Students to pitch viable ideas for positive environmental change

Student talking
Undergraduate student Vernon Coleman, left, joins in a pitch workshop held last week. (Photo by Yin Wu)

At the opening of Startup Weekend Santa Cruz—an upcoming three-day competition to create a sustainable startup—students, entrepreneurs, and activists will gather in downtown Santa Cruz to share ideas for commercially viable ventures that have positive social and environmental impacts.

Then, with just 54 hours to merge into teams, give life to their budding concepts, develop strategies, and prepare presentations to the community, things really start happening.

“Anyone who’s passionate about sustainability or having a social impact is invited,” said Jacqueline “Jax” Puliatti, a fourth year environmental studies major and a graphic artist at the UCSC Sustainability Office, which is cosponsoring the event along with local and regional companies, organizations, and economic development agencies.

The first Startup Weekend Santa Cruz for Sustainable Solutions & Social Impact, Nov. 18–20, is just one of more than 200 events happening in November as part of Global Startup Weekend. Independent events, held internationally, are expected to draw together more than 15,000 entrepreneurs and mentors to create commercial ventures.

“The whole point of this event is to create opportunities for people to mingle and talk about these issues and cross-pollinate,” Puliatti said. “Attendees will see the different approaches people have to these issues and get to connect with others who want to do good in the world.”

The event, which starts with 60-second pitches, ends Sunday with five-minute presentations to local judges. The public is invited to attend Sunday for the final presentations at 5 p.m. at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History.

“It’s just a lot of fun,” said event organizer Tom Beckett (Kresge 2013), who works for a Santa Cruz biotech startup and as a Kickstarter funding consultant. Beckett wanted to bring the event to town after attending a startup weekend in Southern California last year.

“The best comparison is watching a live episode of ‘Shark Tank’ minus the attitudes and drama,” Beckett said. “It’s cool to see what people put together from a 60-second pitch.”

Organizers expect to attract entrepreneurs, designers, and marketers as well as social activists and people from local nonprofit organizations who have real-world experience to share.

“You don’t have to have any background in technology or business to come to Startup Weekend Santa Cruz,” said Melissa Ott, an office manager and events coordinator in the Office of Sustainability. Ott has been working with entrepreneurs in the community and partners on campus to bring together technologists and activists, project managers and nonprofit leaders for a weekend to create change.

Pitch ideas could focus on solutions for food, water, housing, health, energy, transportation, waste and more. But, participants don’t have to bring an idea to attend. At the heart of the immersive weekend is collaboration, the idea that everyone has something to offer in the quest to solve the world’s social and environmental problems. The best startups spring from people of different skills and experiences.

“If we turn to our own community, I think we can see the impact of challenges we’re facing locally and globally,” Ott said. “It’s a great opportunity to bring ideas that are flourishing and see what could be created.

Another benefit is getting to know people in the community, Beckett said.

“Participants get exposed to resources that are available locally and get to work with people who are interested in the things they’re interested in. It’s a pretty wide mix of people."

Volunteer organizers, mentors and local sponsors have helped keep ticket prices down, feed participants and provide student scholarships. In addition to the Sustainability Office, sponsors include The Everett Program, Looker, Santa Cruz Works, Santa Cruz economic Development, Small Business Development Center, Santa Cruz Tech Beat, Santa Cruz 350 and Startup Catalyst.

Main Event
Friday, November 18 – Sunday, November 20, 2016
Event starts at 6:30 p.m.
NextSpace, 101 Cooper Street, Santa Cruz

Competition & Judging (Open to the Public)
5 p.m. Sunday, November 20
Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History, 705 Front Street, Santa Cruz