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Students work day and night to form startup business ideas

Steve Jobs didn't develop Apple in 54 hours, but Western students have accepted the challenge for innovation on a deadline. The 54 hour Startup Challenge gives aspiring Bellingham entrepreneurs a weekend to develop startup business ideas under the mentorship of local professionals, according to Invent's website. On Friday, Jan. 29, participants will gather to each pitch an idea in 60 seconds. The best ideas will be narrowed down to a select few, and teams will be formed around each one. Up to 50 people, including coders, web developers, web designers and project managers, are expected to participate in the challenge under the guidance of a collection of mentors from the local community and around Washington, according to Invent’s website. Senior Jeremy McLaughlin, a management information systems major, is participating in the challenge for the first time as a project manager. McLaughlin signed on because of positive feedback from students that participated in previous years. He also heard there were many internship and hiring opportunities given to those who participated in the event, he said. It gives really good exposure to the students,” McLaughlin said. “It shows they’re interactive and getting involved.” McLaughlin is focused on preparing mentally as well as physically, as sleep will be hard to come by during the weekend. Each team will have resources available 24 hours a day throughout the weekend, including free meals, access to 3D printers and mentoring from entrepreneurial professionals, as they work to develop their businesses, according to both the event site and McLaughlin. Zev Siegl, the co-founder of Starbucks, will be among the mentors advising participants during the weekend. There are a handful of Western professors who will also join the list, including marketing professors Dan Purdy and Mark Staton, art professor Aric Mayer and Fairhaven professor Dominique Coulet du Gard. On Sunday evening, the teams will gather in front of the judging panel to present their final products. The 2016 judges include C.J. Seitz, director of the Small Business Development Center in Bellingham; Shawn Kemp, co-founder of startup company Action Sprout and Dusty Gulleson, chief executive officer of eResources. One of the mentors connected to Western is Purdy, the director of Western’s Front Door to Discovery program. The Startup Challenge fulfills the program’s goal, which is to promote the interests of Western in the community in a way that mutually benefits both parties economically and socially, Purdy said. He has been a mentor for the Startup Challenge during the last four years, and works closely with Western’s IDEA (InterDisciplinary Entrepreneurship in Action) Institute to organize these types of events, he said. This is the first time the IDEA Institute will be involved with the challenge, Sherwood said. “It supports the mission of the IDEA Institute here at Western, which is to help people learn how to be change makers, entrepreneurs and make a positive impact,” Purdy said. Art Sherwood is the David Cole professor of entrepreneurship and director of the IDEA Institute. This program offers a minor in entrepreneurship  for students that focuses on providing tools to be innovative thinkers and solve problems in order to create social change. Sherwood also served as a judge during last year’s challenge. “It’s a lot of fun to do it,” Sherwood said. “It’s an amazing learning experience because you’re actually engaged immediately in the whole process of trying to take an idea and develop it.” Students will be working day and night through this weekend on-site in a vacant office space located at 1308 Cornwall Ave. The final ceremony will be held on Sunday, Jan. 31, at 4 p.m. in the Leopold Crystal Ballroom on Cornwall Avenue. It is open to the public.


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