A month ago, Matt Gardner and Jason Moore were walking into Startup Weekend Toronto with the germ of an idea for Groupnotes. Three weeks later, they beat out 130 other entrants for the title of Global Startup Weekend champions.
“We couldn’t be more excited,” says Gardner. “Educators and students hear about what we’ve made, immediately understand the problem and see how Groupnotes will fix it. People are ready to put down money just to be our beta testers.”
The Hamilton-based co-founders are students at McMaster University’s Masters of Engineering Entrepreneurship and Innovation (MEEI). Groupnotes helps students eliminate research duplication while working on group projects by allowing team members to leave digital notes layered over any website.
The company was born at Startup Weekend Toronto in November. Participants pitch their ideas to a room of entrepreneurs, in hopes of winning enough votes to take their company to the development round. Everyone scrambles after the vote count. Entrants whose ideas were voted out join new teams, while entrepreneurs jockey to find the best developers and business expertise in the room.
“It’s one of the best stress tests for a team that you could have,” says Moore of the marathon weekend. “If you can work well together under such pressure for 54 hours, then you can be a great team.” Over the weekend the pair welcomed fellow MEEI student Greg Connelly and developers Graham Kennery and Matt Gosbee to Groupnotes.
After 54 hours, hundreds of validation interviews and just as many cups of coffee, the team made a course correction to focus on educators as prospective consumers. Despite a strong demand from students for Groupnotes, educators wanted it more and were willing to pay up-front for access to a beta product that helped them understand students’ homework habits.
Next, the team advanced to the Global Startup Battle, a competition featuring startup weekend winners the world over. Groupnotes earned one of the 15 top spots in the Facebook voting round, thanks in part to the Hamilton, Halton, Peel and Toronto startup communities, which helped rally voters, says Moore. In early December the group was named Global Startup Battle champions by a panel of high-profile entrepreneurs, CEOs and investors
The team won $55,000 worth of in-kind prizes over the course of both competitions, including PR, HR, design and legal services, trips to the Global Entrepreneurship Conference in Rio de Janeiro and Google HQ in Mountain View, Calif., and a three-month rotation at Toronto incubators The Working Group, DMZ, MaRS Commons and Extreme Startups.
Gardner says his team is still riding high after the win but that the work has only just begun. In addition to launching a beta product in January, the team will begin its incubator rotation at Extreme Startups.
“These weekend startup competitions are like networking on steroids,” says Moore. “You’re meeting people who you can work with, maybe people who you might found a company with one day, maybe the next RIM.”