TechStars Start-up Weekend builds confidence in EMU entrepreneurs

Three Eastern Mennonite University business students participated in TechStars Start-Up Weekend in early April at James Madison University.

TechStars events are hosted around the United States and around the world. The organization is for anyone interested in entrepreneurship. Students from EMU participated along with those from JMU and VMI and community members.

The event was organized by the Shenandoah Community Capital Fund, a nonprofit entrepreneurial support organization serving the Shenandoah Valley. 

“It was exciting to see a number of our EMU students involved in these regional events,” said Jair Drooger, instructor of EMU’s entrepreneurship class and director of EMU’s Center for Innovation and Leadership. “The opportunity to vet and pitch your own idea or to join with others working to solve a problem of interest, rapidly provides the participants with so many real-world experiences that are critical to their entrepreneurial journey.” 

Lizzy Kirkton said she learned to keep her product simple and to think on her feet. A double major in business administration and organizational leadership, she hopes to work in the field of environmental sustainability. She’s also interested in working in a team-oriented environment and facilitating ethical decision-making in the business field. 

Despite not usually being the person who spoke up and steered conversations, Kirkton ended up being the person in her group who led discussion. She came away with a lot more confidence in her ability to communicate clearly and confidently. “By the end of the weekend, I was a lot more comfortable networking and having conversations with people I didn’t know.”

During the event, individuals participated in a one-minute pitch and then formed teams around their favorite ideas. They have the weekend to create a business, which they then pitch on Sunday.

Hebron Mekuria, an engineering major, was participating with a pitch contest win already. She won The Sullivan Foundation’s pitch contest in March. 

The Techstars experience helped uncover the importance of team dynamics, she said. “It was evident this could make or break our idea…I was better able to understand how to add value to a team and identify if a teammate added value to me and my work. 

She also enjoyed meeting CEOs, managers, investors, entrepreneurs and others who were eager to “connect with young minds set on solving a problem.” 

“The event provided a fantastic opportunity to strengthen collaboration skills with team-members, identify my personal strengths, and develop critical-thinking skills throughout the weekend,” said Aaron Shenk, a business administration major. 

Projects pitched to the judges Sunday included a waste management program and custom guitars.

Prizes for the winning team include legal packages, social media recognition, and community support.