Smart Start Weekend teaches hands-on experience

UNA’s Smart Start Weekend teaches students entrepreneurial skills to be successful in starting their own businesses. The event is Feb. 24-26 on the third floor of the Commons.

The event will provide hands-on experience for students to learn ideation, team formation, customer discovery, rapid prototyping and pitch workshops.

“The event culminates with student teams pitching their ideas to a mock venture capital panel,” according to the website. “The panel then gives the teams constructive feedback to help them refine their ideas and business models. The mission of Smart Start Weekend is to kick start new student-run companies and build entrepreneurial capabilities in students and their university communities.”

Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurship Mitch Hamm said on Friday night at 5 p.m. there is a kick off where the expectations for the weekend are explained to the students.

The event is open to 40 students at no cost. Students may register until the day before the event at

Students are put into groups of five or six students to share their idea and decide on one or two of the ideas they feel is strong enough to pitch to the entire group of 40 students.

Students will work on six to eight of those pitches the entire weekend.

“Those ideas will pivot and change during the weekend because who they thought the customer for their product may be going in may not be where their customer discovery leads them,” said Hamm.

This event will also teach students if they fail in their idea to learn to do so without losing a lot of money, he said.

“Late Friday or early Saturday morning they will go out into the community to do customer discovery,” he said. “That way, instead of (the participants) developing out a full product service idea and then taking it to market only to find out that they missed the mark and that’s not what customers desire. That’s a lot of waste of time and money.”

Hamm said the customer discovery will consist of surveying 50 potential customers in the community using a scale of 1-10, asking the questions, “What is the problem?” and, “How often does the problem occur?”

“If it’s something that’s a big problem but it doesn’t happen that frequently, they won’t spend much money to fix it,” he said.

The second step is to determine how meaningful a solution is by presenting the ideas to focus groups made of student mentors and community members who will give feedback. Then students will work to perfect these ideas for final presentation on Sunday, he said.

Sophomore Charles Harville said this is opportunity is beneficial for students who are interested in starting their own business.

“This is actually one of the smarter things (UNA is involved with),” he said. “People who are pursuing business degrees need to be working in business.”

Freshman Lauren Gasque said this sounds beneficial, but it only applies to a specific audience.

“This is good for people who want to (go into business), but it isn’t something I am personally interested in,” she said.