She went to a StartUp Weekend event in Sacramento and pitched a business idea.

At StartUp Weekends, aspiring entrepreneurs pitch ideas, choose teams and build businesses with the help of coaches and mentors. Roughly 80 percent of the people who attend are men, though no one is quite sure why.

“I think women aren’t as confident showing up,” said Laura Good, director of programs and operations for the Sacramento Regional Technology Alliance. “Maybe they don’t feel as welcome. A lot of people think about hackathons when they think about StartUp Weekend, so they think they need to be a coder to participate, and that’s not really the case.”

Good and Chaplin have combined forces with several other local women to organize a StartUp Weekend Women’s Edition for Nov. 14-16.

Startup Weekend, a nationwide program of the nonprofit UpGlobal, is about letting people experience what it is like to be an entrepreneur or to launch a startup. Not every idea becomes a company, but Good and other organizers hope the weekend inspires people to get involved in the entrepreneurial process.

Chaplin’s business idea didn’t win the group voting at the StartUp Weekend last July, but she didn’t go home disappointed. She stayed and joined a team pursuing an idea proposed by web developer Craig Merry, who is hearing-impaired. He wanted to develop a device that would alert cyclists when cars were approaching. Chaplin thought such a product would appeal to cyclists whether they were hearing-impaired or not.

“I was a bike commuter for 10 years in New York and then in D.C.,” she said. “As soon as he pitched the idea, I had a flashback to my past experiences and realized there would definitely be a demand for it.”

Their team did online research, visited bike shops to interview customers and created an online survey to test out the concept. They now have a product design and website, www.beaconnect.co, and they are continuing to do research. The team also entered the New York-based ChallengePost online competition for traffic safety technology.

The beauty of StartUp Weekend, Chaplin and Good said, is that many people don’t come with an idea. Rather, they come to be part of creating something. And, because occupations vary, they bring different skill sets.

While only women will be able to make pitches at next month’s StartUp Weekend Women’s Edition, men are certainly welcome to come and join a team, Good said.

The 54-hour event will be at the Urban Hive, 1931 H St., in Sacramento, starting Friday, Nov. 14. Early birds pay $75 until Nov. 1; $99 after that date. Students pay $35. The fees cover all meals.

Call The Bee’s Cathie Anderson, (916) 321-1193. Follow her on Twitter @CathieA_SacBee.

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