Smart Start weekend helps local entrepreneurs

Shannon Wells 2018
Smart Start weekend helps local entrepreneurs

The University of North Alabama’s College of Business will host its fifth Smart Start Weekend Feb. 1-2 in room 330 of the Wendell Wilkie Gunn Commons.

Smart Start Weekend is a two-day event that gives students the opportunity to exchange business ideas. It gives them hands-on experience as well as six to eight ideas to develop a company.

In 2017, students and alumni visited Smart Start Weekend to aid the new participants with their ideas. They were able to show true leadership by helping others experience the thrill of creation, according to

At last year’s three day event, they were able to assist over thirty participants in fostering their potential business ideas.

“Smart Start is an opportunity for students to learn by doing,” said Director of Innovation Mitch Hamm. “It is not about writing a business plan, but rather taking a hunch they have about a potential business idea and getting out of the building and getting in front of potential customers and trying to learn more about the customer’s problems.”

Hamm said he has talked to students recently who have participated in Smart Start Weekend before. They shared to him that it gave them an edge in the business world compared to their peers after graduation.

“I have seen students that learned how to develop an idea and refine their pitch allowing them to not only pitch at Idea Audition but also Shoals Launchpad,” said Hamm. “One such student just last year received $15,000 from Shoals Launchpad and was able to start making his idea a reality.”

Hamm said he cannot take credit for beginning Smart Start Weekend.

“Five years ago when the University started what was then called a Three Day Startup Weekend,” said Hamm. “I had not begun working at UNA. I did participate as a mentor at that event. The next year, I had totally bought into the innovation and entrepreneurship culture that UNA and our Shoals community was attempting to build. I left my business consulting position and came to work full-time here at UNA. Since then, I have worked to make the experience better each year. By incorporating the Innovation Engineering system and tools we have created something UNA can be proud of and that stands apart from other similar events held at other universities.”

Executive Director of the Institute for Innovation and Economic Development John Barrett said that the event is important because it offers students an opportunity to experience the stages in the startup of a business.

“Students benefit in myriad ways,” said Barrett. “They have the opportunity to experience starting up a business with entrepreneurial mentors from the area. They also meet other students with interest in innovation and entrepreneurship, which helps them build networks both from the students and mentors. Another benefit is exposure to tools such as Innovation Engineering and AEMCube – methodologies available in only a few universities nationwide.”

Sophomore Ben Qualls said he has thought about starting his own business.

“I would love to start a small jazz or poetry club downtown,” said Qualls. “I’m not a 100 percent sure how it would work yet, but I feel like the Smart Start Weekend could help me further my ideas and get it off the ground. You never know when someone, especially a student, will have the next big idea. Something like Smart Start can help make their idea come true.”