Heartland Tech Innovation

Photo courtesy: Justin Wan/Journal Star

By Matt Hawkins
November 19, 2013

College students and community members worked side-by-side 54 hours last weekend to develop and pitch local tech startup ideas at the first Peoria Startup Weekend. The three-day event, organized by Bradley University’s Turner Center for Entrepreneurship, Turner School of Entrepreneurship and Innovation, and Startup Peoria, provided tools for central Illinois innovators to pursue technology-oriented businesses.

As part of the broader Startup America and Startup Illinois movements, Startup Weekend demonstrated technology ventures could succeed 2,000 miles from Silicon Valley.

“There is a perception among people in IT, software development and graphic design that you have to go to the coast to get cool projects,” Turner Center Program Director Ken Klotz said. “There’s a whole lot more in central Illinois to offer.”

More than 70 participants from the community, Bradley and other regional colleges listened to 25 startup idea pitches at the beginning of the event and coalesced around nine of the startups. The nine teams pitched their startups in front of a panel of judges Sunday night in hopes of winning professional services packages awarded to the top three ventures.

“There are a lot of things happening locally,” Startup Peoria co-founder Jake Hamann said. “Momentum has been born in Peoria. I feel this event was the catalyst here. We can be big players in this.”

Pitches included social networking apps, employee recruitment services, a web-based magazine for entrepreneurs and advertisers, an app that tracks automobile’s need for repairs, an online spice vendor, a crowdsourced event planner and a learning center for single parents.

In the end, MuzMee — the crowd and social media-sourced app to connect fans and bands with nearby venues — won judges’ approval. Social networking apps TagUp and So-co.co were the weekend’s other winners.

The top two proposals will be entered in the Global Startup Battle competition for startup funds and business development resources from Google.

“Being from Peoria, this helped me to see people’s passion to go create their businesses and dreams,” senior entrepreneurship major Chris Jackson said. “This weekend helped me see what it takes for those to become reality. It gave me a feel for what it’s like to have my own business.”

The weekend concluded with an eye toward future business growth and the possibility of another weekend conference.

“We hope it doesn’t stop here, that they continue on their ideas,” Hamann said. “They learned there are resources to help and that there is all kinds of information.”