Would Your Boss Help You Start Your Own Company?

Eight weeks ago, I pitched a mobile game concept to my boss, ACI President Henry Bass. He loved it. A week later he sent me information about the upcoming Startup Weekend in Blacksburg.

It sounded like a great opportunity. It was not only a chance to pitch my idea but also the possibility of working with a team of talented and like-minded people to actually build the concept into a business over a 54 hour period.

Believe it or not, Henry offered to pay for my registration and even gave me a day off to recover from the three days of power business building.

On Friday, September 14th, the other attendees and I started the weekend event with networking and a dinner consisting of the largest pizzas I have ever seen (thanks to Benny Marzano’s). Afterwards, 26 of us pitched our startup ideas.

Startup Weekend opening night dinner.

Very excited people and very big pizzas.

I pitched my idea of a transportation company simulation for mobile devices. My concept is a modern reimagining of games like Chris Sawyer’s Transport Tycoon.

After the pitches, the attendees and mentors voted on their favorite startups. It wasn’t really a gamer crowd, and I got few votes for my “Transporter” game startup. I looked around for some of the other pitches that I liked and joined a team to work on a different project, QuizzTaker.

QuizzTaker was to be a replacement for overpriced, poorly implemented, interactive learning solutions like i>clicker. The QuizzTaker pitch was given by Braden Croy, current president of the Virginia Tech Entrepreneur Club.

First QuizzTaker meeting.

First QuizzTaker meeting. Braden Croy, Virquan Harold, Carlos Aguayo, Eric Boyce, Iman Ghanizada, Midori Oglesby, and Lauren Shupp Aguayo.

Braden led us on a weekend journey to create the next generation interactive learning tool. Our team consisted of four developers, two graphic designers, and five business development members including myself.

Over the next three days, we worked on taking QuizzTaker from concept to business. We conducted market research; polled potential customers for validation; and created a Facebook page, Twitter account, and a website landing page for the product. The brilliant developers on the team used HTML5 and JavaScript to build a demo of an app that allows proctored quizzes, tests, and interactive classroom polling.

QuizzTaker's developer team.

The crack QuizzTaker developers hiding in their corner: Matt Green, Ann Molly Paul, Adil Kadir, and Hayden Lee.

We impressed the judges and the crowd by demonstrating a tool that goes way beyond the limited multiple choice hardware used in many classes. During the final judging, Braden had participants take out their mobile phones and showed them a working online quiz that prompted the user to move a circle over the image of a skeletal hand to choose a particular bone for an anatomy class. Afterwards, you could see on the image the results of everyone’s selections and the percentage, in a graph, of correct answers.

The QuizzTaker team took second place out of nine teams.

After being in the top three and having many conversations with venture capitalists and entrepreneurs at the event, including Interactive Achievement, a local company that provides learning software for K-12 education, we are discussing whether to continue the startup.

It was an AMAZING weekend of learning, networking, and creating. I highly recommend Startup Weekends, whether you have a business idea or you want to practice your technical skills. You just might be part of the next big thing.

QuizzTaker business development and graphic design.

Over three days, the QuizzTaker magic happened here at Rackspace. Braden Croy and Midori Oglesby take a moment to pose for my iPad.

I am extremely grateful to Henry for his support and for sending me. I would also like to thank the event host, Rackspace; the wonderful Rackspace team that managed the event; and a few of the many spectacular individuals that made it a really special event:

This is not the first time that Henry Bass and ACI have supported the entrepreneurship dreams of employees. MatWeb and NextThreeDays.com were both projects under the ACI family. With the assistance of ACI, employees Dale Kipp and Jami Ryan respectively took over these enterprises as independent businesses.

ACI is not your average company. We are a family that encourages each other to grow and to pursue one’s own passions. Again, would your boss help you start your own company?

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One Response to Would Your Boss Help You Start Your Own Company?

  1. Henry Bass says:

    Eric had a great weekend and brought back a lot of positive energy from this event. It was our pleasure to sponsor him for such a great undertaking.

    After reading about his experience, I remarked how cool it was that ACI is involved with so many of the participants and organizers. Recently, ACI became a Rackspace partner. We are friends with Jonathan Hagmaier of Interactive Achievement and hold their work in high regard.

    Bob Summers and ACI used to both be in Building 8 of the CRC-now Bob oversees Techpad and the 460 Angels. He has dedicated a great deal to improving technology-based business in the New River Valley.

    Michele Mayberry, mentor and coach, had her website designed and hosted at ACI. And she is our patent attorney for several ongoing efforts.

    Just 4 days after the Startup weekend, the QuizTaker concept took high honors at the Pitch Cannon, a 2-minute speech for cash prizes at the RBTC “Small Bucks, Big Bang!” Competition. Braden Croy was the only competitor to be awarded cash (yes, bills!) by all three judges.

    We look forward to the next Startup/hackathon event, and I’m excited about the future for Eric Boyce!