Naomi Himley and Ben Hallock didn’t shy from the challenge.
Just six weeks into their Mobile Makers experience, Naomi and Ben teamed with five others to take Woof—a pet adoption mobile app—from idea to prospective business during Startup Weekend Chicago’s inaugural women’s edition June 20 to 22. In doing so, the Makers contributed to a team that earned top prize in the spirited entrepreneurial competition.
The Swirl of Startup Weekend
Presented by Ms. Tech, a Chicago-based agency that champions women in technology, Startup Weekend teams organically formed around 10 different entrepreneurial ideas. Participants were then challenged to launch a startup enterprise in 54 hours, including business model creation, coding, designing, and market validation, before a final proof-of-concept presentation to judges.
Woof is the brainchild of Christina Durbin, a Chicago-based interface designer, who envisioned a smartphone app creating a more interactive, accessible animal adoption process.
After hearing Christina’s Startup Weekend pitch, six others, including Naomi and Ben, joined Woof. The two Makers, both Startup Weekend rookies, jointly tackled the project’s iOS development.
“It was perfect timing because we had done the basic training at Mobile Makers, had gained some valuable real-world experience, and were ready to further test the waters,” Ben said.
The duo focused the pet adoption app solely on dogs, crafting a user-friendly interface in which individuals could view available canines from local shelters and rescue groups. By swiping to the right on the app, a dog’s photo is saved to a favorites list; by swiping left, users progress to the next photo.
“Because of Mobile Makers, we were exposed to Agile development, so, crazy as it seemed to build an app and a business over a weekend, we believed it was possible,” said Naomi, a massage therapist-turned-Maker.
Ben and Naomi’s Woof teammates completed other vital tasks: a developer created a website and fulfilled numerous back-end duties; a designer sketched out ambitious layout, fonts, and color schemes for the app; and two relatives of Ms. Tech founder Nicole Yeary performed important market research to understand Woof’s potential customer base and the app’s commercial prospects. Christina coordinated it all while constructing a compelling business plan.
In preparation for the team’s final presentation, Ben, a film, television, and photography major in college, also prepared a short video presenting a top-down shot of the Woof app at work, a simple, fingers-on-the-screen production reminiscent of iPhone commercials.
“People seemed baffled by how we could do this so quickly,” Ben said.
The Win and The Future
A panel of judges connected to Chicago’s entrepreneurial scene awarded the Woof team top honors at Startup Weekend’s conclusion, a nod to the concept’s business potential as well as the group’s innovative ideas.
“There wasn’t a weakest link,” Ben said. “Time and again, teammates were doing the unexpected, and it was fun to be surprised.”
Christina credited both Naomi and Ben for injecting the team with confidence and energy as well as the necessary technical skills.
“Being a Maker, we walked in with a sense of confidence that some others didn’t have,” Ben said. “We spent weeks sharpening our knives [at Mobile Makers] and working on Woof allowed us to show that.”
For Naomi, the win provided a significant jolt of self-confidence.
“I hadn’t even heard of Startup Weekend two months ago and here I was developing an app, helping create a business, and winning first place on top of it,” she said. “I see more possibilities now than ever before.”
While the Woof team is under no obligation to further build their entrepreneurial idea, the win does provide the squad a number of branding products, services, and mentorship opportunities that can help the venture take flight, including three free weeks at a Chicago co-working space.
Just 10 days after the competition’s end, Naomi said dialogue continues about the project’s future; if Woof moves forward, she wants to be involved.
“I like the idea of being a part of something connected to a worthy cause and where I can put my iOS skills to good use,” she said.
Likewise, Christina remains attracted to Woof’s potential, particularly if folks like Naomi and Ben remain on board.
“The hardest thing a founder struggles with is finding a team,” she said. “Here, I found talented and committed individuals that make Woof’s potential worth exploring.”