Starting from scratch: 16 teams compete at Startup Weekend Des Moines

Team cram5sports branches off into the corner away from the other teams to create their app on Saturday, March 3. Startup Weekend brought teams together to create computer apps from scratch within 52 hours.

Sarah Binder

Over cans of Mountain Dew, prepackaged cookies and dozens of notebook pages, the idea Paul Trieu had dreamed about for nearly a year was very quickly becoming a reality. The senior in mechanical engineering was leading the team creating, a website that aims to make social networking more social.

“I want to end the idea that being social takes place sitting in a chair staring at a backlit screen,” he said, “I feel like I’ve made a lot of surface friends. But the more and more I get connected on Facebook and other social networks, I felt more and more alone.”

The network is based around real-life experiences, goals and dreams and aims to connect users with common goals to the resources they need.

Embarkus isn’t the first attempt to shake up the world of social networking, but in an office filled with more than 100 highly motivated visionaries, developers, designers and marketers, the ambitious attitude was infectious.

Trieu’s idea was just one of 16 new businesses that launched this weekend at Startup Weekend Des Moines. One of more than 300 annual Startup Weekends, the event prompts tech-savvy entrepreneurs to get together and get stuff done.

The event was hosted at Startup City Des Moines, which provides a support system for new technology companies in the area.

“If it wasn’t for this environment, the idea would have died hundreds of times,” said Matthew Smith, founder of, one of Startup City’s companies. He spent the weekend working on doodle cloud.

More than a dozen ISU students attended, and five of them pitched ideas that went on to be developed throughout the weekend.

“It was definitely good to see — first, the turnout of students — but also them getting involved,” said Levi Rosol, Startup Weekend volunteer.

The ideas

Auto Affirm: Always forgetting birthdays, anniversaries and holidays? This app asks users to pay $40 per year to pre-schedule up to 600 text messages to loved ones. 

Cliperist: A Pinterest-like app for coupons, to combat the confusing, “junky” nature of many coupon sites. The user would scan the barcode of a product while shopping, and the app would find a coupon to present at checkout.

KetchupOnSports: The conversational gulf between sports idiots and enthusiasts is narrowed with this app, which puts the top five headlines of the day in users’ pockets. Team leader Shane Reiser said it could be expanded to topics like politics or celeb gossip — “It’s for anybody who wants to fake it.”

Dance Vs: Naipong Vang, a b-boy from Iowa State, pitched this idea, which lets far-flung street dance crews compete for digital turf. Each team would upload a video to be voted on by users, and users who are more knowledgeable about dance would have more weight in voting.

df chat: Andrew Sykes, sophomore in computer science, pitched it as a “spontaneous, dick-free environment to chat with people with similar interests.” In response to the randomness of Chat Roulette, df chat matches users based on what topics they want to discuss.

doodle cloud: The top Friday night vote-getter amplifies the simple pleasure of cloud watching. Meant to be enjoyed by parents and kids together, they can snap a picture of a cloud and trace around the shape they see, before decorating it in fun ways. ISU alumna Rebecca VanDeCasteele described it as a social network to “do something with your life, not waste your life.” Users list their goals — anything from skydiving to trying a new restaurant — and then are paired with people and resources to help make it happen.

eventurist: Anyone who’s planned an event on Facebook knows RSVPs don’t necessarily correspond with attendees. This Doodle-like app aims to change that, using “pot-luck psychology” — a user has to send a photo of what they’re bringing in order to join the event.

Go Traffx: Want to get paid just for driving around? Go Traffix would put ads on regular people’s cars, gaining more exposure for companies and a little pocket cash for users. Team leader Roman Serebryakov said he’d like to test the concept on a campus. This idea encourages people to get out and enjoy local businesses by offering “fractional coupons”: for example, two users would each get half a coupon, and they’re only valid if both people show up to use them.

myKitchenGenie: What to make for dinner? myKitchenGenie inventories the food you have and tells you what recipes you can make. Nandhini Ramaswamy, graduate student in computer science, said that it is unique in combining both functions.

NoMoMeeting: Nothing can quite interrupt a productive day like a status meeting. NoMoMeeting aims to make daily updates unnecessary by creating a group chat between supervisors and employees. “Virtual tire-slashing for idiot drivers” is the aim of this app, pitched by former ISU student and Hatchlings developer Brad Dwyer. If you know a car’s license plate, you can call them out for bad driving habits, and parents can use it to track their kid’s driving.

Rxminder: Pitched by Ashley Hunter, a graduate student from Iowa State, this app aims to solve the serious problem of medication misunderstanding and misuse. The program will store information about medications and give reminders of when to take them.

Storling: A student from St. Ambrose University came to Des Moines to pitch this idea, which aims to simplify online shopping. It lets the user compile their favorite stores, share with friends and have a single checkout for multiple stores.

Yooooga: Want to find a new yoga class to try? This searchable web database, built by a team of two, provides a directory of local venues and classes.