Six high schoolers huddled Friday on the mezzanine of a 113-year-old Kansas City building. Their mission: Conjure up a business idea for the future.
Not just any idea. This was a competition.
Their idea needed to be better than the ones coming from five other teams, each populated by university students.
This was OneDayKC.
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Each team capped its 12-hour day by pitching the new business ideas to a panel of judges Friday evening.
The winner gets to build out its idea next weekend at GigHacks, a five-city event focused on apps for high-speed broadband connections. On May 13, the winning team will present its idea at a Million Cups event in Kansas City.
OneDayKC was the brainchild of Zach Pettet, who is studying entrepreneurship at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. With help, he assembled the teams, mentors, speakers, multiple session locations and judges.
The students’ charge was to come up with business ideas that could tap into the city’s emerging future, the one with Google Fiber, the downtown streetcar and the Smart City initiative. Kansas City officials this week endorsed $3.7 million in funding for the Smart City venture to bring high-tech services to the streetcar line.
After listening to speakers at UMKC on Friday morning, the teams climbed aboard a school bus for the trip to that old building, at 1712 Main St. It’s home to Think Big Partners, which supports business startups and is working with the Smart City initiative.
The high schoolers’ idea was an app for mobile phones and tablets that would show off Kansas City and help people discover and experience its best features. Their late morning debate focused on which people they should go after as customers.
“We can use it just to engage people in the suburbs, to bring them into the city,” said Sam Stowers, 18, who is home-schooled.
“I’m sure there’s stuff here you can’t get in Overland Park,” added Jenna Felsen, 17 and one of five students from the Blue Valley Schools’ Center for Advanced Professional Studies, or CAPS program.
Specifically, their app would help visitors find parking, figure out the easiest paths and transportation around the city and pick restaurants, stores, galleries and events while in town.
Zane Lewis said potential customers would include Kansas Citians because residents don’t always know what’s around them.
Or, Stowers said, maybe the ideal customer is the out-of-town visitor who comes in for a convention but knows nothing at all about Kansas City.
Pettet said the idea for OneDayKC came from the StartupBus. StartupBus is a multiday entrepreneurial binge aboard a bus bound for Austin, Texas. Upon arrival, business ideas hatched along the way get pitched at the popular South by Southwest conference.
The OneDayKC teams capped their time at Think Big Partners with lunch and then climbed back on the bus bound for the Sprint Mobile Health Accelerator. That gave them more work time with mentors, each other and whoever might help them sharpen their pitch to the judges Friday evening.
Before the high school team could grab lunch, however, it got a competition reality check.
Nice idea, said Risa Stein, a psychology professor at Rockhurst University working with OneDayKC. Similar to the other teams’ ideas, she said. Focused on the culture rather than the technology. Again, similar to the other teams’ ideas.
“Everybody is focusing on how do we get people together in downtown when there are all of these other interesting technological advances,” she said. “What if you created a talking sidewalk? What if you created a sensor in a parking spot? … What if there were automatic awnings that came out when it started raining?”
Stowers picked up on the point.
“So, we need to do more moonshot thinking,” he said.