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Weekend event seeks to inspire 'entrepreneurial spirit'





The next big idea might trace its roots to the inaugural Startup Weekend Fort Hays State University hosted Friday through Sunday.

Thirty-five aspiring entrepreneurs gathered in McCartney Hall and the Robbins Center to share ideas and engage with a like-minded community.

U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., spoke at the event. The entrepreneurial spirit is a hallmark of the American dream, and self-made success is not limited to large cities, Moran said.

"If you have a great idea, it doesn't matter a lot where you live," Moran said. "We have great potential here in Kansas to create that entrepreneurial environment in which jobs are created."

Edward Hammond, FHSU president, introduced the senator. The workshop was a catalyst for forging connections, Hammond said.

"This weekend you start those relationships," he said. "You start that networking. You start that dream."

Henry Schwaller IV, instructor of management and marketing at FHSU and an organizer of the event, said the program aims to foster the next generation of business leaders.

"We want to develop an entrepreneurial community that creates new business that are Kansas made, that serve Kansans and grow the economy here," Schwaller said. "This is a way of harvesting ideas in the community."

Friday's session had the FHSU and community participants proposing business ideas, voting on them and forming teams, Schwaller said. The groups built business plans Saturday and presented their final products to a panel of judges Sunday, he said.

Fifteen individuals delivered a 60-second business pitch with pleas for assistance with marketing, designing a website and staffing. Luxury jewelry for horses and riders, a paintball park, an app to list baby changing stations along the Interstate and a basketball mentor group were among the ideas discussed.

Eris Wilson, an FHSU senior who proposed a 24-hour restaurant near campus, said he attended the program for the constructive conversations.

"Just to hear everyone's ideas, pitch my idea and maybe get further insight on my idea," Wilson said.

Dylan Bathurst, an FHSU graduate and founder of the startup Rumgr, said he was judging the contestants. Rumgr is a more user-friendly version of Craigslist that has 10,000 users in Las Vegas, he said.

Bathurst said he organized a similar event in Las Vegas and shared his experience with Schwaller and Mark Bannister, FHSU's dean of the College of Business and Entrepreneurship. The two men then decided to host the weekend for the entrepreneurs in Hays, he said.

Bannister said, "In the longer term, we're creating an entrepreneurial ecosystem. There's more research by the Kauffman Foundation that shows entrepreneurship is contagious."

Startup Weekend is a global event held throughout the year in 478 cities, according to the nonprofit's website.